10th July 2018
By Tom Law

Words That Matter: Cyprus Journalists Working Together to Stem the Flow of Bigotry

This week a small group of journalists from both sides of the divided island of Cyprus launched a small publication, Words Matter: A Glossary for Journalism in Cyprus. This handy guide to troublesome words and phrases routinely used by Cypriot media exposes how casual and thoughtless use of language contributes to hidden bias in the newsrooms on both sides of one of the world’s most enduring and bitter conflicts.

The glossary is the centerpiece of a Cyprus Dialogue Project which for the past two years has been promoting co-operation across the political divide that has separated Turkish-speaking Cypriots from fellow Greek-speaking islanders for decades.

Joint meetings between journalists’ leaders from both sides have been followed by a successful exchange programme in which young journalists spent time in newsrooms of media representing the other community, some of them travelling to parts of Cyprus they had heard of but never seen.

The launch of the glossary is itself an historical event – the first concrete act of professional solidarity between journalists from different communities.

The group that undertook to compile it are a thick-skinned bunch. They need to be. For years people who have encouraged co-operation between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in support of a lasting peace have been targeted by die-hard nationalists who accuse them of treachery, of “going soft” on historical crimes, and of callous disregard for the long-term pain and suffering of people who have grievances dating back more than 50 years.

In the days leading up to the launch familiar rumblings of discontent were heard: a Cypriot member of the European Parliament complained to Brussels about attacks on press freedom; and a few hardline journalists and commentators muttered darkly about threats to editorial independence.

But complaints about censorship, political attacks on press freedom, and external interference failed to stir the vast majority of journalists, not least because the arguments, without any viable facts to support them, have no journalistic credibility.

Meeting in Nicosia on July 10, the team that put the glossary together (Bekir Azgin, Christos Christofides, Esra Aygin and Maria Siakalli), joined Harlem Desir, the Representative on Freedom of The Media of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to present their work to the Cyprus media community.

The glossary has been produced in English, Greek and Turkish and is supported by the Ethical Journalism Network, who provided advice on standards of journalism and edited the English version of text.

In his introduction to the final document, Aidan White, the EJN President who attended the launch events in Nicosia, stressed that the glossary is a starting point for newsroom discussions on how media report the Cyprus story.

“At the outset it is important to understand that the glossary is not a list of banned words and phrases,” he writes, “it is not intended to restrict the rights of journalists and media to report freely, and it is not a statement of political correctness in the service of a hidden political agenda.”

Instead, the glossary he says will empower journalists on both sides of the island to do their job more effectively, by encouraging discussion and fresh thinking about how media and journalists can play a role in building public trust by reducing the scope for intolerant and intemperate communications.

The glossary draws upon the rich experience and expertise of both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot journalists. It aims to encourage sensitive communications, to promote the sharing of stories and experiences, and, eventually, to help ease tensions.

Harlem Desir pointed out that the glossary addresses a challenge that faces all journalists on the island – to report professionally on the complex situation of Cyprus on behalf of all communities. “It is recognition,” he said, “that while journalists are not in charge of negotiations on the future of the island, their approach and their choice of words can have a direct effect on public opinion.”

Further information

Tweets from the launch event