Cyprus Mail

President tries to mend anti-press blunder

By Angelos Anastasiou

PRESIDENT Nicos Anastasiades took a swipe at the media on Wednesday for their role in Cyprus’ banking and economic meltdown, apparently hitting back at accusations that he and his party received suspicious donations from businessmen.

Anastasiades’ role as president of DISY during the time when a €50,000 donation was made by Focus Maritime Corporation, a company with alleged ties to failed Laiki Bank’s former strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos has come under scrutiny, with critics charging that this donation represents kickbacks for political favours.

Addressing a Democratic Rally gathering, a visibly riled up Anastasiades went off-speech and implied that media owners were being paid off by banks through advertising revenues and thus should refrain from casting the first stone. He even acknowledged – but qualified – the weight of his words.

“I do not accept moral lessons from anyone,” he said. “Those who took millions to advertise the banks so that you could learn that ‘thinking of it, it can happen’ cannot point accusing fingers,” he added, alluding to a much-replayed punch line to Bank of Cyprus commercials. “It was not politicians who played these commercials,” Anastasiades said, adding “I know I am harsh, but even those judging are being judged.”

“We are trying to turn the economy around,” he said. “We need the media’s help, not their subversion. There is a limit to patience. I will never wonder whether some have challenged the wisdom of criticising or hosting in 2007-08 those who are involved in scandals today,” he said, hinting at media heads promoting bank executives in return for chunks of their advertising spend.

But the presidential tirade came across as an effort to threaten the media into silence and absolve politicians of their sins by passing the buck, so his team went to work on controlling the damage of the media blunder.

“What the president meant to say was that even if some political parties accepted donations at that time without prior knowledge of the donors’ activities, the same logic should apply as with the media, when they inadvertently advertised toxic products and insolvent banks,” the deputy government spokesman Viktoras Papadopoulos said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of an event in Nicosia celebrating the tenth anniversary of European Union accession, Anastasiades tried to explain the issue away by clarifying that, far from trying to pointing fingers, he was actually aiming for the opposite.

“I am not one of those who question the need for independent journalism, but at the same time we must realise that demonising politics, and demonising the media, would be destructive for democracy,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, the Union of Cypriot Journalists reported political pressure on the press urged journalists to respond via the quality of their work.

“There have been attempts, mostly by politicians, to diminish the value of journalists’ work and contribution,” the statement said. “Over the past few months, these incidents have increased in numbers. Politicians and party leaders, attempting to shake off their responsibilities, turn against reporters, with the obvious goal of diverting attention elsewhere. Our response is that their efforts will prove fruitless.”

“Our answer to them must be the quality of our daily work, the struggle to defend the truth, our objectivity and independent speech and writing,” the union’s statement concluded.

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