An alleged attack in a work environment this week has seen the state broadcaster drawn into a dispute involving one of its own members

A senior civil servant slapped her male subordinate, CyBC radio’s afternoon news chat show Apla alla Starata reported on Wednesday, something not known to have been reported before (it may have happened).

Reporter website carried the story on Monday, but it was not picked up by any other media as it was vague and based entirely on an allegation made by one individual. The story was deemed of great importance by the CyBC however, which announced it at the start of the chat show, and devoted some 15 minutes to it because presenter Athina Violari said “work intimidation is a very serious matter”.

The story, she said, was about “work intimidation, bullying and insulting behaviour,” before presenting the allegation as fact.

“It is inconceivable at (public) services where there are people who to be in charge of a service is a person with education, a person with experience, but to slap her subordinate, we consider unacceptable and a phenomenon that must be eliminated from our society,” she announced.

She invited editor of Reporter Dina Cleanthous to talk about the matter and the alleged victim, but the senior civil servant was not invited to give her version of events.

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CyBC Radio’s Athina Violari

Cleanthous said there were three witnesses to what happened, and added that the top-ranked civil servant shouted at the man for being late to carry out a job he had been assigned and had “threatened to cause him harm because he was late.” She was not there but was merely relating what the man had told her.

A person that was at the meeting, at which the slapping allegedly occurred, said that while the director had reprimanded her subordinate and may have raised her voice, “she never laid a finger on him.” This was pure fabrication, the person said.

Cleanthous said that the matter was of such importance it had been reported to the office of the European Commission in Nicosia, to the Public Service Commission, Pasydy and the auditor-general, “while a letter has been sent to the chief of police asking for an investigation of the incident with full transparency.”

The man, who is an hourly-paid worker in the public service and had been moved to the service in Nicosia from Larnaca district office some time ago, for a specific manual job, told the show that after he had gone to the police to file his complaint, he received a letter notifying him to return to Larnaca. This was a “vindictive transfer,” he said.

He also accused the police of refusing to take a statement from him when he went to report the case. Only on his third visit did the police take a statement.

Eventually asked by Violari if he had been slapped, he replied: “Yes, I was slapped and it is something that can be investigated, because there was a cameraman, a producer, an official as well as the specific gentleman we were interviewing present. Yes, truly, I was slapped, I was threatened quite traumatically and do not hesitate to say the real truth.”

The target of the allegations was not given the right of reply on the CyBC show (nor by the Reporter website). The ‘slap’ story also featured on the state broadcaster’s 7am radio news, the following day, but was taken off subsequent bulletins. A corporation insider said that board chairman Giorgos Kentas called and ordered the story taken off the news, presumably for its defamatory content.

Facebook page ‘Paretithite’ (resign), which takes up issues of corruption, meanwhile carried the story also posting a picture of the alleged slapper, with her eyes covered.

In none of the coverage of the affair, was it considered relevant to report that the high-ranking public servant at the centre of the allegations also happened to have been the investigating officer in a disciplinary case brought against CyBC manager Savvas Aristodimou. He was accused of bullying and making sexist, racist and offensive comments against a female colleague.

Although she does not work at the corporation, she was asked to investigate as an outside official – she is head of another public organisation – because this would ensure the objectivity of the report. Her report was given to the corporation’s board on September 29.

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Savvas Aristodimou

The allegedly offensive comments were made on a post on his Facebook page, Aristodimou making insinuations against a television presenter. Although the findings of the investigation are not known, the public discrediting of the investigating officer would make her report unreliable, a point already being made by Aristodimou to CyBC bosses.

Aristodimou, the deputy head of CyBC programmes, is no stranger to disciplinary procedures. Back in 2020, when he was still president of staff union Eyrik, he was the subject of three separate disciplinary investigations all of which found that he had committed all the offences he was accused of.

These included unjustified absence from work, absence with false claim of illness, leaving the work place without authorisation, systematic and repeated failure to observe working hours, systematic insubordination, refusal to follow orders of his manager, improper and confrontational behaviour towards his superiors, refusal to show up at the post he was seconded to.

No action was taken against Aristodimou because the members of the CyBC board had changed and the new board decided to cancel all the disciplinary procedures against the union boss on the grounds that the previous board had carried out the procedures and it could not act on them.

After these incidents, Aristodimou applied for the post of head of television at CyBC but was not selected. He did, however, rise to a high pay-scale at which he was not allowed to be a union boss.

The audit office had also castigated the “culture of impunity prevailing at the CyBC” in a special report published in January 2022, about the way the corporation had dealt with Aristodimou.

It said: “The disciplinary cases related to among other things, absence from work without leave, unjustified non-observance of working hours, omission and refusal of compliance with orders from superior, improper behaviour, non-appearance for work in public service he had been seconded to, the presentation of medical certificates after taking leave and travel abroad on trip related to the CyBC when he was seconded to another service and claiming travel expenses.”

Was the CyBC management trying to save the former union boss’ skin by running the unsubstantiated slap story? One corporation insider said the story would never have been done on Athina Violari’s show if there had been no orders from top management to cover it.

The CyBC coverage appears to have had results. A police spokesperson said on Thursday that the chief of police had ordered an investigation into the matter, which had been turned into an issue of national importance worthy of the chief’s direct attention, not to mention the involvement of the European Commission.