Natia Karchiladze and Mautskebeli20 July 2023
Empowering citizens through media representation
The team of Mautskebeli amplifies the struggle for social justice in Georgia
“We are a platform for people whose voices are not heard by anybody else,” says Natia Karchiladze, “Their testimonies are overlooked in this climate of extreme political polarisation.”
Natia is a co-founder of Mautskebeli, an independent digital media in Georgia. Launched in February of 2021, the platform emerged when five journalists at the state-funded Adjara Public Broadcaster decided to create their own media after their newsroom team faced increased pressure and attempts to curb editorial independence.
“Mautskebeli means “Broadcaster” in Georgian,” Natia says. “We chose this name for a reason: if the public broadcaster has no space for critical views and people’s problems, then we would do that. We established an independent media for oppressed groups overlooked by mainstream media.”
In two years, the newsroom expanded to twelve people, and is now working from the offices in Tbilisi, and Batumi, Georgia’s second largest city. Their reporting is not limited to urban life – the team focuses on social justice issues across Georgia which often go unnoticed by larger media in the country.
“We’re really proud of our work during strikes and protests which took place in different parts of the country,” Natia says. “With our coverage, we gave a lot of people visibility and helped them get responses from the government. If it wasn’t for us, these people – and their grievances – would be ignored.”
Responding to interference
It was in 2019 that the board of Adjara Public Broadcaster impeached the then-director and elected a new one. The journalists suspected that this was due to the interference from the country’s ruling party, which attempted to control media across Georgia.
“Our suspicions were justified when the new director started firing and removing critical journalists from their decision-making positions,” Natia recalls. “My colleagues and I were among them. That’s why we decided to create an independent platform.”
Launching a new platform is not easy in Georgia – it is hard to secure enough funds to run a media independently (though Mautskebeli succeeded in receiving some start-up funds from a locally-based donor), meanwhile the advertising market is dysfunctional and there is little culture of crowdfunding or private donations. In addition, the government is trying to tighten its control over media and NGOs. For example, in March of 2023, the ruling party tried to pass the Draft Law on Transparency on Foreign Influence which quickly became known as the “Russian law” bill which would label all civil society and media organisations receiving more than 20% of foreign funding as “foreign agents.” The bill got its name from a similar law in place in Russia.
“The bill targeted organisations with international founders or support,” Natia explain. “If passed, it would have given the government full access to our finances. Fortunately, Georgians organised large protests against it, and the bill was not passed.”
Mautskebeli has been following these protests – as well as other, less reported social movements across the country. For instance, the team travelled to different parts of Georgia to report on the miners’ strikes before any other media.
“Just a few days ago, there was a miners’ strike in Chiatura,” Natia says. “It is a small industrial city in the western part of Georgia, with about 3500 people protesting. We were the first to arrive and do a livestream. Every day we covered the situation and the conditions of the miners as 12 of them went on hunger strike. Some sewed their lips shut as a sign of protest because they couldn’t see support and solidarity from the state. Mainstream media did not care about covering this event.”
Similarly, Natia and her team report on other protests and social movements – often serving as the only media connecting local communities with the rest of the country.
“Thanks to our coverage of different strikes, many workers managed to win their fights,” Natia says. “They got better working conditions and salaries. Daily coverage helps them remain in the news. However, the workers’ victories are very small in the overall situation. The working environment and social conditions do not change substantially while both the political and economic elites get richer and assert their power at the expense of people's exploitation.”
“Our reporting gained us a lot of trust from these people,” she continues. “We have become a safe place for oppressed people across Georgia, where they can express themselves, and where we seek solutions for their problems with the help of experts.”
Thinking about the future
“Sustainability is a big challenge, and we’re brainstorming ways we can achieve that.” Natia says, “We hope to become self-sustainable in a medium term and we’re exploring different approaches and ways to interact with our audience.”
Natia believes that with the right strategy and a continuous focus on social justice issues, the team will be able to grow and overcome all sustainability challenges in a few years.
“EED helped us gain stability in the early stages of our work,” she says. “Before this support, most of us were working without salaries. EED gave us some work security, and we could focus on the quality of our content instead of just daily survival.”
The team plans to expand its coverage and be more present across Georgia – and to do this, they hope to grow even more. The newsroom aims to travel to remote parts of the country, home to many ethnic minorities. Another objective is to expand the platform’s social media reach.
“Georgia is small, but there are big differences between the western and eastern parts,” Natia says. “Sometimes there are big events happening across the country, and we want to be able to report from different locations at the same time and stay there throughout. We want to continue our work with diverse social groups and people who are repressed.”
Because of Mautskebeli’s focus on marginalised communities, it is often the only platform that features stories of minorities or other repressed groups in the country, who face increased challenges given the economic crisis and political polarisation in the country.
“Many mainstream media follow the agenda of the political parties,” she says. “We’re often the only platform on the ground in different localities. The people we talk to tend to be left out of the democratic process.”
“It motivates us whenever we see that our reporting contributed to social justice. When people get better representation, this shows that our work matters. This inspires us to move forward and to continue our work as we started,” she says.
This article reflects the views of the grantee featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the European Endowment for Democracy, the European Commission or any other European State or other contributors to EED.