Cyprus ranks 55th in the world in the latest “World Press Freedom Index,” published by Reporters Without Borders on May 3.
The report notes that direct interference in editorial work, media concentration and lack of transparency in ownership, as well as the influence of business interests and the Church have undermined media work in Cyprus, forcing journalists to self-censor.
Moreover, the Cyprus problem has a significant impact on how the media operates, the report says.
Cyprus has risen 10 places in the index compared to 2022 when it recorded a dive of 39 places, falling from 26th to 65th.
Although journalists in Cyprus do not face attacks on their physical integrity and safety, the media are the target of verbal attacks by politicians, the report notes. Also, informal relationships between politicians and media owners strengthen the influence of the former on the sector.
Defamation is not a crime in Cyprus, however, the Attorney General can authorise criminal prosecution of a media outlet. Also, mechanisms or procedures to protect journalists and prevent political interference are limited, although there are some regulatory safeguards for the protection of sources and editorial autonomy.
“Direct interference in editorial work is not uncommon, while civil libel lawsuits contribute to self-censorship and discourage investigative journalism,” the report adds.
A tight advertising market and the recent economic crisis have made the media vulnerable to influences of commercial interests which exert influence through advertising money and sponsorships, affecting editorial content, the report notes.
“The Cyprus problem is a taboo,” the report writes “and all journalists are expected to be “loyal” to the government’s narrative when it comes to this issue. Journalists questioning this line are often branded as ‘traitors.’ There are also state bans on the use of certain terms related to the Cyprus problem.”
Although there are no serious physical threats or attacks, journalists are often victims of online harassment or verbal attacks by state officials. The report also mentions the allegations of state surveillance and hacking into the devices and electronic archives of Makarios Droussiotis who published a book about corruption.
Occupied north Cyprus
In the index, Reporters Without Borders also compiled a report on the media situation in occupied north Cyprus, where as they note, press freedom is increasingly hampered by the issue of media ownership, lawsuits against journalists, and Turkey’s growing pressure on the sector.
“Pluralism is being threatened by lawsuits against the media, direct interference in editorial work, and growing media concentration in the hands of Turkish businessmen, while self-censorship is widespread,” the report writes.
Furthermore, according to the report, Ankara’s pressure is felt through verbal attacks and lawsuits in Turkey. Sanctions and prosecution, including criminal proceedings, are being brought against journalists who criticise the Turkish or Turkish Cypriot government, military, or authorities.
Also, Turkish Cypriot authorities are trying to amend existing legislation to further limit freedom of expression.
Currently, an opposition journalist faces criminal charges for criticising the Turkish military, while three journalists have been denied entry into Turkey, and others have been fired or forced to resign after criticising Turkish policies or Turkish Cypriot politicians.
As regards economic issues, the report notes that media in the occupied north have been hard hit by the devaluation of the Turkish lira. Financial interests have a strengthening grip on media due to the formers’ dependence on advertising money and sponsorships.
Due to the economic crisis, many media are changing owners, such as Kibris which was recently sold to a Turkish businessman. Also, seeking better wages, many journalists have taken on PR jobs.
Furthermore, informal, close, financial relationships between politicians and media owners affect the independence of editorial content.
Norway ranks first for press freedom, Greece is in bottom of the EU
Norway is ranked first for the seventh year running. But – unusually – a non-Nordic country is ranked second, namely Ireland (up 4 places at 2nd), ahead of Denmark (down 1 place at 3rd).
Europe, especially the European Union, is the region of the world where it is easiest for journalists to work, but the situation is mixed even there. Germany (21st), where a record number of cases of violence against journalists and arrests have been recorded, has fallen five places. Greece (107th), where journalists were spied on by the intelligence services and by powerful spyware, continues to have the EU’s lowest ranking.
The last three places are occupied solely by Asian countries: Vietnam (178th), which has almost completed its hunt of independent reporters and commentators; China (down 4 at 179th), the world’s biggest jailer of journalists and one of the biggest exporters of propaganda content; and, to no great surprise, North Korea (180th).
Effects of the fake content industry
The index spotlights the rapid effects that the digital ecosystem’s fake content industry has had on press freedom. In 118 countries (two-thirds of the 180 countries evaluated by the Index), most of the Index questionnaire’s respondents reported that political actors in their countries were often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns. The difference is being blurred between true and false, real and artificial, facts and artifices, jeopardising the right to information.
Also, developments in AI technologies able to generate high-definition images, have been feeding social media with increasingly plausible and undetectable fake “photos”, which can go viral.
Meanwhile, “Twitter owner Elon Musk is pushing an arbitrary, payment-based approach to information to the extreme, showing that platforms are quicksand for journalism,” the report notes.
Shocking dive for Cyprus in 2022 edition of World Press Freedom Index