06 September 2009

Crikey: East Timor's media blackout is a pox on the nation

Crikey 25 August 2009 20 . East Timor's media blackout is a pox on the nation - Last week, ABC radio journalist Steve Holland resigned in anger following a Media Watch report that attacked his reporting over a contracting scandal involving alleged nepotism over East Timor rice contracts. He says that attempts to black ban the foreign media by the East Timor government fail to do justice to the fledgling democracy.

East Timor this week celebrates 10 years of independence, but it seems the country is struggling to grasp basic democratic principles.

The East Timor government recently ordered a media blackout on the ABC after the broadcaster ran a series of stories that a government spokesman dubbed "Ricegate", to which I contributed.

"Ricegate" demonstrated that multimillion dollar government contracts had been awarded to companies linked to family members of East Timorese ministers.

From the start, not many people wanted to talk about these government contracts, which were awarded to many companies as part of food security plans implemented in 2008 -- amid fears of a looming rice crisis.

I was one of two reporters who covered "Ricegate" since the start of the investigation -- and the wall of silence was encountered early.

Two of the businesswomen at the centre of "Ricegate" -- one Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s daughter Zenilda, the other Minister Joao Goncalves’ wife Kathleen -- went silent when the names of certain companies were mentioned.

More puzzling was the fact Minister of Economic Development Joao Goncalves could not recall the names of the many companies his wife owned or part-owned. Though, he did concede he knew one was awarded a government contract.

In many ways it's understandable the businesswomen didn’t want to discuss their dealings and government connections.

And a minister's reluctance to elaborate on his wife’s professional practices should come as no surprise.

But it is alarming when a democratically elected government openly declares a media blackout because it’s unsatisfied with the way an independent news organisation is reporting a particular story.

In my mind, this level of censorship defies fundamental democratic principles of openness and transparency.

An East Timor government spokeswoman this morning was unavailable for further comment on the media blackout.

It seems clear East Timor still has a lot to learn about democracy. And it should. It is a young, small country that, while trying to map its future, must overcome the many burdens that still linger.

East Timor is one of poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the nation was forged on a battlefield and violence can soon erupt and reignite tensions of the past.

Prime Minister Gusmao fought for the freedom of his people when he led East Timor to independence 10 years ago.

In an unofficial translation issued in a press release by East Timor’s opposition, and carried by Australian media, Prime Minister Gusmao was quoted saying: "So I warn Australian journalists that they should not tamper with my government, during 24 years, they signed to steal East Timor’s oil, now they come with a lot of talk, continuing to say that we are a good-for-nothing people.

"No, you don’t play with me, sometimes we smile with one another, but don’t play with Xanana."

Perhaps, on this anniversary, it's time for East Timor’s government to look at itself, to remember all those lives that were lost in the country's battle for freedom, and think about what that freedom really means.
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Image added by ETLJB

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

“It seems clear East Timor still has a lot to learn about democracy. And it should. It is a young, small country that, while trying to map its future, must overcome the many burdens that still linger”.
“Perhaps, on this anniversary, it's time for East Timor’s government to look at itself, to remember all those lives that were lost in the country's battle for freedom, and think about what that freedom really means”.

If one can look at the first quote above is that 'It seems clear, East Timor has a lot to learn about democracy'. This phrase is not realistic from what has happened in East Timor. There are realities that prove East Timor knew what democracy is about, East Timorese knew and practice democracy since starts of the formation of the nation. If one can look back to the referendum that led East Timor for independence, what East Timorese leader and the peoples have done, they never take revenge on the invader who was unwilling to accept the defeat, this prove they knew what democracy is about, it is about won the battle with fairness and never try to harm the opponents. East Timorese knew won the battle with gentle.
Now, ironically, if one can look on what happened in Australia, the owner of the Australian land who have denied for centuries, 'Terra Nulls' that is the land without people. For god sake how can you turn blain eye for the first creator of God in this Land. This is what Australia calls 'Democracy' I think Australia needs to learn what democracy is about from East Timor. Another example that proves how Australian doesn't understand what is democracy. Australian government roles out the first Australian with intervention policy that they think, is the solution to solve the poverty. Unfortunately, this is done without consultation with the owner of the land, and recently denied the violation of first Australian rights that Amnesty international calls for the Australian government. This is that you call democracy, I don’t think the first Australian never agree with. Therefore, it is best to say that the writer of that article was in the mod of losing his job or in the situation that he cannot be able to cope with the situation, thus he needs to learn more before become the reporter.

Cruz.

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