Sunday, December 23, 2007

Press freedom Asia-Pacific style - Timor troubles

Joseph Laban, of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, paints a bleak picture about media freedom in Timor-Leste. Although it might be better than in neighbouring Indonesia or the Philippines, it is still fairly tough as his SEAPA fellowship there has demonstrated. And not much seems to have changed since the NZ media mission there in June. As Joseph writes:
The Timor Post has staff members who have been in constant fear for their lives since last year, when two of them were attacked and left for dead right outside their rundown office. Then again, other journalists in this young nation have had similar experiences. Last August, another major newspaper had its office windows smashed while one of its employees was struck repeatedly with rocks and sticks and his motorcycle trashed after he acknowledged that he worked for the paper. Ideally, this should not be happening in the world’s youngest democracy, which at one point had also been called by then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan as "a child of the international community".
But as the media in other Southeast Asian nations have found out, keeping the press free is a constant battle that is fought daily – even in a supposed democracy. Just last week, for instance, about 50 journalists covering a coup attempt were handcuffed with plastic luggage fasteners and hauled off for questioning by Philippine authorities. As of June 2007, the Philippines has also seen some 90 media practitioners killed in the line of duty since democracy was restored in 1986, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). Fifty-three of the killings, adds the NUJP, took place under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, 58 cases of violence against journalists were recorded between August 2006 to August 2007 by the Alliance of Independent Journalists. According to the body, "government apparatus" has become the new enemy of press freedom, since it is believed to have perpetrated 10 of the recorded assaults.

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