Subject: AU: UN radio top of Timor pops
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:10:51 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 21 July 99

UN radio top of Timor pops

>From SIAN POWELL in Dili

THE small crowd of East Timorese stood transfixed as they listened to the first pop song about the forthcoming vote on independence – Please Decide – sung in the province's mother tongue of Tetum.

The lyrics are straightforward: "Dear brothers and sisters, in East Timor, from eastern to western part, come on, see and make your choice."

Please Decide, which is played by East Timor's popular 12-member Smith Brothers-Lahane group, sounds slightly Hawaiian, with a mandolin, guitars, fiddles, a traditional drum and three singers.

It is due this week to hit the East Timorese airwaves in the thrice-daily UN radio broadcasts.

By the weekend it will have been packaged into a 30-minute tape with other messages and skits in Tetum and Indonesian that can be played to the people from the UN four-wheel drives out in the remote areas. It even has been made into a music video, which will star in the UN television broadcast, a daily hour-long program of playlets and messages in Tetum, Indonesian, Portuguese and English.

The emphasis on radio, television and cassettes was essential if the messages about registration and the ballot were to get through. Roughly three-quarters of East Timorese are illiterate and although the UN has made a massive effort to produce information leaflets in four languages, both to explain the procedure and to encourage people to register and to vote, the electronic media are the real workhorses.

Television reaches about 180,000 people (of an estimated population of 800,000) and the long arm of radio reaches even further, although UN deputy head of information Brian Kelly said there were pockets of the territory out of radio range.

Nevertheless, radio is the primary outlet, Mr Kelly said, largely because of the lack of literacy and because Tetum was originally only an oral language. Since the Indonesian annexation of East Timor 24 years ago, schooling has been almost entirely in Indonesian and as a result, conveying information in written Tetum presents considerable problems, particularly since there are many regional dialects of the language. So sentences are kept short and ideas simple, in the hopes the word will be spread that it is now time to register for the vote on independence, scheduled for August 21 or 22.

The Tetum broadcasts, on television and radio, have been immensely popular – probably because Tetum has been rarely heard on the air before.

Richard Sydenham, the chief of radio and television production at the UN mission, was heartened by the reaction of the East Timorese interpreters when the first radio broadcast was aired in June.

"The response from the people working with us was just terrific," he said, "they were so excited."

Radio has prompted the biggest reaction in East Timor – many villagers have told UN staff they heard about registration and the ballot on the airwaves. Rapid feedback from the staff in the field was necessary, Mr Kelly said, to ensure misunderstandings were swiftly addressed.

He said it was essential the East Timorese understood there were only 20 days to register to vote, that intimidation or harassment would not be condoned, that the UN was strictly neutral, that the ballot would be secret and that votes would be counted centrally and villages would not be identified as pro-independence or pro-integration.

Hence the enormous information effort, all of which is produced by 12 staff. They are assisted by 12 interpreters, four of whom have been seconded as radio and television announcers, never having done that kind of work in their lives.

Much of the programming is repeated once or twice, but even so it is a prodigious effort.

Mr Kelly said production was running relatively smoothly, but the project had a rocky start.

"It was like a cardiac arrest ward in there for the first two weeks . . . people were working 12 hours a day, seven days a week," he said.

"But they have come through brilliantly."

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