Cyprus’ Greek and Turkish leaders united in disdain of critical media, Cyprus solution

Both administrations on the divided island of Cyprus appear to be on a mission to prove that they are not that different after all.

On the one side, the south to be exact, you have Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, who made a threat-laced phone call to the boss of a journalist in order to have the said journalist fired.

In the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), President Ersin Tatar insulted a journalist with a comment under their Twitter post, which lead to death threats against them.

Andreas Paraskos, the editor-in-chief of the Cyprus edition of Greek newspaper Kathimerini, has worked to remove the issue of missing persons - the thousands of men, women and children who went missing on the island during the 60s and 70s - from the grip of Greek nationalists through his reporting.

Parasakos said he was a human being before a journalist, and pursued the villains who decades ago painted the island red, documenting massacres and mass graves for his Greek Cypriot readership.

What Andreas was doing was  “peace journalism’’ and he favoured a solution and closer ties between both sides of the island.

In contrast to many of his colleagues, who concealed the fact that Anastasiades had effectively pushed away the negotiation table at Cranas Montana - the 2017, U.N.-mediated meetings for a final negotiation to solve the Cyprus problem - Paraskos was after the truth, and this is why he always remained on the bad side of the Cypriot leader.

In his column dated Jan. 10, Paraskos put forth horrifying claims. In truth, his article only expressed what has been known all along.

It was always reported that Anastasiades’ law firm, Nicos Chr. Anastasiades, made millions of dollars in profit on “golden passports,’’ the EU passports being sold to foreigners in exchange for investments on the island.

After the article was published, Anastasiades was quick to call the owner of Kathimerini. He was raging and speaking of a court case in a threatening tone. The owner did not side with Paraskos and threw in the towel. Paraskos then did what we would expect from him and resigned in a bid to “protect his honour.’’

In Cyprus, mainstream media’s allegiance to the “official’’ narrative and their relations with the ruling power may form one of Anastasiades’ greatest political advantages.

But needless to say, it is unacceptable that in a EU member nation a leader would put pressure on a media boss to push a journalist out of his job.

While Anastasiades may hide his gains from selling EU passports in exchange for profit from local Greek media, foreign outlets such as the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network appear determined to follow this matter. 

It is reported that following last year’s documentary featuring hidden camera corruption footage aired by the network, there will be much more, which may go as far as implicating Anastasiades.

Then there are claims that the Greek Cypriot leader is using his good friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as an intermediary to silence Al Jazeera, but these allegations have not been substantiated.

But what has been proven is that there is a serious connection between Anastasiades’ “hatred of media’’ and his “anti-solution’’ stance. 

Paraskos wrote about the passports and how the Greek Cypriot leader had no intention to include Turks in the Greek Cypriot state and his push for a continuation of the status quo.

As for the northern part of the island, there is another pro status-quo figure that could give Anastasiades a run for his money. He too is hateful of the media and continually disparages them. 

Reporters Without Borders’ Cyprus correspondent Esra Aygın posted a message on Twitter, in which she respectfully addresses Tatar, but accuses him of risking the health of the Turkish population on the island over the government management of the coronavirus pandemic. 

What did Tatar do? He took a swipe at the journalist, calling her “cheap and undignified.’’

Aygın then received a series of threats on social media.

Tatar is a lot like his counterpart in the south, as he does not like opposition journalists and maintains an “allergy’’ towards those advocating a solution to unify the island.

Ankara-backed Tatar has proven very effective in using the media of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as demonstrated ahead of the TRNC’s Oct. 18 elections, when he showed a zero tolerance policy for critical journalists, openly targeting them during rallies.

But there is an element of restriction on media freedoms that is particularly worrisome in the TRNC. There are three lawsuits filed against the editor-in-chief of TRNC’s Afrika newspaper Şener Levent, who has been summoned to court on charges of insulting Erdoğan. Levent is facing up to four years in prison in the case that will be seen in an Ankara court.

When we take into consideration Tatar’s allegiance to Erdoğan, even the “handing over’’ of  Levent to Ankara could be on the table.

There are serious indications that prompt such fears and concerns in the TRNC. 

I don’t know how the case involving the journalist in Greek Cyprus will play out, but my concerns for journalism under Tatar’s rule are increasing by the day.

Both Anastasiades and Tatar are doing a great disservice to their nations by their penchant for pressuring, targeting and threatening critical journalists.

The former signals a return to the policies of Archbishop Makarios III, while the latter is pointing to an embrace of the ways of hardliner Rauf Denktaş.

It is for this reason that a solution on the island has become a matter of urgency.

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