12.04.2012 - UNESCO Office in Jakarta

Better human rights journalism in Timor Leste

The Timorese journalists are now better qualified to report on human rights issues.

UNESCO in collaboration with the Timor Leste Media Development Center (TLMDC) and the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) implemented a project on training Timorese media practitioners to report on the situation of Human Rights in the country.

The workshop in Dili came very timely, as the country has just gone through its first round presidential elections in March 2012 with a second round up in April. The Timorese citizens will also elect their new parliament in June 2012.

The year 2012 is key for the transition process of Timor Leste, as the United Nations Integrated Mission deployed in the Asian country after its independence is coming to an end.

Timor Leste lacks a consolidated and strong media network and a pool of experienced and qualified journalists. Journalism studies are rather new in the country. The university degree was established at the National University of Timor Leste in 2008 and the first candidate will graduate this year. The department of Media and Communication lacks lecturers and equipment. Most of the lecturers are young journalists that work part time as volunteers. The facilities are also very poor, there is no radio or television studio, they have five PC computers to be shared between more than eighty students.

Besides, media workers salaries remain very low, in the best of the cases journalists can earn around 30 USD per month. That translates into a high rotation of professionals in the media impeding a real professionalization of the sector. Thus, the majority of journalists are very young and they lack appropriate training and necessary reporting skills.

Media are indispensable elements for the consolidation of the democratic institutions. Media professionals play an important role in collecting, verifying, producing, and distributing information to the general public. As such, journalists must have an understanding of legal frameworks, both national and international, knowledge of human rights issues and international standards, and the ability to communicate these complex set of information to the public in an informed and documented way.

In Timor-Leste awareness of these basic rights remains low, as a result of laws and regulations being written in Portuguese, which most Timorese do not understand, and with a limited number of laws translated into Tetum. Regarding the access to information sources, it is important to highlight the difficulty of journalists to access the official institutions. In this regard, the case of the Provedoria for Human Rights is remarkable. This independent organism has the mandate to investigate Human Rights violations in the country. But while the investigations are ongoing, all the information related to them is kept secret so the journalist community cannot access it.

The training undertaken by UNESCO-TLMDC-UNMIT last August provided 56 participants with the knowledge to raise awareness about existing legal frameworks and human rights abuses.

During the training, the organizers brought together subject matter experts from the Government, the UN and civil society, such as Dr. Ivo Valente, Vice-Minister of Justice; Dr. Rui Pereira from the Provedoria for Human Rights and Justice; Ms. Filomena Babo, Representative of the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality; Jose Luis Oliveira, Timorese human rights activist, and senior journalist Hugo Fernandes. All these personalities, active in the protection and fulfilment of human rights in the country, briefed the participants on the main matters and issues that should be covered and reported.

In words of Gil Da Silva Guterres, Director of the Center of Investigative Journalism of Timor Leste, a facilitator of the training, this project will hopefully encourage the Timorese journalists to investigate further important human rights abuses like the “impunity for crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations that occurred in Timor Leste under Indonesian occupation and during the previous conflicts such as the rise against the Indonesian government in 1999 and the violent acts that erupted across the country followed by the political crisis in 2006”.

For this 29 years old Timorese journalist, the workshop took place at the “perfect timing”, as now media professionals have the knowledge to report on the “events and stories that may occur during the campaign period of the presidential and parliamentary elections”.

The UNESCO-TLMDC-UNMIT workshop also devoted specific sessions to basic reporting skills like newsgathering, principles of interviewing, storytelling and writing and the application of these concepts to human rights reporting. These sessions were delivered by Allan Thompson, a career journalist, professor at the University of Carleton in Canada and experienced media trainer that admitted to be “consistently struck by the dedication, enthusiasm and engagement of the participants” during the whole training.

Mr. Thompson highlighted the great work that all the participants did especially during the day they worked on the field as reporters, gathering information on different human rights topics and putting in practice the knowledge acquired during the training. With their findings they produced serious works of journalism, either in the form of a radio documentary or a piece of print journalism.

In conclusion, the training workshop on human rights reporting undertaken in Dili was qualified as a successful experience by all the stakeholders involved in the project. A first and important step towards a better human rights reporting and better quality journalism in Timor Leste.

As a follow up, UNESCO in collaboration with TLMDC and UNMIT are developing a handbook on human rights reporting that aims to support the Timorese journalists in writing, developing and broadcasting human rights stories - another endeavour to support the Timorese society towards the fulfilment of human rights.

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