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Estonia creates scholarship program and journalism award for independent media in Georgia

Esimesed Shuki auhinna võitjad.
With the Estonian Association of Journalists and Go Group Media, the Estonian Centre for International Development (ESTDEV) has established a scholarship program and award for Georgian journalists to support high-quality and ethical journalism.

The Shuki Award and scholarship program are designed to recognise outstanding journalistic work on topics important to Georgian civil society, including Georgia-Russia and Georgia-Ukraine relations, civil society development in the Caucasus region, gender equality, freedom of speech and conscience, and respect for human rights in Georgia and neighbouring countries, as well as other topics that reflect Georgia’s place in today's world. 

Georgian media faces numerous obstacles, including restrictions on freedom of expression, censorship, lack of professionalism, unstable funding and other difficulties. By creating a scholarship program for journalists and the Shuki Award, Estonia encourages Georgian journalists to work at a high level despite these challenges and motivates others to follow their example. This contributes to the promotion of a vital part of democracy—a free and responsible media landscape.

Ten journalists will be selected to receive a 1,500-euro scholarship and the opportunity to further their education in Estonia. A six-member expert jury will award three 1,000-euro prizes each quarter for outstanding journalistic work. Estonian media experts have already visited Georgia to meet with local partners and the jury members.

The first-ever recipients of the Shuki Award were announced in December:

  • Gela Mtivlishvili, for an article dissecting the connections between Georgian politician and former defence minister David Khidasheli and Russian oligarch Yevgeny Shuvalov. 
  • Jaba Ananidze, for an article about the Georgian Employment Initiative, which aims to employ socially vulnerable people in rural Georgia. The article sheds light on efforts to address social concerns through similar initiatives while examining their problems. 
  • Nino Tsverava, for a video story about Georgian para-athletes who are world leaders in their field. However, the state does not support them financially, so they cannot participate in championships.

ESTDEV's democracy and rule of law programme manager, Eva-Maria Liimets, said there is no democracy without freedom of speech and a free press. "Only with the help of independent and fearless media can people get feedback on how common benefits are used in the country, what is the situation with corruption and abuse of power," Liimets said. 

She noted that publishing the truth is a punishable offence in many countries where journalists are suppressed and intimidated. "In countries where the safety of journalists is at risk, international programs to support journalists motivate them to continue their professional career," said Liimets.

Liimets said that with the scholarship program, Estonia wants to help raise the general quality of journalism in Georgia and motivate journalists to maintain independence when dealing with issues. "Both our meetings and the recent analysis of the Baltic Media Center confirm that international scholarship programs help independent media to function and strengthen in developing democracies. This is especially relevant for investigative journalism,” Liimets said.

Helle Tiikmaa, head of the media project and chairman of the Estonian Association of Journalists, said that high-quality journalism, with its ethical rules and democratic norms, is the foundation of every successful country. "Rewarding independent, high-quality Georgian journalists who adhere to ethical values helps and encourages them to continue their work and signals to the public who can be trusted in the press," said Tiikmaa.

The project partner in Georgia is JAMnews. Over the duration of the project, a total of ten scholarships and 12 awards will be handed out. The project ends in July 2024 with a final seminar.