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Press freedom is guaranteed under section 41 of Timor-Leste’s constitution. However, since its violent separation from Indonesia in 2002, following two years of interim rule by the United Nations, the country has been struggling to establish the stable political and economic conditions that would enable a free press to thrive.
A proposed new media law would severely hinder that process by sanctioning prison terms of up to three years and the imposition of unlimited fines for journalists who make statements about public officials which are considered defamatory. The draft law, which has been opposed by the Timor Lorosae Journalists Association (TLJA), the Sindicato dos Jornalistas de Timor Leste (SJTL) and international press freedom advocacy groups, would include stricter controls, including registration of journalists and licensing.
As a result of the widespread devastation — including the destruction of printing presses and computers — caused by departing soldiers and local militias, and the withdrawal of educated Indonesian civil servants and technicians, the country’s infrastructure and press resources are under severe strain.
With equipment and technical help from Queensland Newspapers of Australia, the Indonesian-language daily Timor Post began publication in March 2000. Other newspapers include the daily Suara Tmor Lorosae, Timor Today and the weekly Jornal Nacional Semanario.
The country’s sole television station is Televisao de Timor Leste (TVTL). Radio, which reaches some 90 percent of the population, includes the public station Radio Nacional de Timor Leste (RTL), Radio Timor Kmanek (RTK), run by the Catholic Church, and the community station Radio Falintil/Voz da Esperanca, a former rebel station.
Much of the country’s liberation struggle is said to have taken place on the Internet, assisted by satellite phone technology. Cyber-independence was granted in 1997 when the country’s domain name was registered and administered from Ireland.
The fragility of Timor-Leste’s democratic process is reflected in the violence directed at journalists since independence. One reporter was hospitalised after being assaulted while covering last year’s presidential campaign, and another was stoned and robbed.
Soon after the formation of a new coalition government the offices of the country’s largest daily newspaper, Suara Timor Lorosae, were attacked. These were just the latest in a string of assaults aimed at suppressing adverse media coverage. As a result of such violence and intimidation a climate of self-censorship has developed, fuelled by fear.
Internet cafés are plentiful in the capital Dili, but non-existent elsewhere.
The official currency is the US dollar. All financial transactions need to be made in Dili which has ATMs and where banks will change travellers’ cheques.
Mobile phones are useful tools in Timor-Leste and SIM cards can be obtained at Timor Telecom, which has a roaming agreement with many international operators. Coverage is good in most towns.
Contributor: Vaughan Yarwood
Latest update September 2008