NEWSPAPERS sound smug at their peril – mistakes are made too easily – but we believe we are allowed to congratulate ourselves on a very special occasion. Tomorrow, November 2, marks 70 years since the first ever issue of the Cyprus Mail was published in 1945.
For an independent, family-run newspaper to have survived the challenges of the publishing industry in Cyprus for seven decades is by any account a remarkable achievement. When we started, those were paper shortages, power cuts and a colonial government that kept their beady eyes open for any sign of dissent and swooped when they thought they found it.
Today those challenges are keeping ahead in an internet world hosting endless news websites and where an increasing proportion of people get their news from Twitter and Facebook. We feel proud that we have met these challenges head on with a constantly updated website that is the most widely read English language news site in Cyprus and viewed by thousands of other readers around the world.
We have always prided ourselves on our objective news reporting. But we are never afraid to criticise. Our hard-hitting editorials and our willingness to print a wide spectrum of comment pieces – sometimes controversial, more often downright commonsense – have made us some enemies. Down the years we have even variously been accused of being in the pay of the government (of whatever party in power), the Greeks, the Turks, the British and the Americans.
The truth is far more mundane. We don’t like lies and have no time for cant. And that, we are proudest of all to say, has earned us the genuine loyalty of our readership. That we have so many regular Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot readers and commentators proves to us we are doing something right.
An anniversary is also a time for retrospection. If there is a disadvantage to our longevity, it is the Cyprus problem. Because it has haunted Cyprus, it has haunted the newspaper. Even in the very early issues of the Cyprus Mail in the 1940s there it is: the news stories on the potential representatives of the consultative assembly, offered by the colonial government, who refused to take part because they sought enosis.
And so it went on down through the decades.
The Cyprus problem has been a cruel task master to both the Cyprus Mail’s reporters and its readers. Though the stories they told were far too often tragic and brutal, at least the paper’s accounts of EOKA explosions, intercommunal violence and the invasion provided something concrete to report and to read. But ever since the mid-1970s, the thousands upon thousands of words written about the Cyprus problem have mostly focused on the endless series of talks to find a solution. There have been periods of optimism, but mostly frustration and weariness.
At times it seems so little has changed that it would be an interesting exercise to take one of our news reports from the 1980s and simply change the dates and the names and republish it to see if any readers could tell the difference.
Aware of the burden of being a newspaper in a country so weighted down with a national issue that it sometimes seems virtually any story can be linked back to it, we have always strived to balance the need to report what appear to be genuine developments, while ignoring the endless repetitions and providing varied, lively news content and comment.
In 2004 of course we did put the Cyprus problem squarely on our front pages day after day. We shared the view put forward by foreign diplomats and leaders that the Annan plan, whatever its flaws, was the best chance in a generation to reunite the island and there might never be another.
The day after the referendum we wrote: “We fear that last night’s celebrations by the ‘no’ camp will turn sour very soon, and just pray that our emphatic ‘no’ proves reversible as President Papadopoulos said it would. If it does not, the resounding no could be a ‘yes’ to the partition of Cyprus.”
Eleven long years later there is another real opportunity for reunification and so the Cyprus problem is creeping back on to our front pages. Once again, we feel that in the interests of this country, that we should support the compromises necessary to make a solution happen and hope our leaders find the strength to ignore the rejectionists.
If we are allowed a birthday wish as we blow out 70 candles on Monday it is that sometime very soon our front page headline can finally proclaim ‘Problem solved’.