The government was given a lesson on Sunday on how the media could cause unnecessary problems for it. Sunday’s front-page story in the weekly newspaper Simerini claimed that “a top government source” allegedly expressed its disagreement with the decision of the Greek government to support Turkey’s attempt to take the post of general secretary of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
No quotes were attributed to the “top government source” that was allegedly critical of the Greek government and its foreign minister Nicos Dendias for coming to this arrangement, at a time when Turkey does not allow Cyprus flag ships into its ports. Turkey, in exchange had agreed to back Greece’s bid for a place on the UN Security Council, as a non-permanent member in 2025. Simerini also attacked the European Commission for failing to pressure Turkey on the matter of the Cyprus ships.
Government spokesman, Konstantinos Letymbiotis, was asked to comment on the story by Cyprus News Agency, but he made a mistake by not flatly denying the accuracy of the Simerini report. This allowed CNA to give prominence to his comment that Greece’s decision was in no way binding for Cyprus, which would not back the candidacy of Turkey. Apart from this being a case of stating the obvious, this implied, inaccurately, there had been some disagreement between Athens and Nicosia.
There had been no disagreement, and in fact the Cyprus government, according to Letymbiotis, considered the improvement of relations between Greece and Turkey a positive development. He said that “improvement of Greek-Turkish relations is a positive development for peace and security in the region, within the framework of international law, but also for the efforts for the resumption of talks for a Cyprus settlement.”
If the government was critical of Greece, Letymbiotis would not have taken such a positive stance nor would he have assured the agency that relations between the two countries were excellent, something he repeated on CyBC radio on Monday morning. The spokesman was obliged to repeatedly give these assurances, because he chose not to deny an unsubstantiated report, because he does not want to antagonise any media.
Sometimes, however, once a story enters the public domain, making claims about a serious issue, the spokesman should be prepared to issue a denial to put a stop to unnecessary speculation. And there will probably be many more reports, aimed at undermining relations with Greece by the nationalist media, if Athens continues to pursue rapprochement with Ankara. It is important therefore, for the Cyprus government to be clear about its position on the improvement of Greece-Turkey relations, otherwise the nationalist media will set the political agenda.