Media freedom must be guarded and local government reforms are a means to enhance citizen participation in democracy, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said.

The minister was addressing a forum at the Circulo de Bellas Artes cultural centre in Madrid, to examine the quality of democracy and challenges to it, in the 21st century.

“Adapting to new realities and addressing new threats is crucial,” Ioannou told attendees.

“The main concern of nations should be to understand the needs of civil society in this rapidly changing environment, promoting strong political competition and reducing democratic deficits,” he said.

It is necessary to modernise voting legislation through use of technology, while ensuring cyberspace security, and facilitate participation of all citizen groups, the minister added.

Ioannou called for stronger political parties, more widely representative electoral systems and fair processes, “so that citizens feel that their vote really counts and they and play an active role in politics.”

Promoting quality journalism and independent media was another requirement, Ioannou said.

“Citizens need free media to provide them with accurate and substantiated information and analyses so that they can determine if governments are doing a good job or if improvements must be made,” he said, noting that societies where freedom of information exists prosper and can recognise what problems need to be addressed.

Referring to attacks on journalists’ human rights, Ioannou said the view that murders happen far away and concern only war correspondents is incorrect, and many examples exist of unsafe conditions for those in media professions.

Ioannou also addressed the threat of misinformation and propaganda in social media, which he said has become more targeted, and said it is vital to establish “cooperation and realistic strategies” against this.

Finally, the minister outlined efforts in Cyprus towards reform of local administration aimed at creating stronger and more independent municipalities in line with EU guidelines. He said these would be under enhanced internal audit and transparency mechanisms and thereby enable greater participation of citizens in decision making.