Cyprus Mail

European agency behind contested glossary defends publication

Harlem Desir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

The contested bicommunal glossary for words linked to the Cyprus issue and which has sparked the ire of some journalists is going to be presented to the public on Tuesday afternoon.

A joint undertaking between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot journalists, the ‘Cyprus dialogue project’ falls under the umbrella of the organisation for security and co-operation of Europe (OSCE).

OSCE representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir, in an interview with the Cyprus News Agency on Monday said his office was very impressed with the on-going efforts by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot journalistic communities to strengthen quality journalism on the island.

“As a result, in the past few months, the office developed the Cyprus Dialogue project, to work with the unions of journalists and with the journalistic communities to promote quality journalism and mutual understanding.”

The broader project also included the exchange of 14 young journalists, where seven Greek Cypriot and seven Turkish Cypriot journalists worked for a week at a media outlet of the other community.

The glossary, called ‘Words That Matter – A Glossary for Journalism in Cyprus’ will be published as a brochure in three languages: English, Greek and Turkish.

It contains some 50 mutually acceptable terms that journalists covering the Cyprus problem could opt to use so as to avoid inciting a rhetoric of tension.

Journalists that have been opposed to the glossary have called it a muzzling of press freedom despite repeated clarifications by the OSCE and from those involved in its preparation that its use is optional.

“The creation of the glossary of some of the phrases commonly used by the two communities which may be sensitive was initiated by my office in October of last year, in order to provide a voluntary tool that can support journalists in their work,” Desir said.

“Its use is completely voluntary; it does not impose or restrict the use of certain words but offers an explanation of how some alternatives may contribute to a better understanding and to quality journalism,” Desir told CNA.

Desir said that his office will invite Cypriot media outlets to participate in the public presentation of the glossary on Tuesday and expressed his hope that “the glossary will find its way to the computer screens and desks of journalists, bloggers and anyone interested in dialogue and quality journalism on the island.”

He added that it will be also available on his office’s website, together with all elements of the Cyprus Dialogue project (

Replying to a question, he said that he is aware that “there are some animosities regarding the glossary, but I saw that the concerns were sometimes based on incorrect information”.

He repeated that the glossary is a voluntary tool to strengthen quality journalism. “It is non-imposing and non-restrictive. It is not intended to restrict the rights of journalists and the media to report freely. It does not even pretend that there are always alternatives to offensive wording.”

The glossary simply proposes a new approach and a new thinking, he said, adding that “journalists are and should always remain free to carry out their important work. If you follow my office’s work, you can see the numerous instances when I raised my voice in protection of freedom of expression and media freedom in Cyprus, which I will continue to do in the future as well.”

Asked if he believes that by changing some words the fact that Cyprus is divided as a result of the 1974 Turkish invasion can change, Desir stressed that this exercise was not about debating historical facts. “It is an effort to show how certain words are perceived in various communities. This allows us to be well-informed and make informed decisions on issues that directly affect our present.”

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