NICOSIA, Cyprus – An official with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Tuesday defended the creation of a glossary that offers journalists on both sides of ethnically divided Cyprus alternatives to words that are deemed offensive or negative in their reporting of the island's long-standing conflict.
The glossary of 56 words and phrases courted criticism from scores of Greek Cypriot journalists and some political parties who saw it as a bid to stymie free speech and impose a vocabulary that skews historical facts.
A protest letter denouncing what it called "dangerous" ideas that aim to turn journalists into "mindless instruments," and to promote "censorship," reportedly drew signatures of support from 170 journalists. The letter circulated three weeks before the glossary's publication.
OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Desir pushed back against the criticism, saying that the glossary was compiled by journalists from both sides of the divide and is strictly voluntary.
He said the glossary explains why certain worlds are deemed offensive, aiming to encourage dialogue between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in order to break down lingering mistrust.
"I think that this criticism was mainly unfair because there was no will to patronize or to impose anything," Desir told a press conference.
"This glossary is a tool for the discussion in the island, especially for those who are interested in trying to promote a journalism...which is supportive of the view of the future reunification of the island."
One word that the glossary grapples with is "border", used by Turkish Cypriots to describe the demarcation line separating the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.
According to the glossary, Greek Cypriots object to the word because it suggests that there are two recognized states on the island. The glossary offers the alternative "Green Line" — a reference to a line that a British officer drew on a map using a green pencil to mark a buffer zone during armed clashes in the early 1960s.
But the glossary offers no agreed-upon alternative to the word "invasion" used to describe Turkey's 1974 military offensive in Cyprus that followed a failed coup by supporters of union with Greece and which split the island in two.
The glossary says Turkish Cypriots find the word "offensive and controversial" because it ignores what they say are Turkey's intervention rights under a treaty embedded in Cyprus' constitution.
The Cyprus Journalists' Union last week said whether the glossary will be used in whole or in part or discarded entirely rests entirely with individual journalists.