The area of conflict
In the summer of 2004, tensions rose between Georgia and South Ossetia, with shelling on both sides nearly every night in the conflict zone. Media outlets fanned the heated situation with language such as "so-called government", "Georgian aggression", "pretend democracy" and "separatist provocation".
Once the crisis was resolved and tensions had decreased, the Joint Control Commission (JCC) - which supports the search for a peaceful settlement of the conflict - sought to address the detrimental effects of inaccurate and biased reporting. The JCC is a four-party body co-chaired by Georgian, South Ossetian, North Ossetian and Russia representatives.
Following discussions, the OSCE Mission to Georgia, which supports the JCC's activities, funded and organized in partnership with the British Embassy in Tbilisi an eight-day targeted training programme for a group of Georgian and Ossetian journalists.
The Thomson Foundation, a leading British media development agency known for its intensive training and unbiased approach, carried out the programme.
Theoretical and practical sessions addressed techniques for fair and accurate reporting and helped to build confidence between the key conflict-reporting journalists from both groups. Some of them had never met before, while others had had no contact since the previous summer's events.
During the programme, mixed groups tackled assignments and issues together. The theoretical part included looking at conflicts in other regions. Practical exercises included interviewing people in the streets of Tskhinvali as well as a background briefing with representatives of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces command.
Off to a good start
The process was not always easy and accusations were made. Nevertheless, the course helped forge working links between the journalists - a foundation for future co-operation.
"It is still difficult and we know there's a long way to go," said one reporter from a leading TV channel in Georgia. "But most importantly, we started talking.
"Now I know who to call to check information about developments in the conflict zone and I know I'll receive a response."
Russell Isaac is a trainer with the Thomson Foundation: "We succeeded in one of our main objectives, which was to promote civilized dialogue and networking among journalists from cultures still in a state of virtual warfare," he said.
"At least this time there's an awareness of different interpretations of events. And there's a feeling that, even in the heat of the moment, they're aware of their responsibilities."
At the graduation ceremony at the Mission's Tskhinvali office, Mission Head Roy Reeve, British Embassy Deputy Head Roy Wilson and Georgian and Ossetian JCC Co-chairmen Giorgi Khaindrava and Boris Chochiev presented the certificates. And while the OSCE bus waited to bring the Georgian participants back to Tbilisi, the journalists chased down last-minute interviews.
"It is always hard to work effectively and professionally in a conflict zone, but you have managed it," Ambassador Reeve told the journalists. "We hope to find further possibilities for similar activities in the future," he added.