Subject: UCAN: Church & gov't leaders remind journalists


DILI (UCAN) -- Church and government leaders in East Timor have reminded journalists to use press freedom wisely in their newly independent country.

At a belated Christmas celebration on Jan. 4 in Dili, Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, apostolic administrator of Baucau, urged dozens of foreign and local journalists in East Timor to be conscientious in their work, because "your role is so important for the development of the people of East Timor."

The bishop, who was named apostolic administrator of Dili late last year after the sudden resignation of Salesian Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, was addressing print and electronic media persons at Dili's Timor Hotel.

Also attending the gathering were Bishop Belo, President Jose Alexandre Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, National Parliament President Francisco Guterres, and other government and military officials.

The Timor Lorosae (East Timor) Journalists Association organized the event on the theme "East Timorese journalists have a firm commitment to develop democracy."

Bishop do Nascimento, now leader of both East Timor dioceses, also spoke to the journalists about the influence they yield. Media people, he observed, can help a person become powerful and also cause that person's downfall.

However, "journalists must follow Jesus in bringing the light and truth to the people," so journalists should firstly work to spread information and secondly tell the truth, he said. He also cautioned, however, that journalists "failing to disseminate truth could bring about their own downfall."

President Gusmao also encouraged media workers to use press freedom wisely. "It is true that you have the freedom to criticize, but do not misuse it," he asserted, because "freedom must be implemented with responsibility."

Prime Minister Alkatiri stressed that journalists should uphold journalistic ethics and should write their reports based on in-depth investigation. Guterres echoed the celebration theme in his talk by urging media workers in East Timor to promote democracy in the country without siding with any political party.

Bishop Belo pointed out that media people can truly help develop democracy in East Timor by maintaining their independence from political, government and Church leaders.

Bishop Belo also took the opportunity to announce he would leave Jan. 6 for Lisbon, to undergo medical treatment during the next six months. But he then assured everyone he would not permanently withdraw from East Timor.

"I will continue to help the government and the Church here when they have urgent problems that need my help," Bishop Belo said, and "I will be back soon after the treatment to continue Church ministry in East Timor."

According to the Christmas party organizers, the event was also designed as a farewell party for Bishop Belo. One journalist drew a caricature of the prelate and gave it to the bishop, who then offered it along with his golden necklace and medal to the organizing committee.

"You can put them up for auction to raise funds for your association in East Timor," Bishop Belo told the journalists.

The Timor Lorosae Journalsists Association was formed in 1999 in Dili as an independent, non-governmental organization to promote press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

East Timor officially became independent on May 20, 2002. Before that, it was under a transitional U.N. government for two years, following almost 25 years of Indonesian rule that voters firmly rejected in a 1999 referendum.

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