Invasion scare makes for good ethics case study

CSJMM faculty members are at the stage in the curriculum revision process when they are revising syllabi and developing new syllabi. I’m helping by revising a syllabus for the Media Law and Ethics course. In addition to finding sources about codes of ethics, objectivity, stereotyping, acting independently, handling sources, and so on, I looked for interesting case studies from Georgian media. And I found one—I came across the 2010 Georgian News Report Hoax.

The Georgian hoax reminded me of the War of the Worlds radio hoax in the United States in 1938. Orson Welles, who went on to become one of the most famous film directors, directed and narrated a 60-minute broadcast of an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds. The first part of the program was presented as a series of simulated “news bulletins.” These news bulletins must have been very realistic because some listeners later claimed they could smell poison gas. Moreover, people were anxious because they were reading about events leading up to World War II. As a result, many listeners believed that Martians were really invading Earth. People thought the radio show was an actual newscast and they fled their homes in panic.

A similar panic occurred due to a similar broadcasting hoax, but this time Georgians panicked due to a program on Imedi TV in March 2010. The program showed lots of real footage from the 2008 war in South Ossetia as anchors recounted an elaborate series of imaginary events, which they claimed had led to Russia invading Georgian territory. Many Georgians panicked because they had not seen the disclaimer at the beginning of the broadcast and they assumed they were watching live events. People called emergency services; they withdrew cash for ATMs; mobile phone networks crashed; and some units of the Georgian army took up defensive positions.

One lesson students should learn is the importance of reporting the truth and avoiding deception. Another lesson is that history is important; we need to learn from the past.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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