Cyprus: a divided public

Ever since the invasion of the northern part of Cyprus by the Turkish military in 1974, the island’s media landscape, like the island itself, has been split in two. The fear of legal proceedings, arrests and attacks leads many journalists to exercise self-censorship. The financial crisis left many newspapers reeling; now the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic are having a severe impact on the print sector.

A woman demonstrating against the attacks by Turkish nationalists against the newspaper Afrika in northern Cyprus.
A woman demonstrating against the attacks by Turkish nationalists against the newspaper Afrika in northern Cyprus.
In the south of the island, freedom of the press has generally been respected in recent years. However, when a group of journalists published the private emails of a high-ranking prosecutor in 2017 they were interrogated by the police and even accused of committing a crime. In March 2018, six Greek Cypriot MEPs wrote to the European Commission asking it to intervene on the journalists’ behalf. At the beginning of April 2018 the attorney general announced that the journalists would not be prosecuted and that the interrogations carried out as part of the investigation were over. However, at the start of 2020 the prosecutor filed a new lawsuit against the management of Politis, the newspaper which had published the emails, as well as six journalists. She is demanding compensation of up to two million euros and accuses the journalists of having ignored a court order from early 2018 concerning the publication of the emails.

Self-censorship among journalists has increased in Cyprus in recent years. According to observers, certain topics are now taboo because journalists are afraid of being targeted by a corrupt network of international companies that have a strong presence on the island. Journalists in the Turkish-occupied north of the island must reckon with reprisals, arrests and even violent attacks if they publish critical reports. In January 2018, for example, nationalists attacked the offices of the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Afrika, which had published an article criticising the Turkish military operation in the Syrian town of Afrin. Turkey’s President Erdoğan had mentioned the article in a speech and called on his "Northern Cypriot brothers and sisters" to “respond” to it.

Media as bridge builders

The newspaper market in the southern part of the island is dominated by six major papers published in Greek and one English-language newspaper. In the occupied northern part of the island there are at least 19 Turkish-language dailies, the largest of which is Kıbrıs. Several of these newspapers have strong ties to the Turkish-Cypriot parties. The number of dailies in northern Cyprus has risen considerably in recent years, after entrepreneurs from Turkey became active in this sector.

Over the years the Cypriot media have avidly followed the futile negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus conflict. Although yet another attempt to reach an agreement failed in the summer of 2017, during the negotiations a greater degree of pluralism could be observed in the media debate compared to previous attempts. Cooperation between media outlets and journalists from both sides has also intensified in recent years thanks to a number of joint projects. In the summer of 2018, for example, with the support of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) journalists from both sides published a common glossary in order to avoid the use of sensitive terms and potentially inflammatory statements. In practice, however, the glossary is rarely used.

Newspaper sales declined dramatically as a result of the financial crisis. Many journalists’ salaries were cut and others lost their jobs. The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the situation: newspaper sales have plummeted again and advertising revenues have collapsed. In April 2020 the cabinet of the Republic of Cyprus approved 700,000 euros in state aid for the media.

Focus on geostrategic topics

Whereas in the past the emphasis in reporting was always on political affairs, today the media are increasingly focusing on economic issues, such as the gas dispute in the Mediterranean. The importance of digital media - in particular news websites and alternative online sources as well as social media such as Facebook and Twitter - has increased in recent years. The general trend in Cyprus is moving towards using the Internet as the primary source of news.

Political parties and the Church exert strong influence on the media. The Church owns a stake in the TV channel Mega, for example and the daily paper Haravgi has close ties with the Communist Party, as does radio station Astra.

Broadcasting in Cyprus was under British influence until well into the 1950s. Today Southern Cyprus has two state and seven private television channels. Audiences tend to prefer the private channels because they broadcast Greek entertainment programmes and series. In the north, people tend to watch Turkish television. There is also a Turkish-Cypriot channel and seven private channels, as well as Internet TV and radio.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Cyprus: Rank 28 (2020)
Northern Cyprus: Rank 7 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020
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