Subject: Draft laws threaten freedom of the press in East Timor


Journalists denounce draft media laws

Draft laws threaten freedom of the press in East Timor

Matt Crook

March 26, 2009 - 1:58PM

AFP - A set of media laws drafted for the tiny Asian nation of East Timor has been criticised by local journalists, who say the proposed legislation could undermine the free press in the young country.

Provisions to set up a system of licensing reporters and a media council with the power to revoke licences and fine journalists would stifle independent reporting deemed vital to Timor's nascent democracy, they say.

The proposed laws were drafted by Portuguese lawyer Isabel Duarte, who was hired by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on behalf of East Timor's government.

About 20 irate journalists grilled Duarte and UNDP media development representative Miguel Caldeira at a meeting to discuss the draft laws in Dili last week, and further discussions took place with the lawyer on Monday.

Timor Lorosa'e Journalists' Association president Virgilio Guterres said the proposed laws would spell the death of independent journalism in the tiny nation.

"The council will be a political institution and the media will only publish what is favourable to the state," he said.

The poorest nation in Southeast Asia, East Timor only became independent from Indonesia in 2002 after much of the country's infrastructure was destroyed in 1999 by the departing Indonesian military.

With only about 200 reporters in the entire country, there is concern that restrictions on journalism could lead to a weak and timid media just as East Timor is trying to build up its democratic institutions.

"East Timor is a new country and journalism is also new here. If we want to develop democracy in this country we have to protect the freedom of the press," Timor Post editor-in-chief Mouzinho Lopes De Araujo said.

"If we continue to implement this kind of situation, many people will be afraid to be a journalist," he added.

The draft laws comprise a media law, a media council law, a community radio law, a law on journalists and a right to information law.

Also at the meeting on March 17 was Mary Mycio, a media lawyer for the Independent Research and Exchanges Board, which commissioned human rights organisation Article 19 to carry out an analysis of the draft legislation.

Article 19 reported back that although "the laws generally provide a positive framework for media regulation, there are also a number of serious concerns with the proposed rules."

Mycio is sceptical about the licensing idea and the creation of a media council with the power to fine journalists up to $A3,600.

"I have no problem with having a kind of pre-court dispute resolution, I think that's a very good idea in this kind of country. I just think that the council, at that point it won't be protecting journalists," she said.

The media council would comprise a regulatory council, an executive council and a statutory auditor. Four of the five regulatory council members would be chosen by parliament, with the fifth appointed by the other four.

Article 19 senior legal counsel Toby Mendel said some parts of the draft laws were welcome, including the right to access information held by public bodies and a law on community radio.

However, "there are some areas where these laws diverge from international standards and open up scope for undue restrictions on freedom of expression," he added.

Fernanda Borges, an MP who chairs the parliamentary committee charged with assessing the laws, said the registration of journalists was problematic.

"To be able to function, he or she has to be registered and it's dependent on someone's decision and that someone's decision is also influenced by parliament," she said.

Duarte and Caldeira declined to speak to AFP despite requests.


ABC Radio Australia

<> Connect Asia

Journalists denounce draft media laws

Updated March 24, 2009 12:52:12

Local journalists in East Timor are having a difficult time making sense of five media laws drafted for the country by a Portugese lawyer contracted by the United Nations.

Analysts say that the media laws are too complex and contradictory to have any positive impact while some members of the press in East Timor say that the laws could kill journalism in the country.

Presenter: Matt Crook

Speakers: Mary Mycio, media lawyer for the Independent Research and Exchanges Board; Virgilio Guterres, president of the Timor Lorosa'e Journalists' Association; Fernanda Borges, member of parliament; Sandy Sequeira, executive producer for UNMIT Radio * Listen: <> Windows Media

MATT CROOK: Journalists in East Timor have reacted negatively to a set of five media laws drafted by Portuguese lawyer Isabel Duarte. The United Nations Development Programme hired Duarte to draft the laws on behalf of the government.

Local journalists are worried about a proposed system of licensing members of the media, the setting up of a Media Council with the power to fine journalists and the fact that the fines will go to the Council's budget.

Mary Mycio is a media lawyer for the Independent Research and Exchanges Board, which commissioned Article 19, one of the world's leading organizations in favour of freedom of expression for journalists, to provide an analysis of the draft.

MARY MYCIO: The granting of exclusive power to one government, quasi-government body to license an activity such as journalism, I think it's a very dangerous thing. And so I do not know that it is a very good idea to put what really should be in a code of ethics as a positive legal duty that can be punished by this legal council with sanctions and fines.

MATT CROOK: That's Mycio speaking at Hotel Audian in Dili last Tuesday at a meeting between local journalists with Isabel Duarte to discuss the draft laws. Radio producer Sandy Sequeira was one of about 20 East Timorese journalists there.

SANDY SEQUEIRA: I think the draft of laws not help much we as journalists because seems like the law try to limited our freedom to do our roles as the media.

MATT CROOK: Article 19's analysis of the draft recommended that the "powers of the Council should be significantly curtailed" and that "the whole system for accrediting journalists and providing professional identity cards should be fundamentally reworked". Virgilio Guterres from the Timor Lorosa'e Journalists' Association is worried about the implications the draft laws could have on journalism.

VIRGILIO GUTERRES: The mechanism we say that's complicated and that will discourage more people, young people, to become journalists.

But since following that mechanism, you need to, you know, to have accreditation from the council and that makes people have lost their courage or lost their willingness to become journalists. They start to think that not just very difficult, but also very dangerous.

MATT CROOK: Member of Parliament Fernanda Borges chairs the parliamentary committee involved in assessing the media laws. She organized a workshop at parliament last Thursday to discuss them.

FERNANDA BORGES: Essentially it's very complex, a very complicated set of laws which draws on perhaps the European model.

MATT CROOK: Borges says that because the regulatory bodies of the media would be controlled by parliament, the media's Constitutional right to freedom of speech could be violated.

FERNANDA BORGES: The laws in itself brings in parliament to decide on the regulatory body which is concerning for us because when you bring in the parliament, it brings in political parties and it brings in politics and the politicization of the media.

MATT CROOK: Radio producer Sandy Sequeira thinks the laws need revising.

SANDY SEQUEIRA: Journalists only need credential, not license card and we need independent institute not like a Media Council that came from parliament and fine do not to pay to Media Council because they will work for people to get more money.

MATT CROOK: According to the draft laws, one of the powers of the Media Council is to guarantee access to information. Virgilio Guterres says that the restrictive nature of the laws contradicts this.

VIRGILIO GUTERRES: The problem is you can say that you can go to somewhere, but you destroy the road, I can't go. You say that journalist free to access but then you start to set a mechanism that control journalist.

MATT CROOK: Despite repeated requests, Portuguese lawyer Isabel Duarte declined invitations to speak to ABC about the concerns local journalists raised last week.

In the mean time, East Timor's media laws are now in the early stages of a long discussion process

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