Cyprus climbed five places to 25th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index, which noted, however, the influence exerted by the church and political parties over the media.
“Political parties and the Orthodox Church exercise a great deal of influence over the media,” RSF said it its report. “The church controls part of the TV station Mega while the daily newspaper Haravgi and Radio Astra support the communist party (Akel).”
Mega television has been sold to former interior minister Socratis Hasikos and is now operating under the name Omega.
RSF said journalism in Cyprus was also hampered by the criminalisation of defamation “which is still punishable by up to five years in prison.”
The organisation said Cyprus was a tax haven where many companies linked to Russian oligarchs have their official headquarters and “investigative reporting on the state’s links with Russia can lead to civil and criminal proceedings.”
A court order banned the newspaper Politis from publishing hacked emails between prosecutor Eleni Loizidou and the Russian prosecutor-general’s office, RSF said.
“The gag order is still in effect despite an international campaign against this press freedom violation.”
RSF said a total of 80 journalists were killed worldwide in 2018, 348 imprisoned, and 60 were being held hostage, according to the annual worldwide round-up of deadly violence and abusive treatment of journalists showing “an unprecedented level of hostility towards media personnel”.
The widely reported murders of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the young Slovak data journalist Ján Kuciak highlighted the lengths to which press freedom’s enemies are prepared to go. More than half of the journalists killed in 2018 were deliberately targeted.
“Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.”