A pro-government Georgian television station sparked widespread panic in the Caucasian country when it ran a spoof documentary claiming the Russians had invaded again. The half-hour show — which aired Saturday night — brought chaos to the country after it claimed Russian troops were already in the capital Tbilisi and aired “unconfirmed reports” that pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili had been assassinated.
Mobile telephone networks crashed, cinemas emptied as parents called their children home and people spilled out on to the street of towns and cities across the country to seek safety. But the report on Imedi-TV — once Georgia’s leading independent station until Saakashvili took it off air following the death of its owner, opposition figure Badri Patarkatsishvili in 2008 — was nothing but a hoax, apparently aired by a pro-government station in an attempt to discredit the opposition before key municipal elections in May.
Georgia Media Production Holdings, which now owns the station, claims the broadcast was designed to show the “real threat” of how events in a fresh Russian invasion might unfold. Screened as a 30-minute news report, the broadcast said Russia aircraft had bombed Georgian air and seaports and that opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze — just back from a trip to Moscow — had taken power.
She later denounced the report as “outrageous” government propaganda. Although a warning stating that the broadcast was a simulation had been carried when the broadcast begun no warnings were given during the program.
Many viewers failed to notice the initial statement or tuned in mid-way through the report. The result — less than two years after Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over the disputed rebel territory of South Ossetia, bringing Russian armored columns within an hour’s drive of Tbilisi — was predictable.
“There was panic…
[continues in Variety]