Media in this young democracy in Southeast Asia suffer from a lack of professionalism, accuracy, and ethics, argue proponents of new legislation that would punish journalistic transgressions.
But critics worry that such a law, expected to be taken up by East Timor’s parliament, could impose onerous restrictions, such as spelling out who may work as a journalist, and how breaches of journalistic ethics should be addressed.
Complaints about media performance are widespread in East Timor. Journalists, who are mostly young in a country where more than 60 percent of the population is under 18, complain of a lack of training and mentoring. As a result, basic rules of journalism – such as confirming information, separating fact from opinion, and telling all sides of the story – are not uniformly followed.
The shift to online news sources and social websites has yet to happen in earnest. Internet service is sporadically available in Dili, but most of the country remains cut off. Because electricity is often either unreliable or unavailable, battery-powered radio remains the preferred medium for many.
East Timor’s past is filled with media intimidation and violence, including the killing of the “Balibo Five” – five Australian television journalists covering the impending 1975 Indonesian invasion, as well as a sixth journalist who tried to investigate their fate.
Also known as Timor-Leste, the country was ranked 90 out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2013.