North Cyprus and Press Freedom

A report released on Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked North Cyprus 61st in their list showing press freedom in 178 countries throughout the world. Although this ranking was down from the previous year this follows a downward trend experienced throughout the EU. South Cyprus was ranked 45th and this too showed a downward shift in there position in relation to other countries.

Turkey, however, was placed at 138th, not that far from Russia’s 140th. According to the RSF report this decline can be explained “by the frenzied proliferation of lawsuits, incarcerations, and court sentencing targeting journalists. Among them, there are many media outlets and professionals which are either Kurd or are covering the Kurd issue.”

These findings about North Cyprus and Turkey seem to contradict accusations that Turkey is controlling the freedom of the North Cyprus government, although with the Kurdish issue being only minimally covered there would be less need for Turkey to intervene with censorship.

I have to say, as editor of NCFP, there has been no direct government interference with what is published here although there have been allegations of attempts by some members of the legal profession to impose a “voluntary censorship” in the case of the Geoff Day alleged theft case. In my opinion, the lawyers were within their TRNC constitutional rights to expect the mildly insulting references to be removed but not to expect all reporting to cease.

Unfortunately an implied threat sometimes has more power than a real threat, especially if the demand for press censorship is unconstitutional and difficult to impose. One of the weaknesses in the legal system here is the expense of proving innocence and, as shown in the Geoff Day case, the potential to lock the accused in a prolonged and draining court case which somehow necessitates nearly 60 court appearances so far.

In Geoff Day’s case there is a desperate need to know how the case is dealt with in reality, not just by reading a report supporting the eventual judgement. This is a landmark case for ex-pat property owners as it shows what happens if you or I were to be accused by a builder of stealing his materials left behind on land which, because of the outrageous time taken to transfer title deeds, still legally belongs to the builder. In my mind, if I have legal ownership of the land, then if a builder leaves materials behind I am within my rights, after giving 7 days notice to the builder, to dump the offending litter.

Again, in Geoff’s case, we will probably not be carrying court reports in the future, not because we are not willing to do so, within the rights afforded by the TRNC Constitution, but because members of the community are confused about the legality of a role which in the UK is performed by a Court Reporter. I have many times heard people say, without giving proof, that in the TRNC it is illegal to comment on ongoing court cases, but surely this does not include describing what happens in the court WITHOUT COMMENT.

That as an aside, so far we at NCFP feel that North Cyprus’ 61st ranking in the RSF report reflects what we are experiencing in the running of our newspaper blog.

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