10th July 2018
By Wendy Collinson

Words That Matter: a Glossary for Journalism in Cyprus

Within the framework of the Cyprus Dialogue project, the OSCE RFOM Office has supported the creation of a glossary of some of the phrases commonly used by the two communities, which may be sensitive.

The views, opinions, conclusions and other information expressed in this document are not given nor necessarily endorsed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) unless the OSCE is explicitly defined as the Author of this document.

Words Matter: A Glossary for Journalism in Cyprus‘ was published on 10 July 2018 by a group of journalists from both sides of the divided island of Cyprus.

Aidan White

Like media across all of Europe, news organisations in Cyprus today face enormous challenges. The media economy is weakened by the loss of traditional markets; journalism struggles to be heard above the noise of ever-expanding social networks and a largely unregulated Internet; and everywhere there is the threat of undue influence on newsrooms from centres of political and corporate power.

This confluence of pressures has led to an erosion of public trust in public information, including in journalism. To rebuild trust journalists everywhere must create the environment for more independent, professional and ethical reporting.

In Cyprus journalists and media cannot ignore the realities of national feelings and decades of division that have created deep wounds and resentment. They would be foolish to do so, but the ethical challenges of reporting freely while creating space for better understanding between people of different traditions requires the sharing of ideas on how journalism can inspire dialogue and open the door to fresh thinking.

This glossary is a contribution to that process. It is an invitation to media owners, editors and working journalists to discuss how they frame their stories and narratives and the language they use in so doing.

This glossary has been inspired by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (in the framework of its project “Cyprus Dialogue” with the Union of Cyprus Journalists and the Association of the Turkish Cypriot Journalists -and Basın Sen later) which, in partnership with the Ethical Journalism Network, a global coalition of media professional groups, has worked with a team of thoughtful and experienced colleagues in journalism, Dr. Bekir Azgın, Christos Christofides, Esra Aygin and Maria Siakalli, as proposed by the ethics committees on both sides of the island, who have taken over the implementation of the project.

It has been expertly drafted without prejudice and with respect for the values of journalism.

At the outset, it is important to understand that the glossary

  • is not a list of banned words or phrases;
  • is not intended to restrict or otherwise constrain the capacity or the right of journalists and media to report freely;
  • is not a statement of political-correctness enforcing media compliance in the service of a hidden political agenda.

The glossary underscores the simple truth that across Cyprus media on all platforms have the capacity to combat ignorance and, by sharing useful and reliable intelligence, journalists can promote better understanding, even of complex and controversial issues.

But this will not happen automatically.

No matter how stylish and compelling the work of journalists, no matter how factual and insightful their reporting, and no matter how good their intentions, if they use words, and phrases or images that give the perception of bias it may offend a section of the audience and its impact will be dramatically reduced.

Cypriot journalists know better than most that a shared history, attachment to cultural and language values, and a strong sense of identity are what the people of the island have in common. These shared traditions – including journalism — may be understood differently, but they can make a positive contribution to pluralism, democracy and peace-building.

On both sides of the island, media and media support groups reach out to different audiences, but the way they work and the principles they employ are universal and drawn from the richest traditions of free speech and press freedom found across Europe.

The globally-recognised values of journalism – accuracy and fact-based reporting, editorial independence, impartiality, humanity and transparency – are found everywhere and Cyprus media are linked in to European networks of unions and press councils that jealously guard the freedoms of journalists and that monitor the way media serve the public good.

Cyprus Media Complaints Commission in the South and Ethical Committee of the Media in the North have come together to help prepare this glossary. They do so not to promote one side of a complex and nuanced story of the island’s history or of its future, but in the hope that the glossary can open up a debate about how journalism can be an inspiration for mutual understanding.

The team that helped put this glossary together have examined closely the language that journalists use to tell their stories – in both Greek and Turkish. They have considered carefully the need for journalism to be robust and unrestrained in its expression, but also whether potentially contentious words and phrases are essential to the media narrative. Is there another way of storytelling that has equal impact, but does not use require using words that cause unnecessary offence?

The expert team have agreed an initial text – in both Greek and Turkish and finalised in English – that provides a useful trilingual guide to some of the most difficult expressions and words that are in frequent use across all media platforms.

We are grateful to the professionalism, goodwill and experience that the expert advisers — Dr. Bekir Azgin, Christos Christofides, Esra Agin and Maria Siakalli – have brought to the process. Their patience and commitment does great credit to the traditions of journalism they represent.

The glossary is not the last word. It is part of an evolving debate and discussion about the way journalism works. It will be reviewed and changed as fresh ideas and thoughts about the work of journalists emerge.

The glossary highlights words and terms that are understood differently and that may not be helpful. In some cases alternative words and phrases are suggested and agreed by the compilers; in others there are no alternative suggestions and no agreement on how to deal with a perceived bias.

That should not, however, be an indicator of failure. What is important here is to identify where difficulties lie and to promote discussion and fresh thinking within the community of journalists.

The intention of the glossary is to empower journalists, make them aware of the impact of their work, and help them shape a new information landscape – in which the public and political groups have a crucial role to play – that will reduce the scope for intolerant and intemperate communications.

In an age of social networks, globalisation and Internet expansion, where hate-speech, disinformation and abusive communications are common, people are often frustrated by their lack of access to reliable information.

By empowering journalists and media on both sides of the island to do their job more effectively and more thoughtfully we can contribute to building trusted brands that will make a difference to people’s lives. This glossary makes a modest contribution to that task.

Further Information