A newly independent nation-state, which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, (it broke away from Portugal in 1975) Timor Leste is plagued by economic scarcity, lack of access to basic infrastructure and political tensions. Amid the development challenges of a new democracy, the media too are in a struggling situation, both journalistically and financially. Currently there are about four daily newspapers, five weeklies and two monthlies, 20 radio and two television stations. All the media are independent, except the state-funded radio and television stations, Radio Timor Leste (RTL) and TVTL. In addition, 18 community radio broadcasters that were established in less than four years operate in the country. The English language daily Timor Post is partly owned by a member of Parliament and the newly-started daily Detekta is run by a state secretary. The radio station Kilbur FM is owned by a political party member. In absence of a developed market economy, the media fail to be self-sustaining and remain dependent on donor funding. The absence of a suitable legal and policy framework compounds the challenges. With a separate body of media laws yet to be in place (National Policy of Mass Communication has recently been drafted by the government), Indonesia’s Press Law and Penal Code along with some other severely restricting laws are often imposed on the media with very dire consequences. However, despite the uncertainties it still can be said that the media environment in Timor Leste has become freer than what it was during the Indonesian regime. Though journalists continue to be trained by foreign organisations, lack of professionalism continues to be a concern. Access to information is not easy; journalists’ request of simple information are often met with refusals or direction to appeal to the minister. Those of the state-funded media are often favoured over others by the government in terms of sharing information. The access to Internet is very limited as a result of inadequate infrastructure and language challenge since many journalists of Timor Leste are not proficient with English.
Struggles of a Nascent System
Still in its early stages of development, the media in Timor Leste are yet to witness a press council (though Article 15 of the Press Law provides legal provision for a press council) or an ombudsperson – systems that promise to ensure democratic functioning of the media by holding it accountable to the public. However, some media associations have their own codes of ethics to encourage adherence to the basic rules of journalism. At present journalists lack the basic knowledge of the functioning of the government and infrastructure and the legal environment. Chuck Rice, Timor Leste country director of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) (an organisation engaged in capacity building and training of journalists in the region), said in an interview that currently there is no awareness among local journalists on the need of media monitoring. The suggestions of establishing media monitoring bodies often come from international organisations with little inputs from local journalists. Such proposals are even met with resistance from the latter. Associations like Timor Lorosae Journalist Association (TLJA), the Sindicato dos Journalistos, Asosiasaun Radio Komunidade Timor Leste (ARKTL) and the Timor Leste Photographers Association (TiLPA) represent the interests of media workers in the country. TLJA, which has played an active role in the past in advocacy for a press, draws membership from journalists working with the two television stations RTL and STL, the print media and also the community media.Back to top