Strategic Communication Against Disinformation and Propaganda - Recommendations for State Policy

In the information age, with increased scope and speed of news dissemination, information operations have become a part of warfare. Hostile states often, instead of open military aggression, try to influence citizens' views through information and intervene in the affairs of other states in this way. Thus, in the 21st century, proper, coordinated communication is essential.

Reports of the State Security Service of Georgia in recent years indicate that disinformation campaigns have been carried out against Georgia. The main goal of these campaigns is to influence Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations, including undermining Georgia's international reputation and using the coordinated spread of disinformation within the country.

The importance of information and proper communication has been made especially clear by the Covid-19 pandemic. It became clear that information is no longer just information and that adequate communication can, in specific cases, save citizens' lives. Until now, we could talk about the unjustified disruption of democratic processes or, by a hostile state, the polarization of society. In that case, the pandemic has shown that correct communication directly affects people's lives.

Given the threats described above, there is a need for well-thought-out strategic communication, and thus, public awareness of malicious, hostile information campaigns is on the agenda.

Strategic communications (StratCom for short) as a discipline is still under study. Even its definition in the academic literature is heterogeneous. Hallahan et al. (2007) highlight the fundamental aspects of strategic communication. In particular, any activity in this process is strategic; it is not random or unintentional. However, the term "strategic" should not be interpreted narrowly; instead, it is a complex and multifaceted concept. In the area of communication, the authors note that it should be considered the central pillar of process management. However, according to the authors, strategic communication "means that people, on behalf of organizations, engage in conscious and purposeful communication events, public movements or processes."

The practical perspective of strategic communications, which has become more relevant in the wake of the intensification of Russian information warfare (especially after the "hybrid war" waged against Ukraine in 2014), implies that states must be ready for such challenges as the use of information as a weapon, propaganda, and distortion of reality. For this purpose and in general, in the process of building the state, correct communication and strategic planning of this communication are prerequisites for realizing national interests.

Following the needs described above, strategic communications departments have been established in Georgia in cooperation with international partners. According to the decision of the Government of Georgia on November 2, 2018, structural units of strategic communications were created in all ministries. The declared goal of these services was to reduce the impact of anti-Western propaganda, increase the population's awareness about the country's European and Euro-Atlantic integration, and establish a coordinated and proactive strategic communications system in the country. Thus, no matter how complex the theoretical understanding of strategic communications is, in the case of Georgia, the purpose of creating StratComs was clearly outlined in practice.

Several years after the creation of the Strategic Communications Departments, especially in light of the ongoing full-scale war in the region and threats from the Russian Federation, it is vital to assess how the goals of the government's StratComs described above are being met. At the same time, the role of strategic communications departments grows even more in the context that one of the recommendations given to Georgia by the European Commission (which accompanied the granting of candidate status to the country and whose fulfillment is an essential condition for further rapprochement with the European Union), one of them indicates the steps to be taken by the state against disinformation and anti-Western rhetoric.

The present document reviews the history of the formation of the state policy in the direction of strategic communications in Georgia, its legal and structural frameworks, and the gaps identified in the implementation in practice. At the same time, our goal is to find ways to help solve the existing failures in the direction of strategic communications of the state of Georgia. For this, we will review the best practices, including those of Georgia's partner western states.

Note: The full document is available only in Georgian.


Davit Kutidze, Malkhaz Rekhviashvili