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Uinderground Radio Evolves In East Timor

By Teresa Cerojano

DILI, East Timor, Feb. 29 Kyodo -- The clandestine propaganda machinery for independence fighters, Falintil Radio, like most institutions in East Timor today, is reinventing itself to find its place in the shifting political map of the newly independent territory.

When it first went on air in 1997, Falintil Radio broadcast pro-independence music and propaganda for the National Liberation Armed Forces of East Timor (Falintil), which was fighting for East Timor's independence from Indonesia.

It broadcast on the FM band with the use of a car battery, from a secret station in the village of Remixio, southeast of Dili. It reached listeners only within a 15-kilometer radius.

Today, the radio station, which is also known as 'A Voz Esperanza,' or voice of hope, calls as its office the former headquarters in Dili of the special forces unit of the Indonesian army. Activists say the building was a place where many of them were tortured during Indonesia's 24-year rule of East Timor.

Constancio do Santos, the station's vice coordinator, said that although Falintil Radio is far from sporting state-of-the-art equipment, it now has three transmitter stations, two of which are 20-watt transmitters and the other 10-watt.

The radio room has an air conditioner, a brand-new computer and radio equipment that for sure is more modern than that used when the radio station was still operating underground.

The station is now run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. by 10 people, including four radio operators, two announcers and four field reporters. All programs are broadcast in the Timorese language Tetun.

Do Santos said that in March, Falintil Radio is expected to receive donations of equipment from foreign and Timorese supporters that will make it the biggest radio station in the country.

Falintil Radio will then run AM and FM operations covering the whole of East and West Timor. Relay stations will be put up in Ainaro, south of Dili, in Remixio, in the western district of Baucau and in the border town of Maliana. The radio station will also move into a new office.

But more than the cosmetic changes, Falintil Radio is shifting from pro-independence propaganda to public services, news and youth programs now that East Timor has gained independence from Indonesia. Whereas before it urged people to fight, now it promotes reconciliation in East Timor.

'Now that things are calm, our programs are moving toward public service, health, culture, and programs promoting reconciliation,' do Santos said.

The station runs periodic news bulletins and interviews called ' Timor Foun' or New Timor, where young and old Timorese are asked to talk about the future, he said.

Another new program is 'Espasu Juventude,' where leaders of youth organizations talk about their programs. They are asked about their views on reconciliation with the pro-Indonesia militia that went on a rampage of violence last September.

Falintil Radio has also gone commercial. It now accepts paid advertisements from restaurants and nongovernment organizations. The station also augments operating expenses by charging fees for play requests.

The former underground broadcasters are getting formal training in journalism, too. Several Falintil Radio staff are due to attend a one-and-a-half week journalists' training program in Bali, Indonesia, courtesy of a Jakarta-based news organization.

Clearly, Falintil Radio has gone a long way from its underground days. But so has East Timor.

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PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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