Excerpts from Southeast Asian Press Alliance, “[Timor Leste] Free but poor: Challenges to the media in covering the 2017 elections”:
Much like the experience in other developing democracies, the Timor-Leste media community have to deal with limited resources and training in covering key political junctures. East Timor publishes seven newspapers, which include five dailies and two weeklies. The privately-owned print media have relatively limited readership and reach. The state buys some of these copies and distributes within bureaus and agencies to help support the industry. The scope of news coverage in newspapers has broadened over the years with more features on economy, entertainment and lifestyle. Most sources of news come from the government, thus providing less voices to alternative and critical views.
There is a public television and radio broadcast, and another 25 are commercial and community stations spread across the country. There are a few FM radio stations offering more independent and diverse content. In recent years, the number of stations operated by civil society groups have been dwindling due to shrinking advertisements and financial support from the aid development sector. The ruling Fretilin invests in one television station and one radio station, while the second biggest party, the Council for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), owns a tabloid magazine. Public television and radio stations could provide venues for interaction between the government and the citizens. But they too are faced with similar difficulties in resources and staff as their private counterparts.
Online media grew significantly over the years to fill the information gap, particularly the younger generation. But low internet penetration at 27 percent has restricted the online media reach.
Major and ruling parties such as Fretilin have more advantage since it owns radio and television stations, which can reach out to more voters in remote areas where internet access is limited due to poor infrastructure. At the request of the media community and civil society groups, the National Elections Commission (CNE) has set up a media center during the election period.
Media owners were keen to invest more in more profitable content than the quality of news content. Journalists are poorly-paid and not well-equipped, logistically and professionally, to provide good quality reporting. Representatives from the human rights sector see the need for journalists who cover the elections to learn how to detect vote rigging and other possible irregularities in the election process.
Prior to the election period, journalists protested the idea of a “registration” for media organizations and journalists to be able to cover the upcoming polls. They were wary that the measure and process would go against the Press Law, which protects the rights of the media to cover stories without any restriction. The measure requires any media worker including the foreign press to register before they can cover the campaigns and elections by submitting formal request from their respective institutions for a special identification (ID) card. Only media with the special ID card would have been able to enter election areas. The Press Law already requires all media workers to have media ID cards issued by the Press Council. The process, which includes a condition for new media workers to take a six-to-18-month apprentice period before a competency test, only began mid-2016. In the absence of regular media ID cards, the National Elections Commission (CNE) proposed that media workers have to register with for the special IDs.
Southeast Asian Press Alliance, “[Timor Leste] Free but poor: Challenges to the media in covering the 2017 elections”.