According to the findings, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has more than 5,000 followers, and his most popular tweet to date is taken from a speech before the Azerbaijani parliament in March, “I don't want a weak Russia and I am far from hostile to Russian national interests. I'm dreaming about a proud and stable Russian Federation.”
But this data is fairly limited in what it shows; just the leaders' attitudes and how they make use of social media. If we compare the popularity of social media networks as a means of obtaining information, the South Caucasus cannot be compared with EU countries or with the US.
Traditional Media versus New Media
Meanwhile, the Caucasus Research Resource Center's (CRRC) regular monitoring unveils some interesting facts about how people in the South Caucasus use mass media, and how they stay informed.
For example, according to a 2012 CRRC survey on social capital, media and gender in Azerbaijan, television is the main source of information for 90 percent of the population. Some 79 percent of Azerbaijanis do not read newspapers at all, while 10 percent read them, but not on a daily basis and the other 11 percent say they read newspapers at some point on an average day. In light of the increasing role of the internet, the younger generation prefers to read news online. As a result, there are increasing numbers of new media news agencies operating in Azerbaijan. The newspaper with the highest circulation is the opposition newspaper “Yeni Müsavat,” which is both printed and online, but its circulation is still less than two thousand. A new newspaper was launched several months ago called the “New Baku Post,” which is published in both Azerbaijani and Russian and distributed for free. Its mission is to get people accustomed to reading newspapers.
Interestingly, there are similar attitudes in Armenia. CRRS and Eurasia Partnership's survey on “Armenia's Media Landscape” shows that in terms of news sources, television is by far the most important, while two-thirds of Armenians (67 percent) do not read newspapers at all. Even those who do read newspapers do not purchase them very frequently; only 6 percent buy a newspaper daily, with the largest proportion, 38 percent, buying a newspaper on a weekly basis.
According to the same data in Georgia, the main source of information for receiving news about current events is television, which 88 percent say is their preferred source. In Georgia, even though the print media can not compete with broadcast media, the daily circulation of all newspapers is still higher than in Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Across the region, it is mostly the young generation activists who are using new media extensively, including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Thus new media is increasingly seen as a venue for alternative news and ideas. The number of Azerbaijan Facebook users is significantly higher than in neighboring countries such as Georgia and Armenia. In Armenia, more than 80 percent of social network users prefer the Russian language “Odnoklassniki” site, which belongs to Mail.Ru Group, who confirmed this fact in its Alternative Information Resources 2011 study.
Arguably of more importance, however, is the fact that Facebook is being used a means of political empowerment in the region, at least by some of those in-between the polarized government and opposition camps. There are also examples of Facebook being used to resolve non-political issues. However, that is not to say that Facebook or Twitter are not useful for activists, especially in highlighting political concerns.
Low Quality in Media
In general, the quality of broadcast and print media quality is low in the South Caucasus, and across the region there are some common problems:
First of all, the quality of education among journalists is low, even among those who have studied it abroad. As a result, the quality of broadcast programs as well as interest in reading newspapers is low. For instance, the Azerbaijani public has little problem with the growing number of low-quality entertainment programs, while there are few talk shows or debate-type programs. In addition, people are not used to reading newspaper columns or editorial pieces, proving the thought that when there is little debate, there is less interest.
One of the reasons for the lack of public interest is that there is almost no investigative reporting. Governmental restrictions on media activity make this a risky business, and financial difficulties also contribute to the problem.
The other problematic factor in new media, despite the fact the online media outlets offer high quality “talk shows” and interesting entertainment in high-definition quality, the audience for such shows is limited, due to poor internet infrastructure in the region. Many users still rely on dial-up connections, which are too slow for watching broadcasts.
In conclusion, statistics and public attitudes show the division between the younger generation, who are engaged in new media, and the older generation, which is more traditional. It remains the case that traditional media is more popular, and in order to increase the profile of new media productions, they need to be better quality. For this to happen, better education and professional training is required.