Ten years ago the European Union expanded exponentially, adding ten new Member States at one moment. For the media sectors in those countries the decade of EU membership has been brilliant for some, batty for others and baffling for the rest. General media health benefited almost immediately from cross border influence and investment. But euphoria turned, as it often does, to the daily grind of economics, politics and the digital dividend.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, smaller than most and certainly most distant from Brussels. The island had once been a British colony, which explains much of the legal structure for media. But it remains divided, the incentive of EU membership did little to reconcile the larger Republic of Cyprus in the south with the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. Reunification, on the lips of every Cypriot, remains as distant today as fifty years ago. Bail-outs are more recent.
Media outlets in the Republic of Cyprus enjoy considerable – and constitutional – guarantees of free expression, noted US-based media freedom advocate Freedom House in its recent survey of global press freedom. "The independent press is vibrant and frequently criticizes authorities," said the 2014 report. Freedom House ranks the Republic of Cyprus 43rd among 193 nations, behind Slovenia and ahead of Poland.
North Cyprus "authorities... are hostile to the independent press," said the Freedom House report, which did not separately index the north. Paris-based media monitor Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked North Cyprus 83rd in its 2014 press freedom index, improving from 94th one year on, and Cyprus 25th, off one rank. Few recent incidents directly threatening either workers or media operations have been reported in Cyprus while in North Cyprus a spate of violence directed at daily newspaper Afrika and TV channel Kanal-T erupted in 2011.
Like all EU Member States Cyprus integrated provisions of the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive into national law, albeit slowly, including analogue to digital television switch-over, even more slowly. Public broadcaster Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) launched its digital multiplex in 2010 and a second multiplex owned by private-sector broadcasters, Velister, followed in 2011 with analogue terrestrial TV relegated to the dustbin of history shortly thereafter. In North Cyprus, technically required to observe EU rules, digital television is only available through Turkish satellite service Digiturk.
Free-to-air CNC Plus TV took advantage of European origination provisions of the AVMS Directive when national rules changed dropping locally produced content in favor of cooperation with Greek channel Star TV and firing more than 40 employees. Most Cyprus privately owned TV operators have similar arrangements with Greek broadcasters. Broadcast regulator Cyprus Radio Television Authority (CRTA) chairman Andreas Petrides said TV in Cyprus was becoming a "garbage dump" for Greek broadcasters.
"This danger exists because the main source of television programs for channels in Cyprus is Greece," he said to Famagusta Gazette (December 26, 2011), "and unfortunately because of the situation of the television landscape in Greece and the economic crisis, there' s a real risk that trash TV from Greece will be distributed to Cyprus at very attractive prices."
Financial stress continues to plague both sides of the island. CyBC, long standing member of the European Broadcasting Union, aired this years Eurovision Song Contest but, alas, did not participate citing money worries. CyBC operates three television channels and four radio stations. North Cyprus government broadcaster Bayrak Radio Television (BRT), operating two TV and four radio channels, plans new facilities after thirty years in former CyBC buildings. BRT receives program support from Turkey's public broadcaster TRT.
Media in Cyprus does not suffer a linguistic dearth. On both sides of the island there is Greek, Turkish and English language radio, TV and newspapers with associated websites. Tourism, retirement living or business has added Russian and Arabic media.