BBC News avoids the term ‘occupation’ in Cyprus gas report

The BBC's double standards on disputed territories are once again on display.

A report titled “Turkish drone fuels tension over Cyprus gas claims” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on December 16th.

The report begins by informing readers that:

“A Turkish military drone has arrived at a base in Turkish-backed northern Cyprus to help controversial gas exploration projects near the island.

A Turkish military official said the drone would escort its drilling ships. There are two – the Fatih and Yavuz – in the area, despite strong criticism from Cyprus and its EU partners.” [emphasis added]

It goes on:

“Turkey alone recognises the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”

Readers are provided with a similarly worded map:

Later on an attempt is made to provide some historical background:

“The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have been separated by a UN buffer zone since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to a military coup in Cyprus backed by Greece.”

Interestingly – but predictably – the words ‘occupation’ and ‘occupied’ do not appear anywhere in this report. As has been the case in past BBC reporting, there is no reference in the report to “illegal settlements” or “international law” despite the fact that it was Turkish state policy to facilitate and encourage the immigration of Turkish nationals to Cyrpus during the latter half of the 1970s.

In contrast to BBC coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, readers do not find any pronouncements allocating disputed territory to one side or the other in the style of the frequently employed terminology “occupied Palestinian land” and “Palestinian territory” and no mention is made of the presence of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus. Moreover, the previous BBC policy of describing northern Cyprus as being ‘controlled’ by Turkey appears to have been abandoned.

Readers are told that:

“The Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel are also exploring for gas.

In July [sic] a new “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” (EMGF) was launched by those three countries, plus Egypt, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority. However, Turkey was excluded.”

The EMGF was actually established in January 2019.

The background to the story includes agreements reached in late November between Turkey and the interim government of Libya which are described as follows:

“Last month, Turkey and the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the region.

The Memorandum of Understanding aims to protect the rights of both countries against any “illegal” encroachments by other players in the region.

In a separate memorandum, Turkey and the GNA agreed on military co-operation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government was “ready to provide all kinds of support to Libya”. He met GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul on Sunday.”

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus adds:

“Turkey’s deal with the Libyan government in Tripoli extends Ankara’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to touch that of Libya. This effectively cuts off Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and the Palestinians from Greece and Italy, threatening planned energy pipeline projects in the region.

Egypt objected. Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador and received support from the EU.”

Writing at the FDD, Aykan Erdemir provides a more helpful explanation:

“Turkey signed an agreement with Libya on November 27 in an attempt to redraw maritime boundaries in the volatile eastern Mediterranean. […] the Turkey-Libya deal will fuel further tensions by threatening Greek, Cypriot, and Egyptian control of their territorial waters. […]

The deal seeks to create a maritime corridor between the two countries, stretching from southwest Turkey to northeast Libya. This corridor would cut through a zone currently claimed by Greece and Cyprus, which are planning a future gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean gas fields to markets in Europe – a project that would help the continent reduce dependency on Russian gas. Ankara’s attempt to dictate new boundaries directly challenges the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece. […]

Tensions among Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia were already high due to Turkey’s exploration and drilling for gas within Cypriot territorial waters. Since a 1974 coup attempt led by Greek army officers, Turkey has occupied the northern part of the island, where Turkish Cypriots maintain a self-proclaimed independent state recognized only by Ankara. After the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus discovered natural gas within its EEZ, Turkey has repeatedly attempted to drill in Cypriot territorial waters. The Turkish government claims its drilling is necessary to ensure equal shares for Turkish Cypriots in gas revenues, but its incursions into Cypriot and Greek waters have escalated tensions with Athens and Nicosia, forced the European Union to consider imposing sanctions, and left Ankara with few allies in the region.”

The BBC report’s explanation of what its opening sentence described as “controversial gas exploration projects” is as follows:

“Turkey has long challenged the Republic of Cyprus government’s exclusive drilling rights in the region. Turkey is now stepping up oil and gas exploration of its own.”


“The Republic of Cyprus argues that Turkey has no right to drill for hydrocarbons off its coast.

Turkey says its drilling operations are taking place inside its continental shelf, and therefore comply with international law.”

That ‘he said-she said’ portrayal of the dispute clearly does not provide BBC audiences with the “depth of analysis” required “to build people’s understanding” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.  

Related Articles:

Not all ‘occupied territories’ are equal for the BBC

When the BBC News website reported an enduring conflict without a narrative

BBC double standards on disputed territory in evidence again


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