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“New Era for Government, Media and Communication”: Cyprus and UK experts discuss challenges and opportunities

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and British High Commissioner Ric Todd opened the seminar "New Era for Government, Media and Communication", jointly organised by the Cyprus Press & Information Office and the British High Commission with the support of Ampersand Public Affairs on Thursday 30 October at the Presidential Palace.

The seminar was an opportunity for communication professionals from the Government, the media, academics and civil society representatives to exchange views and experience on the challenges they all face in redefining their role, scope and working practices in order to successfully respond to a rapidly changing scene, engage with audiences and deliver their messages.

In his opening remarks President Anastassiades spoke of Government communication as a crucial element of democratic participation and underlined the importance of media as a channel of communication between the State and the citizens. "An informed and active citizen is a better citizen", President Anastassiades and noted that effective government communication allows the citizen to know the direction the Government is heading at for the benefit of the society and the country and it encourages the participation in formulating government policies.

The British High Commissioner Ric Todd underlined the need for open, honest and effective government communication: "In a democracy the public both have a right to and expect full information. People want to know the truth. They can cope with bad news. They do understand choices. Debate about policy issues and choices is better if full and good information is out there. And public support or understanding for difficult decisions requires communication. Good communication is a proof of good governance. It does not guarantee popularity, by the way, but bad communication guarantees unpopularity." He also highlighted the significant role media play in how the messages are formed and served to the public in an era of transitions, change, disruption to old certainties, reform, austerity, higher public expectations.

In his conclusions Cyprus Government Spokesman Nikos Christodoulides acknowledged the challenges and the need for reform and expressed Government's commitment to respond effectively so that there is a government-wide communication strategy flexible enough to adopt to an ever-changing news and political agenda. He also stressed the importance of social media in listening to the public opinion and taking society's pulse.

The Director of the Press and Information Office (PIO), Eleonora Gavrielides, spoke of the changing profile and role of the Office and the vision of modern, effective and credible Government communication. She further referred to the vital role of an effective, transparent and accountable Government Communications body in securing citizens' participation or at least acceptance of government policies.

The need to have a Communications Strategy in place was stressed by Alex Aiken, Executive Director for UK Government Communications. In his presentation Aiken noted that excellent government communication helped deliver Government policies, protected and enhanced government reputation at home and overseas. He outlined the key elements of successful communications strategy strongly focusing on objectives and audiences insight and highlighted the significance of professional government communicators, more skilled, less bureaucratic, able to work across government in order to deliver unified narrative by one single government working together.

Reform expert Stephen Welch spoke of the purpose of communication in times of reform stressing the need to step out of organizational jargon and actively participate in the public debate.

British journalist Robert Orchard spoke about the need for political journalists not to get too close to politicians and to always remember that the interests of the two groups are not identical although they are clearly symbiotic. He also stressed the 24 hour news, online news and social media which appears to be a really significant journalistic force nowadays.

Director of Cyprus Media Community Centre, Mike Simopoulos spoke of the role of non-State players as communicators and the way in which their exclusion from the public debate damages the level of democracy. He noted however that social media had removed some of the barriers, with an increasing number of groups taking to the Internet to communicate their activities, messages and positions.

Andreas Hadjikyriakos moderated the media panel discussion which brought together Panikos Hadjipanayis, Maria Myles, Thanassis Athanassiou, Tonia Stavrinou and Costas Constantinou, all of whom acknowledged the changing role of the media and the need for the profession to reform itself and redefine their relations with Government communicators and the audiences who are now more intelligent, more skeptical and more demanding news consumers.

The conference was part of the UK - Cyprus Strategic Communication Action Series. All of the participants expressed their will and commitment to carry on the very useful discussion with an aim to enhance government, media and civil society engagement during a period of change.

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