Subject: Journalists intimidated in Timor election - report

Journalists intimidated in Timor election - report

NZPA | Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The media was vilified at rallies and one journalist was beaten during elections in East Timor this year, according to a report by observers from New Zealand that calls for criminal prosecutions of those attacking journalists.

The group comprising Dr Judy McGregor, Clive Lind, Walter Zweifel, Dr David Robie, Tapu Misa, Shona Geary and Peter Northcote visited East Timor twice during the preparations for the presidential run-off and parliamentary elections.

Its report comes as East Timorese prepare to go the polls for a third time this year on June 30 in legislative elections.

Despite a code of conduct emphasising the right to security for journalists there were reported incidents of intimidation by political party supporters, particularly during the presidential election, the New Zealand group said.

It verified an incident in the district of Ermera when a Timor Post journalist was beaten and had his arm broken, allegedly by a Fretilin supporter upset at what he regarded as a lack of impartiality by the reporter.

"The Mission expresses the strongest possible concern about any physical intimidation of journalists during election campaigns," the report said.

It said security concerns limited media movement and the transmission hours of a community radio station.

Some journalists were afraid to hold politicians accountable due to the lack of professionalism and financial fragility of media organisations.

The media was under-capitalised and the existence of four main languages created communication challenges as did an illiteracy rate of around 50 percent.

There was limited transport, equipment and staffing in the media and the electoral cycle was a long one.

The mission said the media's sense of its responsibilities evolved as the campaign progressed.

The coverage was largely "events-centric". There were examples of best practice journalism but there was no consistent approach to economic and social issues related to political developments.

The media generally, and particularly the state-owned public broadcasters, adopted a neutral approach to access to media by candidates, parties and electoral agencies,

The report concluded that the Timorese media contributed positively to the first and second rounds of the Presidential elections despite operating with serious constraints.

It calls for an accountability mechanism for the media and for the criminal prosecution of anyone who physically intimidates journalists.

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