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Panpa Bulletin : August September 2007
East Timorese media's mission to overcome wars By Warren Page Intimidation is just one of the problems hampering the East Timorese media coverage of the country's first national elec- tions since gaining independence in 2002. A seven-member New Zealand Media Election Observation Mission, after two visits, reported: Media that is under-resourced in capital, technology and trained experienced journalists. For instance, only one of the three newspapers has its own printing press. A radio station often went off air when it ran out of money to buy fuel for the power generator. Such difficulties are compounded by the country's adult literacy rate of 50.1 per cent and use of four languages. Small print runs, a limited number of advertisers, poverty of the general population, distribution costs, difficult topography of the country, and limited reach of the print medium beyond the capital Dili. Some 30 per cent of the country has no media at all. Accounts by word of mouth are a main currency for information. Political coverage was largely driven by events, like rallies and statements, rather than a consistent news media examination of economic and social issues, like the oil and gas reserves, youth and unemployment, and the future of internally dis- placed persons' camps. Instances during the elections of inaccurate information from even official sources leading to difficulties, and where politi- cians had made untrue or inaccurate claims safe in the knowl- edge they would not be challenged. Existence of several draft media laws that if enacted would lead to defamation being criminalised, licencing of journalists and organisations and regulated onerous right of reply restrictions that would inhibit proper exercise of editorial autonomy. On the brighter side, the Mission found that news organisations were establishing stronger newsroom systems and processes to cover the country's politics. The Timorese media want to improve and are aware of their own needs, the Mission confirmed. Mission members acknowledged what it described as the vision, commitment, and courage of Timorese journalists in contributing to the building of their nation. A stronger news media in East Timor is critical to strengthening democratic participation and institutions, the Mission report said. Future developments, said the report, should be consist- ent with the following four themes: Improving the news media's role in spreading information. Building a sustainable model of journalism that is Timorese led and owned. Ensuring that freedom of expression and opinion is guaranteed and that access to information is not restricted. Media accountability, with establishment of a media council to regulate complaints about and from the media, a body that would involve both state and private sector media and mem- bers of civil society. The media council should also be a leader in ethical guidance and development of guidelines. Members of the Mission included Dr Judy McGregor (leader), Clive Lind, Shona Geary, Tapu Misa, Dr David Robie, Walter Zweifel, and Peter Northcote (Mission secretary).