CYPRUS has a high standing on the press freedom index, compiled every year by the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) group. In 2018 it climbed five places to 25th above more developed democracies like France, Italy, Britain, Spain and the US. Press freedom is respected in Cyprus, government and politicians do not bully or intimidate media and journalists are free to do their job any way they please. There is much more intimidation and intolerance of free speech on social media, but that is another matter.
In Cyprus it is not the politicians that restrict press freedom, but the judiciary which issues restrictive orders and injunctions against media and takes a long time to issue rulings. In mitigation, judges could argue they were obliged to enforce antiquated laws that date back to colonial times and have never been updated. As regards the delays in issuing rulings the clogged-up court system is no justification for taking a year to examine an appeal against an injunction placing restrictions on what the press can report.
RWB highlighted the gagging order imposed on Politis newspaper by the court, preventing it from publishing hacked emails between state attorney Eleni Loizidou and the Russian Federation’s prosecutor-general’s office, as an example of the how the judiciary affects press freedom. The order was imposed at the end of 2017, an appeal was filed by the paper in January 2018 and it is scheduled to be heard 13 months later, this February.
The court decision not only suppressed press freedom – publication of the emails was in the public interest as they exposed the subservience of Cyprus authorities to Moscow – but also delayed appeal against the illiberal court order. As the RWB noted in its report, “the gagging order is still in effect despite an international campaign against this press freedom violation.”
This is not the only way the judiciary undermines press freedom. Libel laws are antiquated and weighted against press freedom. For years, the authorities have been saying the libel law will be modernised, but this has never happened and it still works as a tool for restricting press freedom. Even the way damages are calculated penalises a media company, because a judge charges interest on the amount decided from the day the suit was filed. This could have been five or six years earlier, but the delays were the exclusive responsibility of the court.
There is no denying we have a high level of press freedom in Cyprus, but there is still room for improvement, especially in the way the law and, by extension, the judiciary deals with the matter.