Report – By Bob Howarth in Dili
The tiny new nation of East Timor, now known as Timor-Leste, has celebrated World Press Freedom Day with an hour-long forum involving its leading journalists and in-house gatherings at media houses.
The most positive news to come from Timor-Leste came from the forum in Tetum language on the national network TVTL.
Moderated by TVTL anchor, Elitorio Souza , veteran journalist and head of the Syndicate of Journalists Ote Otelio was joined by Mouzhino Lopes, director of the new daily newspaper The Independente, and the head of the Association of TL journalists, Tito Felipe.
The wide-ranging forum covered issues such as salary ranges (where the average reporter earns about US$120 monthly), ethics and political and commercial challenges and the rights of media workers.
The forum on May 4 found virtually no examples of outright political pressure or threats to reporters during the recent presidential elections, apart from an incident where a candidate seized a tape in Los Palos from reporter who failed to understand the concept of “off-the-record” briefings.
Training and access to internet was also a major issue.
Limited internet access
For example the University of Timor-Leste’s journalism students have no on-campus internet access and have to pay $1 an hour at internet cafes for research and communication.
Most media operations in TL now use the internet for research and sourcing foreign news but in many offices this is restricted to one computer.
Many NGOs and educators are hoping for easier and cheaper wi-fi internet access for TL’s 1.2 million citizens following the decision of the government to allow in competitors and end Timor Telecom’s monopoly.
TL’s media scene has grown since independence to its current size of four competitive daily newspapers, two weeklies, two TV networks (and widespread satellite reception) and dozens of community radio stations.
TL’s political parties, unlike in many Pacific nations, have taken enthusiastically to social media sites such as Facebook to campaign and update news and video reports from the recent peaceful Presidential elections won by the country’s former guerrilla fighter and defence force chief Taur Matan Ruak.
The new President is due to be sworn in on May 20 as TL holds massive celebrations to mark its 10th anniversary after voting for independence from Indonesia.
Bob Howarth is country correspondent for Papua New Guinea and East Timor for Reporters Sans Frontières. He is a former chief executive of the PNG Post-Courier and has been teaching journalism part-time at Bond University, Gold Coast, and at Padjadjaran University, Bandung, West Java. He is currently in Dili on his 20th trip there since helping launch the Timor Post in 2000, this time sponsored by APHEDA Union Aid Abroad and Fairfax journalists.