Imedi apologizes for invasion hoax

Georgian channel promises not to repeat error

MOSCOW — The Georgian television station that sparked panic when it ran a hoax news show claiming the country was under a renewed Russian invasion has apologized on air for the “anxiety and disruption” it caused.

Imedi TV — once one of the Caucasian country’s top independent stations but since the death two years ago of its owner, opposition figure Badri Patarkatsishvili, a pro-government station — caused mayhem March 13 when it ran a 30-minute bulletin claiming Russian troops were already in the capital Tbilisi.

Aired with a brief warning at the beginning of the broadcast — but no other indication that it was a simulation — the show brought chaos to a country where memories of a brief and bitter war in August 2008 that ended with Georgia losing two pro-Russian rebel regions are still raw.

Mobile phone networks crashed as people desperately tried to contact members of their families and urge them to flee to safety.

The broadcast, which relied on archive footage filmed before and during the 2008 conflict, drew a sharp rebuke from the Georgian National Communications Commission.

The station initially defended it as a program designed to highlight the risks of renewed conflict with Russia, which was aired as part of a series of political programs in the run up to key municipal elections scheduled in May.

Saturday’s apology — both on air and in a fuller version on Imedi’s website in Georgian and English — called it a “grave error” and assured viewers that it was a mistake that would never be repeated.

“Words cannot fully express how sorry we are for the anxiety and disruption that you and your family and friends may have experienced,” Imedi said in a statement carried on its website addressed to “our viewers.”

“Imedi is dedicated to public service and the promise of a better Georgia, and we here know we failed to deliver on this promise with our ‘Special Report’ program.

“It was never our intention that the events depicted be taken at face value and be considered an actual news event. All of us here at Imedi regret that so many people were affected negatively, some of them our own families, and we deeply regret our lapse in judgment.”

The statement carefully avoided mentioning Russia by name — referring to the “danger that comes from the country that in 1921 annexed our state and in 2008 occupied parts of Georgia.”

Appealing for viewers to return their trust to the channel, it concluded: “We are aware that the show did not conform to journalistic ethics and standards….Rest assured that this will never take place again. We have taken self-regulation measures and established clear standards of journalistic ethics according to which our channel is going to operate in the future.”