3 May is marked around the world as a day of celebration of press freedom.
Since the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed this date as World Press Freedom Day in 1993, it has become a day to reflect on and evaluate the state of press freedom in our own countries and around the world, as well as to remind ourselves of the need to defend journalists and media professionals from attacks on their work and independence.
In Cyprus the rights of journalists to exercise their profession freely are still not fully guaranteed. Back in February 2011, the Turkish-language Afrika newspaper – which maintains a highly critical stance of affairs in the northern part of Cyprus – and its editor-in-chief Sener Levent were threatened by an armed gunman at the newspaper’s premises. In July that year Levent’s colleague Ali Osman was also attacked at gunpoint. In fact 2011 was a particularly difficult year for Turkish Cypriot journalists. Mutlu Esendemir, the news editor of the Kanal T and a reporter for Kibris newspaper, was injured following the explosion of a bomb placed under his car, while Cenk Mutluyakali, the editor-in-chief of Yeniduzen newspaper, was also threatened. These are the last recorded incidents of direct threats against the lives of Cypriot journalists, but they remain a chilling reminder that in our divided country threats to the freedom of the press continue to exist.
At the time of the attack on Levent his Greek Cypriot colleagues from the Union of Cyprus Journalists (UCJ) crossed the Green Line to show their support and solidarity. The UCJ has mobilised support for Levent on several occasions before the opening of the crossing-points when he was imprisoned for his and his newspaper’s writings. As welcome as this move was, it remains one of the few public gestures of good will between journalists across the divide in Cyprus. Unfortunately professional solidarity and collaboration between journalists remains politicised along the faultlines of the Cyprus Problem.
It is clear that more needs to be done to strengthen the links between the media across the Cyprus divide. Over the last few years the UCJ has maintained sporadic contact with the Association of Turkish Cypriot Journalists, while dialogue with Basin Sen – their trade union counterpart – is limited to interaction within the frameworks established by the European Federation of Journalists, and remains tainted from past confrontations within the EFJ General Assembly.
UNESCO sees 3 May as an occasion around which initiatives can be encouraged and developed in support of press freedom. At CCMC we also believe that World Press Freedom Day offers an ideal starting point for journalists across the divide to start to build an understanding and common framework of action around shared principles and values. It is also an opportunity to sensitise all Cypriots about the need for the rights of journalists to be guaranteed, and to inform them that in Cyprus those rights will not be fully safeguarded until a just and lasting settlement is agreed, and a demilitarisation of the island takes place.
With the aim of kickstarting the dialogue to establish a framework for media collaboration in Cyprus, CCMC calls on all journalists’ organisations in Cyprus to attend the first meeting of the MEDIANE – Media in Europe for Diversity Inclusiveness programme, which will take place in Nicosia from 10-12 June, and to utilise this opportunity to build an action plan for the future.