In a report about last year’s parliamentary elections, prepared by Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers, the public broadcaster was singled out for special mention. The three experts of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of OSCE noted that the CyBC budget required the approval of the legislature through a complicated procedure every year.
It added: “In 2021 the budget for the CyBC was not approved at the first attempt as the political parties raised objections with regard to the corporation’s performance and increased the pressure on it. In view of the above and in the absence of objective criteria for the allocation of the budget there is a possibility that the independence of the CyBC is undermined.”
The assumption of CyBC independence is mistaken. The public broadcaster has never been independent, but has been the organ of the government of the day since the time of Archbishop Makarios and little has changed since. It is in fact a state rather than a public broadcaster as it serves those running the government rather than the people that pay for its upkeep.
To give a semblance of objectivity, legislation was passed forcing it to report the positions of all the parliamentary parties on public issues, so it also serves the parties to an extent. Most journalists employed by the corporation have the backing of one party or another and the requests of party leaders are always satisfied. The recent incident in which the head of news ordered the presenter of a current affairs programme not to put on a politician, scheduled to speak about the shenanigans of his party leader, was a case in point. The party leader’s request was immediately satisfied. It was not the first time the guest of a show was dis-invited after intervention from above.
This servility to the political establishment is part of the CyBC’s corporate culture and it is doubtful anyone will change it. The members of the board are political appointees and so is the general manager, none of whom is prepared to go against the political tide as they feel indebted to those that appointed them. It is a sad reflection on our democracy, especially when we consider that the taxpayer gets very little for the €30 million plus it pays for CyBC each year.
The OSCE report made suggestion regarding the independence of the CyBC. “In order to safeguard the independence of public radio and television, and to encourage the development of investigative journalism, the budget must be linked to clear criteria.” It is a fair point, but the problem is that the government and parties would not be served by such an arrangement so it is very unlikely to happen.