Georgia panicked by fake Russia invasion broadcast

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Georgian television station sparked panic today when it broadcast a report containing a simulation of events that might occur if Russia invaded Georgia in an event similar to a war that took place a year and a half ago.

The fake report came only 18 months after a war between Georgia and Russia, and the broadcast, run by Imedi TV, was composed of footage from that conflict, as well as recorded statements from Russian and Georgian leaders. Such footage included "reports" that Russian forces had bombed Georgian military bases and a civilian airport in the capital of Tbilisi. Additionally, the report claimed that Russian forces had killed Georgian soldiers in South Ossieta, the site of the 2008 war.

This kind of experiment is a crime to our people and to humanity

—Georgian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Ilia II

According to the network, the intention of the broadcast had been to show what could have happened if Russia had invaded again and killed Georgia's president. To this end, the broadcast was bookended at the beginning and end with a notice that the events were a simulation of possible events. The network did not, however, run such notes during the program itself, and many who watched it became alarmed by the events it covered. According to one local news agency, Georgian emergency services had received a spike in the number of phone calls during the time the broadcast was on air.

Around two hours after the program finished, the network began running scrolling text on further programs, apologizing for the broadcast, and the head of Imedi's parent company issued a statement apologizing for the "distress" that the broadcast had caused. Despite the apologies, which included one from a Georgian official, the reaction to the broadcast was generally one of opposition and anger. The leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, issued a statement saying that, "This kind of experiment is a crime to our people and to humanity," and an opposition politician labeled the report as "disgusting." One woman who had been affected by the 2008 conflict said that, "it wasn't right of them to do it."