Pacific Media Watch

30 January 2019

TIMOR-LESTE: António Sampaio: Freedom of the press – rights, responsibilities and transparency

Hero image
"Media cannot use the 'cover' of supposed impartiality one moment, and then fail to meet that impartiality on a day-to-day basis because of 'business'." Cartoon: Antonio Sampaio FB page

By António Sampaio
DILI, Timor-Leste (Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): New debates in Timor-Leste are circulating about political interference in newsrooms. Attempts to condition or determine that somebody cannot make news on a subject or interview this person or that person.

It’s a problem affecting both public and private media groups.

This debate is important in Timor-Leste. There is a lot of promiscuity between “journalists” who work for government or other state institutions, and journalists who work in the news media.

READ MORE: An analysis of the Timor-Leste media at Pacific Journalism Review

And this is reflected in the coverage.

Ensuring the independence of public media is even more important. Interference in newsrooms is unacceptable and should always be tackled. Whoever does this is weakening the quality of the Timorese state.

As for private ownership of the media, organisations may have an editorial line but they must be transparent about this.

They cannot use the “cover” of supposed impartiality one moment, and then fail to meet that impartiality on a day-to-day basis because of “business”.

Editorial transparency
If they support an editorial idea there must be transparency.

But at the same time, the media cannot only act when it considers their own independence is at stake. It is the responsibility of journalists to work ethically, impartially, and responsibly. They should not spread false news, or help advertise party or group propaganda.

They cannot always give their opinion on the subjects they write about when writing factual articles. And they must be careful how they write, not give incomplete information.

Journalists are not just microphones that reproduce, without any contradiction or analysis, what the political leaders say.

If they do that then we don’t need journalists.

Journalists have a responsibility to verify what they are told is true. And they must be very careful about the headings and content of what they post because they can help ignite already tense situations.

The responsibility of journalists and the media is essential.

António Sampaio is a news agency journalist. This column is a personal view expressed on his Facebook page. It was translated from Portuguese.

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