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Timorese Journalists Concern At Proposed Media Law

Timorese Journalists Concerned About Proposed Media Law

DILI (Internews Timor Leste/Pacific Media Watch): Timorese journalists, lawyers and MPs met in Dili on March 22 to debate media freedom and Timor-Leste's draft penal code at a seminar entitled "Media law and human rights" (Lei media ho direitus humanus). More than 60 people attended the seminar, which was co-hosted by the Judicial Systems Monitoring Program (JSMP) and Internews.

Timor-Leste's Justice Ministry is currently drafting the penal code which includes harsh criminal penalties up to three years in prison and unspecified fines for defamation by journalists. The code also has aggravated penalties for defamation by journalists involving public officials or public institutions.

The first speaker at the seminar was renowned journalist Max Stahl, who shot the now-famous footage of Timor's 1991 Santa Cruz massacre and is currently based in Timor. He said he was concerned that the criminal code's chapter on defamation would restrict coverage of important news in the name of defending personal honour. "In my opinion, this is a very bad law."

KOTA (Kilbur Oan Timor Aswain) Party president and Timorese MP, Manuel Tilman, said two of the articles in the code's defamation chapter contravened guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of the media contained in Timor's constitution.

Tilman also expressed support for the establishment of a Timorese press council.

The editor of the Timor Post, Aderito Hugo da Costa, was also concerned that the defamation provisions contravened Timor's constitution. He said the provisions were "totally unproductive" and would not help Timor's media to develop.

However, Judge Rui Pereira dos Santos said he supported the provisions being included in the criminal code.

At the end of the seminar, participants who were opposed to the law suggested lobbying the Ministry of Justice with proposed amendments to the law.

Internews assistant chief of staff Francisco da Silva said: "Timor's media need to work together to come up with some proposed changes to the law and lobby for them to be accepted before the current draft law is approved by the Council of Ministers or the parliament."

* Internews Timor-Leste is funded by the United States Agency for International Development. For more information: Chris Kearney, Internews Timor-Leste In-House Media Law Mentor



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 based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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