President defends gaffe over Al Jazeera ‘gotcha video’

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The government has downplayed a rude remark by President Nicos Anastasiades warning reporters not press him for comments about an Al Jazeera video alleging corruption in the ‘golden passports’ scheme. The undercover video has resulted in a public outcry and the resignations of the House Speaker and an AKEL MP.

“Don’t mention Al Jazeera so that the demon won’t take you,”, the president said, albeit in an off-the-record statement, but the video of rebuff went viral on social media.

The phrase in Greek has a more sinister connotation while urging not to be strayed by lies or the devil will overwhelm you.

This prompted the chairman of the Cyprus Union of Journalists to demand the comment be retracted.

“It was an unfortunate, ungraceful, awkward and unpleasant moment by the president clearly made under emotional distress,” union chief Yiorgos Frangos said in a statement.

“This does not honour anyone, not even the institution that the President represents, not even the journalistic community, the fourth estate that politicians like to call us,” he added.

“It was not a joke, although neither can it be accepted as such.

And it is not an excuse for the president not to know that the cameras were recording at the time.”

“I want to express the certainty that the president, at the first opportunity, will want to reconstruct the bad impression that was created and to make up for it.”

“Journalists often become a punching bag and that is very unpleasant. It is just as unpleasant, with great ease, to shoot the messenger.

The point, however, is to respond, in a convincing and substantiated manner, to any message and any complaint.”

Government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said the video “leaves false impressions about the respect that the President of the Republic has for journalists and the media”.

He said that “as the President of the Republic was arriving at an event, and having been approached by the TV crews, asked them, off-the-record, not to be quizzed about the Al Jazeera video, and the reason was that he did not have the opportunity until that time to see it [the video].”

“Therefore, before the questions from the journalists started, the President stated that he would not answer the specific question if asked since he did not have an opinion about the video, stating this with the specific expression which he used jokingly.”

The expression the President used was highlighted on placards at an anti-corruption protest in Nicosia on Wednesday night.