|Pacific Media Watch|
Media's courageous voice
Title -- 5306 TIMOR-LESTE: Media's courageous voice
Date -- 14 February 2008
Byline -- Bob Howarth
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- The Australian 14/02/08
Copyright - TA
Status -- Unabridged
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EAST TIMOR'S COURAGEOUS VOICE
By Bob Howarth
DILI (The Australian Online/Pacific Media Watch): At the same time Alfredo Reinado and his assassins were exchanging fire with President Jose Ramos Horta's bodyguards at dawn on Monday, the Timor Post's press was running.
Ironically, the tiny nation's first and only independent daily newspaper was launching a campaign on page one: "Hapara Violencia", or "Stop the Violence".
Like too many East Timorese journalists, editor-in-chief Mouzi Lopez, 28, is no stranger to violence. And the tragedy is no one has really told the tales of violence against local media.
Mouzi's father Gilberto, 56, is one of the heroes of the guerilla war against the invading Indonesians. Mouzi's mother was shot dead by Indonesian troops in 1993 for refusing to reveal her husband's jungle hideout.
Two weeks ago I drove seven hours west of Dili with Mouzi and Australian Press Council member Gary Evans to a dirt-poor village to meet Mouzi's father and relatives who hid the schoolboy Mouzi from the vengeful invaders.
Evans and I spent three weeks in Dili providing a range of training for Timor Post staff, and met a government committee drafting new media laws.
Mouzi's village school near Los Palos in far eastern Timor was burned to the ground and remains a shell today. His village sent 30 volunteers to join Falantil, Fretilin's military wing, to fight the Indonesians. Only three returned alive to their families.
My first trip to East Timor was on February 26, 2000, to help launch the Timor Post with equipment donated by Queensland Newspapers and other News Limited publishers.
At the time the paper was edited by Hugo da Costa, now a government MP. Coincidentally, da Costa and three other MPs met Reinado in the mountains on February 6 this year to discuss a possible peace deal.
Da Costa is no stranger to violence against local reporters. He was kidnapped by militia while trying to board a diplomatic evacuation flight in 1999 and escaped from the Dili police cells to the safety of West Timor on the roof-rack of a car carrying nuns, before taking a flight from Kupang to Jakarta.
In late 2001 I moved to Port Moresby to head News Limited's subsidiary Post-Courier newspaper for three years. In 2002 I agreed to sponsor two budding East Timorese reporters, Mouzi Lopez and Maria Raul, while they completed a journalism degree at Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea. Both were very popular students and fitted in perfectly with the Melanesian way of life. Mouzi's an accomplished singer and guitarist with a wide smile and was acclaimed as the hottest guy on campus in PNG.
Then, in 2005, Mouzi and Raul flew home to Dili after successfully completing their studies. Mouzi was appointed political editor of the Timor Post and Raul became a media adviser to then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
Raul left her job before the 2006 riots and political crisis to give birth to her daughter Tilha. Her father, lieutenant-colonel Domingus Raul, another Falantil hero, survived a rebel ambush the day his grand-daughter was born: two bullets passed through his uniform, but he was unscathed.
The homes of Maria Raul and her father were burned to the ground, and a cousin was raped and murdered in the violent 2006 rampages during which 150,000 East Timorese fled to refugee camps. Today Raul and her child live in hiding with an aunt while her father travels with heavily armed bodyguards at all times.
Meanwhile, Mouzi became the nation's youngest editor when his boss, da Costa, answered Xanana Gusmao's call and successfully ran for Parliament.
Mouzi works six days a week, 16 hours a day on a monthly salary smaller than a day's casual pay for an Australian metro sub-editor.
His team of 10 reporters earn an average of $US125 ($138) a month. They all ride motorbikes and pay for their own mobile phones. Three had their homes burned in the 2006 violence.
The Timor Post, one of three dailies in Dili and the only one not accepting government support to protect its independent reputation, is based in a run-down former Indonesian army office.
Little has changed from when we launched the paper's first edition on February 29, 2000, to mark the arrival of Indonesia's then president Abdurrahman Wahid, who apologised for the savage rampage by his army and its militias as Australian-led UN forces arrived in 1999.
Today the paper, which publishes in English, Portuguese, Bahasa and Tetum, has one PC connected to the internet and reporters often work without light or air-conditioning during Dili's daily blackouts.
Evans and I were staggered to learn the paper's correspondents travelled up to six hours on overcrowded buses from Suai, Same and Bacau to write their stories. The six donated laptops we carried with us will hopefully allow their reporters to email or send floppies to Dili instead.
We heard endless tales of intimidation of local journalists by high-ranking government officials, UN police, and even the Prime Minister's bodyguards.
Unfortunately, East Timor lacks a press council or a local reporters' protection watchdog, but this may change later this year.
Before we left Dili last week, Mouzi and his director cum general manager Jose Ximenes decided to redesign the Timor Post. They went for bigger headlines, modular layout and bigger photos after studying The Australian and Britain's The Guardian. Then they decided Monday, February 11, was the ideal day to launch their "Stop the Violence" campaign. The rest is history.
Hopefully, when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visits Dili this week, he will make the effort to talk to local journalists such as Mouzi and not find time only for the Western parachute media, as his East Timorese counterparts do.
* Bob Howarth teaches journalism at Griffith University's Gold Coast campus after a 43-year newspaper career in Australia, London, Hong Kong, PNG and East Timor.
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