Category: European Journalism

Struggling to find stories when their Parliament is being boycotted by the opposition is just one of the problems facing the political journalists of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Lack of effective recognition by the European Union and isolation from the international community has already made life tough for the local news media so a political stalemate in the legislative assembly has only added to the difficulties for reporters.

Despite hard times for the local economy, the 200,000-strong population of Northern Cyprus is served by as many as ten daily newspapers. Most are subsidised by the competing political parties so this does ensure a wide spread of views and opinion.

But much of the parliamentary coverage is limited to reproducing the copy provided by the Turkish news agency TAK and the aim of a seminar, held in Nicosia (November 20-21, 2007), was to encourage more investigative and campaigning journalism.

Whereas I had tried before to help stimulate coverage in other Parliaments where opposition parties have been suppressed, this was the first time I had to come to terms with the repercussions of an opposition boycott.

Burhan Eraslan, the Speaker’s special director, who is himself a former journalist, told the seminar that the root of the difficulty was that most of the daily newspapers relied on the financial support of political parties. This meant that Northern Cyprus was largely being offered "party political journalism" rather than authoritative and independent analysis.

"Because the papers don’t have economic independence, they have become too close to either the government or the opposition parties. But because the two main opposition parties are boycotting the parliament most of the reporters do not think it is worth reporting and only two or three journalists ever attend.

"Our legislative assembly in Nicosia would like the journalists to become more effective in challenging both the government and assembly members so that our daily papers do less sloganising on behalf the various parties and assist the people of Northern Cyprus to face up to the challenges which confront them."

Fayka Arseven, the parliamentary reporter for the government paper YeniDuzen Gazetesi described her valiant attempt to give a voice to the views of the opposition parties despite the continuing boycott by their assembly members.

Ms Arseven said: "When I began reporting the Parliament a year ago I received a lot of negative comments from the opposition. Their MPs would not allow me access to their offices but I have tried to reflect their opinions and they do now invite me in and tell me their views."

Her solitary upbeat voice was in sharp contrast to the rather despondent tone of other journalists. What so depressed them was the beleaguered position of their community, the lack of a coherent government plan to end the isolation of Northern Cyprus and their desire for a better dialogue with Greek Cypriots. Why they asked had their plight been forgotten by the news media in the rest of Europe?

I suggested that what they needed to do as journalists was to generate stories which would attract the attention of the international news media, such as a campaign to save the wild donkeys and also the turtles which lay their eggs along the beaches of the Karpasia national park.

Notwithstanding a spirited campaign by the largest selling daily paper, Kibris Gazetesi and a challenge by environmentalists in the courts, the government had gone ahead with the erection of pylons to take electricity to the peninsular, fuelling fears that it would herald the spread of further speculative building along the coastline of Northern Cyrpus.

Here was an issue which I was convinced would feed into the much wider campaign to protect Europe’s environment and safeguard endangered flora and fauna. If the threat was publicised and understood it would heighten the demand for controls on coastline redevelopment and this would put the spotlight on the isolation of Northern Cyprus.

On the political front, I thought it was time the journalists began to campaign for Northern Cyprus to secure two of the six seats which have been allocated for the island of Cyprus at the European Parliament but which are currently held by Greek Cypriots.

By focussing on such a key issue and by trying to obtain a platform at the European Parliament, it might put pressure on the European Union to break the current deadlock over the re-unification of Cyprus and the failure to get EU law implemented in the north of the island.

Perhaps it was also time that both the legislative assembly and the news media of Northern Cyprus began to motivate the 200,000 Turkish Cypriots who live in the United Kingdom and who outnumber Greek Cypriots but are nowhere near as vocal or well organised.

As a first step, Turkish Cypriots living in the UK could be encouraged to establish a petition on the British Prime Minister’s website at Downing Street calling on the British government to step up international efforts to revive the re-unification process.

Young Turkish Cypriots living in the UK could be encouraged to use social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo to urge their friends to add their signatures to the Downing Street petition as a way of showing supporting and solidarity with students in Northern Cyprus who find their qualifications are not always recognised internationally.

Once a campaign had begun, the organisers could seek the support of a sympathetic British MP who might then be persuaded to table a motion in the Westminster Parliament calling for renewed efforts to re-unify Cyprus. If a motion did appear on the order paper, Turkish Cypriots could be asked to seek the backing of their own local MP and the eventual aim would be to get wide cross party support in London.

Perhaps the last word should go to Mrs Fatma Ekenoslu, the Speaker of the legislative assembly, who described to me the sense of isolation which had developed since the failed referendum when the Greek Cypriots rejected re-unification but the Turkish Cypriots voted in favour.

"Europe gave us a promise which the EU could not deliver and Turkish Cypriots believe now they were deceived. But we have always perceived ourselves as Europeans and if our isolation could be lifted other European countries could help put pressure on the Greek Cypriots to come to the negotiating table.

"There has already been a resolution passed by the Federal Parliament of Germany aimed at lifting our isolation. We would like to see the Westminster Parliament do the same.

"Perhaps people in the UK do not realise the extent of isolation, economically, in education, sport and culture. We cannot even have an international football match. We did have a British team about to play in our stadium but then it was cancelled because of Greek Cypriot pressure …that was devastating for Turkish Cypriots".

Nicholas Jones spoke at the Nicosia seminar on parliamentary journalism as a guest of LINKS which organised the event on behalf of the British Government.