Journalism as a Catalyst for Change
The investigative journalist who uses collaborative reporting and cross-border investigations in the fight against corruption
Nino Bakradze is the editor and co-founder of the Investigative Journalists' media project iFact, based in Tbilisi, Georgia. She works in an all-female team to uncover some of the most gruesome political scandals in Georgia and says that so far, there is not much competition when it comes to investigative reporting – the media is viewed as entertainment, standards are low, and journalistic ethics are rarely observed or respected.
Her supervisor noticed her investigative talents while she was pursuing a degree at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA)’s Media Management and Journalism Master’s programme. Today, she is a part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists who engage in cross-border investigations. She is one of the few in her country to be doing this type of journalistic work and her media, iFact, publishes in-depth multimedia investigations. Their work is often quoted in Georgian media.
One investigation won a prize in 2015 in the category of Excellence in Investigative Journalism. Nino was praised for “her multi-media story on the botched investigation of the murder of a forest ranger.” Of course, Nino does not mention this during our interview: she prefers to talk about her country, her son, and the many problems she faces as a journalist. This is not false modesty – she just has more on her mind than her own accomplishments. Besides being a renowned investigative journalist, Nino spends a lot of time teaching undergraduates and graduates while also lecturing professional journalists in different preparatory classes.
“Journalism, especially investigative journalism, is a very important profession – it helps other people and democratic development. It has the power to change the life of society, the developmental pace of the country, and it can support democracy. These values are very important to me and I think I serve them best in this role”, she says.
Nino points to three crucial journalistic projects she is proud of. The first is her work on the Panama papers, which was also her first experience in cross-border reporting. Recently she did a strong piece on a hydropower plant which is being built despite the protests of the local community. With her team, Nino acquired the official agreements and contracts between the investors and the state and discovered that the investment deal was unprofitable for the state, written with only the investors’ interests in mind. In response to her article, protestors flooded the streets and the government is currently revising these documents. Finally, her media produced a 40-page investigation about the failed renovation of a 12th century UNESCO World Heritage site in Georgia. The government had begun restoring the old Orthodox Churches but journalists found out that old icons were being damaged by rain leakage. After iFact’s investigation, the head of the cultural agency responsible for this project resigned.
The problem isn’t being a journalist, it’s about being a woman
Nino says she has not been pressured because of her work. What she finds problematic is the strong entrenchment of gender roles in society; in her line of work, she has never been discriminated against because of her sex. But that may be only because Georgians are used to journalism being a “feminine” – and not very prestigious – profession. There are very few male journalists, she says, and her university classes are predominantly composed of girls.
However, the picture changes when one looks at official government organizations, where they hire mostly men. Private companies also prefer to hire men, Nino explains. But the most notable problem in terms of gender equality is domestic violence. Georgia has many cases of femicide and women’s rights are a problematic subject. “My journalistic role is not making anything more problematic. Gender issues are the problem, your profession doesn’t matter. Being a woman in general is hard,” she says. As a journalist, she has done several stories about these systemic issues and how victims of domestic violence are treated in general. “We have a responsibility to investigate the system and show society why this is happening.”
Despite the country’s conservative rhetoric and pretence of having “family values”, similar to other Eastern European countries, family-oriented policies are non-existent. As a young mother you’re not helped, Nino says. The only help you can get is from the family. The system and the state offer no support, and the maternity leave payments are so low that many women go back to work because they can’t even afford diapers with that money. When she gave birth to her son, who is now four, she only waited for three weeks before returning to work. “There is no other choice”, she shrugs.
Women bear the burden of raising a family. Employers prefer to hire men because they are unlikely to go on maternity leave. The narrative is the same old, same old, she says: “We are told women belong in the kitchen, they don’t have the mental and physical capabilities to work on serious issues, etc. Since our high-ranking officials are men, they neither understand nor even care about the problems of women. That’s why we need more women in politics,” she says. That is the only solution.
The Church – the most powerful and reliable institution for people in Georgia – does not say a word about femicides or women’s problems at all, continues Nino. It is a masculine institution hostile to women’s rights. The society, on the other hand, is indifferent, nihilistic. If there are serious issues, protest is expressed online, but nothing is really done to change anything. And the government uses this well: they know people will be outraged online for a few days and then it will pass. “We protest on Facebook about a femicide but we don’t fight for changes to legislation, policy, laws, or regulations, and then another femicide happens”, she concludes.
But the wind of change is blowing in Georgia and Nino says social media also has a positive impact: women are getting more information about their rights online, finding support on social networks, and finding other women who share their burden. This can change women’s future, Nino hopes.
To love one’s country is to fight for its future
Georgia’s latest census data shows that the population is shrinking. “In my hometown, every family has someone living outside the country”, Nino says. She was born in Kutaisi, where her media outlet has a desk now. She remembers knowing she wanted to be a journalist when she was in 5th grade. Now she wants to teach back in Kutaisi, it is one of her long-term goals. But she says it is not easy: many young people leave the country because they don’t see their future there.
“I could never imagine my life in a different country. I love this country and I think it has a future. If all of us who can do something here leave, there won’t be any future. We must stay and fight for our rights, give good examples for others: have a job, a career even, raise your child here, fight for others’ rights. This is what I aim to do: through my work, I give a platform to others, so that their voices can be heard. This is my service to society. I see myself as an example for others so that they could change their minds and stay here. Most of my students think about leaving, but I tell them that if most of us go somewhere else – where, by the way, you also must fight for your rights, nothing is free abroad and you have to work even harder there because you’re an outsider – if all of us go, what is left? Why not use this time and energy to do something valuable for your country?”, Nino asks.
“I also believe that if you don’t love your country, if you don’t think about the well-being of your nation, you cannot be a good journalist.” Her generation cannot imagine life before the democratic transition, she says, and they have different aims, goals, agendas, and mental states. But she does believe that the Soviet past still lives in Georgia. She also believes that the reason for gender inequalities or even resentments towards women are rooted in the history of the country.
“In the 90s, when we had a civil war and an economic crisis, our women went to work abroad to save their families. It’s ironic, because the jobs offered in Italy and Greece were “female professions”, men wouldn’t work as cleaners or caregivers – it was beneath them. Women left the country and never returned, sending money every month to their husbands who lived on their wives’ earnings. Women took the role of providers and men became angry and still are. Men are more conformist than women are in Georgia. They are worried about “what society thinks”, their pride is injured because of economic hardships. This breeds aggression.”
Action is necessary for women, she believes, because the problems she describes are getting out of hand. Women are gaining a sense of power, she says, and traditions which are no longer useful are being rejected. Her personal role in all this? She hopes to continue to develop her (for now) all-female-led media. She wants to teach. And she would happily work on causes which further women’s rights.
“Georgians are clever people but we lack self-awareness and self-confidence. We don’t know our strengths, weaknesses, and capacities as a people. We see ourselves as a nation dependent on people from outside, as unfortunate, as poor. I think we have everything we need to be successful. Everyone can contribute in their own role if they see themselves with objectivity and honesty and turn their shortcomings into assets. As a nation, and as individuals, we can do everything.”