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<nettime> East Timor Journalists Rise From The Ashes
s|a|m on 23 Jan 2001 17:28:21 -0000


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<nettime> East Timor Journalists Rise From The Ashes


hi, below story may be of interest... adios, sam.

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East Timor Journalists Rise From The Ashes (The Nation/15/1/01) 

Dili - East Timorese journalists are like phoenixes. Not one, not two, but
all of them have quickly risen from destruction. Some 150 journalists
gathered for three days last week at the headquarters of the Council for
Timor National Resistance (CNRT) and vowed to build up an independent and
free press including ways to become honest and professional journalists.

The first congress hosted by Timor Lorosa'e Journalists' Association
(TLJA) came about after months of preparation and hard work by young
journalists. Reconciliation and cooperation among native journalists was
the key for the success of the congress. Right after the 1998 ballot on
independence, the journalist community here was devastated and divided.
The media infrastructure was completely destroyed.  Integrationist and
nationalist journalists were at loggerheads. Now, for the sake of the
country, they are working together to educate the public and disseminate
independent information and ideas.

Since the beginning of last year, with financial and technical support
from outside, some three dozen journalists have been able to organise
among themselves and publish two daily newspapers and eight weekly
magazines such as Suara Timor Lorosae, Timor Post, Talitakum, Lalenok and
Lian Maubere. Some are mainstream, others more activist, reflecting their
editors' convictions, but all represent indigenous voices of East Timor. A
burgeoning free press is also attracting young journalists.

At the congress, which was broadcast live by a student-run radio station,
the TLJA organised four panel discussions that included the whole gamut of
journalism, codes of conduct, editorial and news management, political and
gender issues and future strategies.  Discussions were tense and long,
often lasting well into the night by candlelight. The lack of electricity
did not drive TJLA members home.  Instead they stayed on, one hand holding
a ball-point pen and the other swatting mosquitoes. At one session, in
almost complete darkness, they talked about media independence and their
watchdog role in working for the future of East Timor.

Among journalists here, current topics are corruption, cronyism and
nepotism, much the same issues that they talked about under Indonesian
occupation but could not write about. Rumours about certain leaders
acquiring certain properties, giving deals to friends and cousins, were
frequently brought up. Even the joint-venture Central Maritime Hotel, a
ship hotel owned by the Central Group in Thailand along with local people,
was brought up among those rumours.  Who was the hotel's main connection?
Some criticism was levied at the hotel's electricity consumption, which
accounts for 15 per cent of all electrical power in Dili.

Journalists from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and the US urged
them to learn from the regional experience in reporting events and
investigating scandals or rumours to the very end. They said that rumours
would become even bigger if journalists did not further investigate to
find out the truth as some rumours were mere fabrications to tarnish
prominent people. George Alitjandro of Newcastle University, who has
exposed many dubious deals under former president Suharto and Habibie as
well as rampant corruption in the government of President Abdurahman
Wahid, recommended that the East Timorese journalists be trained to dig
deeper using all available tools including open and confidential sources
and the Internet to link information and data together. With
globalisation, he said, deal- makers are not restricted on one nationality
but consist of a regional network.

One of the issues hotly discussed was the 1975 massacre in Balibo.  The
topic was requested by the East Timorese journalists who were born after
the infamous incident that killed five journalists during the Indonesian
invasion of their country. Hamish McDonald of the Sydney Morning Herald,
who wrote a book about the Balibo killings, urged the journalists to do
their investigations without waiting for official information because
thousands of witnesses would be waiting to be interviewed.

Quite a few local journalists feared that with their geographical location
at the far end of Southeast Asia and a declining international focus on
East Timor their country would be isolated.  Thus, they said, pressure
would be on them. Without outside support and knowledge of what was going
on locally, journalists could be subject to abuse and their hopes of
seeing East Timor becoming a liberal democracy would be nil.

Of late, local and international media have been reporting on domestic
conditions in East Timor, including members of the CNRT and political
parties. With Indonesia no longer occupying their country, journalists'
focus is now on future rulers and their decision-making process. They are
preparing for the time when the UN Transitional Administration in East
Timor leaves their country, which is expected to be at the end of this
year.

In fact, political campaigns by various parties have already started.  
They are competing for public support, so journalists are playing a
crucial role in informing the public about their policies and visions of
the future. As a bridge to the region, the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian
Press Alliance (SEAPA) has accepted the TJLA as a member. The TJLA will
join independent media organisations in the Philippines, Indonesia and
Thailand. A series of workshops and seminars are in the pipeline during
the run-up to the election to build up the skills of East Timorese
reporters.

To remind the public about the importance of a free press, a new road in
Dili has been named Press Freedom Avenue (Avenida da Liberdade de
Imprensa), on the highway where Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes was killed
by Indonesian soldiers in 1999. The congress delegates put up a memorial
in Balibo to those journalists killed by Indonesian troops.


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