Proposed media laws endangering journalism

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Timor Leste Journalists Association (AJTL) call upon Taur Matan Ruak, the President of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, to refrain from signing off new media laws that may endanger the practice of journalism in the region.

AJTL has called on the President use his power to influence parliament to remove these articles, and says the current provisions are more in line with protecting political interests yet restrict the rights of the media.

The IFJ has been following the progress of the laws since a draft version was approved by the Council of Ministers on August 6, 2013. One of the main concerns of the AJTL has been Article 14 of the proposed law which clearly mandates: “Access to the profession of journalism begins with a mandatory internship, to be completed successfully, with a duration of eighteen, twelve and six months, respectively, for those with secondary education, Bachelor degree in other subject, and in media areas.”

“That means part-time, student and freelance journalists would be barred from their work unless they have been certified by the Press Council” said TLJA president, Tito Filipe, in the IFJ statement from February this year.

AJTL said there is a growing concern among associations of journalists, media practitioners and civil society groups in East Timor over the laws and says the media laws are a political ploy by the existing government to set up and legalise their own media organisations in the future.

The law outlines the creation of an official Press Council, described as an “independent administrative authority and shall exercise its powers and task without being subject to any guidelines or directions from political power”. It also states that the chairman of the council will be appointed by parliament.

The IFJ said: “We have significant concerns that the laws in their current form will strongly impact on the practice of journalism and the role of journalists in East Timor.  The IFJ calls on the president to heed the media’s concerns and take the media laws back for further consultation.”

The IFJ and the AJTL reiterate the vital role the media played in East Timor’s struggle for independence and that experience should stand as a stark reminder of the importance of a free and independent media.