Interview with Flora Alexandrou
September 17, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. in Nicosia
Anna Prodromou (AP)
Flora Alexandrou (FA)
AP: Flora Alexandrou – journalist, linguist, translator, woman, friend. Quite a few identities – individual, social, collective – intersecting in just one person and I’m sure we could add more. Which identity, or which part of your identity, do you feel defines you the most?
FA: To these identities, I would also add Cypriot, since nationality plays a significant role in shaping who we are and how we act. Unfortunately, due to the Cyprus problem, we are forced to balance additional fragments of our identities: Greek and Turkish Cypriot. So, who am I? I’m all of these due to their inevitably overlapping nature; it is sometimes difficult to balance these intersections.
AP: Indeed it can be quite challenging. You have been working in Cyprus as a foreign correspondent for many years now, would you like to share your views on the media situation in Cyprus?
FA: We have some excellent local journalists in Cyprus. However, as far as the media is concerned, the overall picture, it is certainly not entirely reassuring. You know, a person who reads the press on a regular basis can identify a lack of basic journalistic knowledge in some parts of the media, as well as a general indifference to presenting a satisfactory product. In some cases, articles are missing the basic five W’s of journalism, with headlines that have nothing to do with the story and are often misleading articles that are too lengthy, etc.
AP: Do you think that this could be somehow a result or consequence of the financial crisis, which has created a wider crisis in the sector, or is it an ongoing situation?
FA: The crisis undoubtedly constitutes a factor and, undoubtedly, it is also not only a Cypriot phenomenon, but we are talking about Cyprus now. Well ok, we have the crisis, but then why are there so many media members in a small country which, allegedly because of this economic crisis, is proceeding with collective redundancies? Additionally, having so many media outlets does not necessarily mean a polyphony, a democracy. Often, it turns out to be simply a cacophony of noise. Why not have collaboration among some of them, in order to provide a better product?
AP: Which would also create more original content, distance themselves from copy-and-paste writing.
FA: Right! Copy-and-paste, bad writing, leaving the reader with so many question marks.
AP: Do you feel that the fact that as there is a huge problem – the Cyprus problem – that dominates all coverage, makes things harder contentwise?
FA: Of course. If you consider the fact that, for more than four decades, the main story in the media has been the Cyprus problem and other stories related to it, then you can understand what kind of ordeal that is. News articles on the Cyprus problem essentially smell of mothballs at this point. I think it should be taken into consideration that constant repetition makes people bored and creates apathy. People don’t care, they simply don’t care anymore. Of course, they should also realize that the Cyprus problem doesn’t sell abroad, at least how they present it. That is the reality.
AP: How do you think we can get people more involved, and I’m not referring particularly to the Cyprus issue, but to other stories such as culture, science, music, etc.?
FA: By producing interesting stories and by being persistent. Because you cannot expect to achieve the desired results straight away; you have to educate people so that they expect to read/view well-made content. Create other interests in readers. It is a learning process for all of us.
AP: What about foreign correspondents – do you think their work is of a higher level?
FA: I wouldn’t say higher, but different, because we are addressing an international audience. Therefore, we have to send out articles in plain, intelligible language. Fortunately, we also have the backing of strong editorial departments. Another difference is objectivity. Like it or not, we have to be objective, otherwise the door will close for us. I often read and hear certain local journalists using the expression “our side”, identifying people as Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot when they are performing their duties. I believe that this shows a lack of objectivity and is a bad practice for a journalist, especially in a divided country and, of course, it is wrong to intersect their personal and professional identities.
AP: Usually, a major challenge for journalists is to obtain information quickly and from reliable sources. What are the major problems that you face in your everyday work?
FA: The hypengyophobia of the authorities – I mean their fear of responsibility, how they try to evade responsibility. Hours are spent on phone calls before obtaining simple information, if you even manage to obtain it at all.
AP: Do you think that this fear could be justified, to a certain point? In the sense that the root of this fear comes from the concern that the information might be manipulated or presented differently?
FA: No fear is justified during our duties. When you sign up for a job and you get paid for it, you should know your duties and responsibilities. If the information is manipulated, then the responsibility lies with the media, not with the source. I have to add though that experts agree that finding ways to combat the public’s existing distrust towards the press, such as by improving transparency – a difficult task – could be one of the key factors in safeguarding the future of journalism and its credibility.
AP: As a woman, have you ever come across any obstacles? Has the fact that you’re a woman created any difficulties?
FA: No, but that is probably because of the nature of my job. However, we all know that this is certainly not the case for all women in Cyprus. We all know that gender discrimination is rife in Cypriot society. For example, how many female leaders are there compared to men, and then there are the issues of wage disparities, sexism in the workplace etc. Cases of sexism are pretty conspicuous in Cyprus. Even though I don't actually consider myself a feminist, or a woman who burns her bra, sometimes I wonder why we have to trust more men in key positions when their ancestor Adam got duped by a woman. And certainly I don’t want to be considered as a spare rib.
AP: Or any other part for that matter (laughing). The media is undeniably a demanding industry. What is it that inspires you in your profession and keeps you going?
FA: Any article written by a free spirited person. And yes, I love this job, even though the profession is currently weakened by the erosion of democracy, as I was saying before. It is our duty to fight and make every effort towards its rehabilitation.
AP: Are you optimistic or hopeful about the future?
FA: If we are talking about the future of our country, I can’t be optimistic as long as this division continues; but on the other hand, I don’t want to be pessimistic, since pessimism means resignation. Therefore, I chose a third option: being realistic.
AP: Thank you very much!
FA: Thank you!
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