Georgians panicked by invasion spoof
Published 15/03/2010 | 05:00
Millions of Georgians wrongly thought their country was being invaded after a spoof prime-time news broadcast showed Russian tanks heading towards the capital Tbilisi and said the president, Mikheil Saakashvili, had been killed.
The spoof was broadcast on Imedi, one of the country's biggest TV channels, but most viewers missed a brief announcement at the start of the 30-minute programme explaining that it was a simulation of "the worst day in Georgian history".
An agitated newsreader told viewers that the country's opposition had called in the Russian military to quell political unrest and showed opposition figures apparently agreeing to work with the invaders. The bulletin caused panic across the former Soviet state, which is still struggling to come to terms with losing a short sharp war against Russia in 2008.
Mobile phone networks crashed, people started fleeing the capital, crowds rushed to stock up on food and there were reports of volunteer fighters preparing to resist. Other TV channels interrupted their broadcasts to show Imedi's footage and some Russian media began to broadcast the "news".
Georgians were furious when they realised it was a spoof. Crowds mobbed Imedi's headquarters and opposition politicians denounced the channel, which is run by a close ally of Mr Saakashvili.
Although the president conceded that Imedi should have made it clearer that the bulletin was a spoof, he said that the scenario was a real possibility.
"The unpleasant thing about yesterday's report -- and I want everyone to understand this well -- is that this report is as close to reality as possible, to what may really happen, and to what Georgia's enemies keep in mind," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)