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Crossed interview with foreign correspondents in Tbilisi, Matthew Collin and Régis Genté, about South Caucasus, freedom of speech and their daily work.

Regis Gente

Matthew Collin, 47, is working in South Caucasus as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP). Living in Georgia for about 5 years, he used to work for BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian and the other mass media organizations.

Regis Genté, 43, lives in Tbilisi where he works since nearly 10 years as a freelance journalist, “without any tie”, as he likes to describe. His features and news about Caucasus and Central Asia came on air on Radio France Internationale and published in Le Figaro as in other French media.

-What are the main difficulties to be a foreign correspondent?

M.Collin and R.Gente © Arshaluis Mghdesyan

M.C.– Maybe working in the region which is not widely known in the rest of the world. Sometimes, it is also difficult to sell stories from here to European media. When it comes to international news, Caucasus is not the number one region in the world. At least less than other places, where events like war, riots or natural calamity happened.

R.G.-For me the most difficult is getting a very accurate background on the story I cover. For example, it is really interesting to understand who is lying, who is not lying. Our job is to interview liars all day long and to try to find the truth that lies behind. Of course, everybody is lying, also in Europe and Asia. But maybe it is more difficult to discover here, because we are less familiar with the mentalities or the context.The other difficulty is to replace any story I cover in South Caucasus into a wider global context. Sometimes I know I have an interesting story but editors in Europe don’t want it. Because they think it is too local and will not be interesting for our people. So I have to convince them, to replace it into a global context.

-What about freedom of speech in South Caucasus?

R.G.- It is a problem you can generalize to all post-soviet countries. It is still is not perfect, it is still not absolute. There might be some problems for foreign correspondents in South Caucasus region, even if in Georgia, we do not need any visa to work. In Azerbaijan, it’s the contrary and it is very difficult for journalists to get an accreditation. The government is not eager to welcome foreign journalists because sometimes they are critical. In Armenia though, it is quite easy to get accreditation.

Matthew Collin © Arshaluis Mghdesyan

M.C.– The freedom of expression is a certainly a problem here, but in different ways and at different levels. In the period of the five years, the situation is the same.

-What advices could you give to aspiring young foreign correspondents?

R.G.– If you are a foreign correspondent, it is important to know where you go, to who you talk. They must get to know as much as possible and as deep as possible, about the place where they are heading to, about the region’s history and context.

M.C.– And also it can be useful to talk to their predecessors to share their own previous experiences.

By Elvira Abdullayeva and Rena Allahverdiyeva