Fake Newscast Sends Viewers into a Panic
A fake newscast about a Russian invasion sent some residents of neighboring Georgia into a War of the Worlds-like panic over the weekend.
Saturday night's broadcast recalled memories of the brief war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, and was realistic enough that some viewers rushed to buy food and dash for safety, The New York Times reported.
A Georgian TV station taped the episode in a studio used for the evening news broadcast, using a familiar anchor. The show was broadcast with an initial disclaimer that many viewers apparently missed, the Times reported.
Looking nervous and fumbling with papers as if handling a breaking news story, the anchor announced that fighting had begun on the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, adding that Russian bombers were airborne and heading for Georgia, and that tanks were on the move.
"People went into a panic," Bidzina Baratashvili, a former director of the Georgian TV station, told the Times in a telephone interview from Tbilisi.
He compared the mock news broadcast and its effect to what happened on Oct. 30, 1938, when Orson Welles adapted H.G.Wells' The War of the Worlds on CBS radio. Some listeners thought a Martian invasion was real and fled their homes. Other adaptations include Steven Spielberg's 2005 film starring Tom Cruise.
In Georgia, lines formed at gas stations and cell phone service crashed, authorities said. The frantic buying in the capital made real at least a part of the fake news report, which had described similar scenes unfolding.
"If you hear that war started, of course you run for the bank machine, then run home, it's natural," Jumber Jikidze, a taxi driver in Tbilisi, told the Times. He said "a little chaos" lasted for about three hours.
Opposition leaders called the show an attempt by Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili to discredit his political rivals, because the broadcast depicted them as collaborating with the invading Russians. They noted that the station's boss is a former official in Saakashvili's government.
Saakashvili condemned the program for scaring viewers — but added that the show had frightened people because it portrayed a realistic possible future for Georgia.