Subject: East Timor's media striving anew amid many obstacles

The Jakarta Post March 11, 2001

East Timor's media striving anew amid many obstacles

By Ati Nurbaiti

JAKARTA (JP): You need to meet your relatives who are in Indonesia, and from where you are in East Timor the village has no telephone, let alone wartel (communications kiosk) or e-mail facilities. Don't worry, just contact the local radio station -- meaning coming in person to meet broadcasters -- and request them to convey arrangements on where and when to meet.

As in Korea, family reunions are a special feature in the media, most notably at radio stations, the broadcasts of which reach Kupang in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).

Like other media, there are quite a few radio stations, but most are concentrated in Dili while the outer regions are where communications facilities are most lacking.

Radio Timor Kamanek, run by the Catholic Church, has the widest coverage across the largely mountainous terrain, its transmission power made possible by the support of a number of organizations. The Indonesia state radio and news agency were obvious targets in September 1999 destruction, aimed at leaving nothing to those considered traitors of the prointegration cause.

Radio reception is still scratchy even only a mile or two from radio stations. In Maliana, in the western sector, residents of the Balibo hill town said they, instead, get more news about Aceh from Indonesian channels.

In East Timor's enclave of Oecussi in Indonesia's neighboring NTT, the only media is the Tolas weekly magazine, and a "reporting center" of the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor giving out some basic information.

Important news sources are, therefore, visitors or returning inhabitants coming by ship, which serves the Dili-Oecussi route only once a week.

The eastern extreme of Los Palos is lucky enough to have seen the set up of a small community radio; so has Bobonaro, capital of Maliana.

Initially aided by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which also helped start postwar radio setups in Cambodia, radio journalists/managers now seek aid from various donors.

The community radios are not seeking professionals. UNESCO's Tarja Virtanen said that journalists working for community radios are, as a rule, volunteers; the meaning of "community radios" is that this is media for and by community members, not professionals, she said.

In fact, fully paid professionals are only found in two media organizations, the Timor Pos and the Suara Timor Lorosae, the rest are still employed on a contract basis.

Some journalists question the objectivity of their colleagues who are also working part time at non-government organizations.

At Radio Communidade Maliana (Maliana community radio) journalists, a little shy about the "too simple equipment", wrap up broadcasting at 9 p.m. Because electricity supply is only for a few hours in the evening, broadcasting hours are only from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

After work hours, a visitor is grabbed for an interview one evening even as the manager/journalist is drawing up a proposal for the next three months, by hand.

Neither typewriters nor computers are in sight at the small studio up the hills. In a month or so, the above journalist and part-time teacher, Joao Correia, and his colleagues will be busy again drawing up an accountability report for the donor -- and another proposal to keep Radio Communidade on air.

Nearby is Radio UNTAET, which, to the distress of journalists here, now occupies the former studio of the community station.

Training offers are cropping up for journalists, mainly following the first congress of the Association of Journalists of Timor Lorosae (AJTL) in January. One reporter went to Jakarta for radio-technical skills, others have already had a few months of journalism training in Australia and in Indonesia.

Language is still a main problem, with readers and journalists themselves grappling over how to treat the local language Tetum as a written language, while much of the spoken language is mixed with Portuguese.

Portuguese has been declared the official language but leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao himself may have realized this is awkward for the new generation of Indonesian-schooled Timorese, who only understand Indonesian and Tetum.

Xanana addressed the above congress in Tetum while another longtime leading figure, Mario Viegas Carrascalao, spoke at length in Portuguese, all lost on the audience.

The media is published and broadcast in English, Portuguese, Indonesian and Tetum, while small-scale, local media only use Tetum.

Said judge Cirilo Jose Cristduao with an ironic smile, "Bahasa Indonesia is our most precious heritage."

Apart from language problems, the press here still need to flush out habits of reporting under Indonesian restrictions leading to jargon and self-censorship.

Power problem

However, publishers here are more worried about being able to appear at all. For about a week in mid-January, the Timor Pos daily and a few other publications were a no-show because the single printing machine catering to a number of publications had broken down.

The other daily, Suara Timor Loro Sae, has its own printing machine but electricity is unreliable and journalists miss deadlines by hours.

Timor Pos may be getting its own printing machine -- aid from Newspapers Ltd in Queensland, owned by media giant Rupert Murdoch -- which has sparked controversy among journalists.

"You guys will end up owning nothing at Timor Pos," a journalist warned his colleague.

Timor Pos chief editor Aderito Hugo da Costa insisted that there had not been any gesture from Murdoch to buy shares in the newspaper. Journalists at the paper were also adamant in maintaining editorial independence and said they were still working out terms of cooperation.

Capital ownership was one of the concerns of the AJTL congress.

The "aid" from Murdoch is read as the beginnings of big capital intrusion into Timor Pos, leading to a further divide in the already existing camps of "professionals" and "activists" in the press community here, a division which surfaced in the last years of Indonesian rule.

With the downfall of then president Soeharto, the underground media of the independence movement mainly involving students got a boost; while in East Timor, Suara Timor Timur daily was the only print media.

All these journalists now work together, albeit with some tension, as indicated during AJTL's leadership election, in which candidates were asked to define "professionalism".

Hugo da Costa, one of the candidates, said professionalism in the press was that which did not mix with "politics", an obvious reference to the activists.

While candidate Virgilio Gueterres, a former student activist and magazine journalist, appealed that the only differentiation in the media should be print, radio and television. Gueterres was finally elected chairman.

Apart from the dilemmas of capital ownership, the question of a neutral press is another issue among journalists here -- given that "professionals" were subject to so much intimidation from Indonesian government and military officers, proindependence and prointegration people for trying to be balanced.

"There's no way the media here can be neutral," one editor said. "They have to take sides" with the people in the rebuilding of East Timor, she said.

The editor was referring to the difficulties posed by the restricted, Indonesian official version of reporting on East Timor, presented as professional journalism on the basic standards of objectivity.

Then there is the problem of so many new recruits with no journalistic experience, leading to, for instance, sensational stories on AIDS brought in by foreigners -- actually similar to the products of "professionals" in Indonesia.

"Our only main experience," said radio journalist Carmen, "is what we went through together with the people." Almost all the journalists were among families and friends hiding in and outside East Timor, avoiding the rampage of September 1999.

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