Subject: KY: E. Timorese journalists commit to establishing free press

Kyodo News Service

January 13, 2001

E. Timorese journalists commit to establishing free press


More than 150 East Timorese journalists, gathering at their inaugural congress in the East Timor capital of Dili, have agreed to build an independent, free press in their new country, a press statement issued Saturday by the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) said.

The journalists, however, on Friday expressed fears that investigative reports on local issues could cause tension among the East Timorese people as they were not used to a free press after decades of Indonesian occupation.

The Timor Lorosae Journalists' Association (TLJA) that organized the five-day gathering has offered its protection to local media.

The statement issued by UNTAET's Media Unit Department, said the attending journalists, who have been meeting since Wednesday, represent 14 new media organizations formed since late 1999 following a U.N.-sanctioned referendum in which East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

Currently, there are four radio networks, two daily newspapers and eight other publications in East Timor.

'This is an opportunity for all of us to build a strong, professional base,' Virgilio da Silva Guterres, one of the organizing committee members and editor of local magazine called Lalenok was quoted as saying.

'The free press will be one of the foundations of our nation,' Guterres added.

The journalists also reached a consensus in the gathering -- which was also attended by a number of Indonesian journalists -- to seek membership of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a Bangkok-based regional association of press advocacy organizations.

SEAPA Chairman Kavi Congtkittavorn, who attended the gathering, welcomed the application for membership, saying, 'This is a great way to celebrate the new year.'

Meanwhile, Lin Neumann, consultant on Asian issues with the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said, 'Your strongest protection is your unity and organization.'

'All of us in the profession will do our best to assist your growth and freedom,' he added.

The journalists also agreed to try setting up a code of ethics despite the lack of experienced journalists in East Timor.

On Saturday, the journalists dedicated a new road in Dili under the name of Avenida da Liberdade de Imprensa (Press Freedom Avenue). A Dutch journalist, Sander Thoenes, was killed on the road by a group of people wearing Indonesian military uniforms in 1999.

On Sunday, the delegates will travel to the rural town of Balibo to inaugurate a memorial to five Australian journalists killed during an exchange of fire between Indonesian troops and East Timor's leftist Fretilin forces in 1975 during the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony.

The congress is sponsored by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNTAET, the World Press Freedom Committee, the Freedom Forum, the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independence Journalists and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance of Australia.

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