CCPC attendance at Timor Leste meeting enables it to share, and compare, its experience on press councils with other media groups in the region

Representatives from the press councils of Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand discuss media challenges in their countries. Other media groups were represented as well — the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen of Indonesia, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance based in Bangkok, Thailand (Kathryn Roja Raymundo, 5th from right), the Cambodian Center for Independent Media based in Phnom Penh, (Danny Caspe, 4th from right), the Philippine Press Institute (Ariel Sebellino, 3rd from right), and CCPC. The named participants are Filipinos. [Photo from Conselho de Imprensa de Timor-Leste]

By Karlon N. Rama

AN INTERNATIONAL organization has shown interest in the interlocking support mechanism that lies at the core of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, with an official saying it offers approaches that may apply to nascent democracies, where a free and vibrant press is crucial. 

Dr. Lim Ming Kouk noted on the sidelines of the three-day Dili Dialogue Forum (DDF), held in the capital of Timor Leste May 9 and 10, that the “right support from the various sectors of the communities media itself serves” will help address internal and external concerns affecting the press in the region. 


Quick look: Timor Leste allows free use of its public space but is planning to regulate media. It will define “who can broadcast and what can be broadcast.” A government representative sits in that country’s press council. The chairman of East Timor Press Council hopes for “self-regulation” and a media literacy program integrated in the education system.


Dr. Lim serves as advisor for communication and information of the Unesco office in Jakarta that partnered with the Conselho de Imprensa de Timor-Leste (Press Council of East Timor) in hosting the DDF. 

State Secretary for Social Communication Mericio Juvenal dos Reis (right) receives a token from Dr. Lim Ming Kouk after representatives of the region’s press council visited the latter at his office in Dili, Timor Leste. [Photo from Secretário de Estado da Comunicação Social]

Lim’s observation, in turn, came following the surprise pronouncement of the State Secretary For Social Communication, Mericio Juvenal dos Reis, that his agency is creating regulations for the broadcast media industry; one that will “define who can broadcast and what can be broadcast.”

Dos Reis made the pronouncement during his speech in day two of the DDF and strongly defended it in an interview with local and visiting journalists. 

“Up to now, we have no broadcasting law yet. Everybody is free to use our public space with any content or news program,” he explained. “Some content are more provocative propaganda for indoctrination and ideology and in that sense, we need some basic regulations.” 

Regulation

The state secretary stressed that the demand for the regulation come from the public itself, as well as some members of the Parliament and the Catholic Church, which remains influential in the former Portuguese colony.


“Up to now, we have no broadcasting law yet. Everybody is free to use our public space with any content or news program. Some content are more provocative propaganda for indoctrination and ideology and in that sense, we need some basic regulations.” — State Secretary For Social Communication Mericio Juvenal dos Reis


“They say ‘please stop to see the advantage and disadvantage of the process,’” he said. “We can continue to guarantee the right of the citizens to media, but we want to tell them ‘hey look, there are some responsibilities you need to follow as well.’” 

Virgilio da Silva Guterres, chairperson of Timor Leste’s press council, was conservative in his reaction, assuring that they will be “consulted at some point” during the development of the regulations, wherein which they can stress that “self regulation is better” and that state initiatives are better off if “focused on media literacy integrated in the education system.”

Mr. Virgílio da Silva Guterres believes the press council will be “consulted at some point” when dos Reis’s office deliberates on the regulations, whereupon they can argue that “self regulation is better” and that the government should “focus on media literacy integrated in the education system” instead. [Photo from Conselho de Imprensa de Timor-Leste] 

Council member and lawyer Paulo Arauzo, interviewed separately, said the council saw the need to enact a broadcast code — one that would provide guidelines on frequencies and programming — but had planned to write it themselves, as the press council, and then lobby for its approval. 

Similar challenges

Dr. Lim shares the view that self-regulation is better but concedes that media policies differ between countries even within the region. 

On the last day of the conference, representatives of the press councils and related organizations from the region, including CCPC, were asked to identify the challenges they face amid the still-changing landscape of the industry brought about by social media, as well as the strategies they employ. 

The sharing converged on many points, among them the shrinking market, which affects industry-wide sustainability, media ethics, which affects public trust and media relevance, and threats and harassment against practitioners.

Strategies also converged on the need to respond to the shifting taste of audiences, strengthening of ethical standards and adherence thereto, and news and media literacy, as well as media protection. 

CCPC, created in 2005, presented how interlocking structures that involve stakeholders outside of the media industry represent a sustainable and holistic response to the challenges seen.

Media support system

The establishment of the Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla), for example, with its roster of lawyer-journalists, respond when the council needs to speak out on media issues and concerns, including the passage of new laws that directly impact on, or even infringe, media freedoms.  

Cemla also provides assistance when the council mediates in complaints against members and provide legal representation to the council and journalists when the need arises. 

Newscoop, the multipurpose cooperative, provides a self-sustaining savings and loans service to journalists, while a media medical aid program aims to assist journalists facing health distress. 

Started as a forum called Conversations, which reached out communication students, the fourth mechanism taps the academe and involves holding yearly research conferences to spark nuanced discussions on media issues and concerns at pre-service level. 

Cebu Journalism and Journalists (CJJ) magazine, an independent non-profit enterprise dedicated to promote good journalism and help protect a free press, is a trade publication.

CJJ informs journalists, future journalists, and practitioners in allied industries on developments in their craft and issues affecting the industry. It “looks back to what happened and gives glimpses of what will happen,” particularly on how they affect the community press in Cebu. 

Then, through the Cebu Press Freedom Week, an annual public celebration supported by the private sector, journalists gather as colleagues, unshackled by the rivalry of competing media houses, strengthen common interests and examine media concerns.

Self-regulation works

Dr. Lim said these internal mechanisms are good indicators that self-regulation does work, given the right atmosphere and support from the community. 

Lawyer Arauzo said he is interested in the participation of a wider community in media concerns. 

Lawyer and Timor Leste Press Council member Paulo Arauzo huddles with Australian journalist and long-time Timor Leste resident Bob Howarth at one point during the DDF. Arauzo finds innovative how a group of independent lawyers are supporting the CCPC in its media and public discourse-focused initiatives. [Photo from Conselho de Imprensa de Timor-Leste]

Timor Leste, like the Philippines, has a constitution that guarantee freedom of speech and expression. In fact, Timor Leste’s 2002 Constitution takes it a bit further by actually using the nomenclature “Freedom of the Press and the Media.” 

Located on the eastern side of Timor Island, between the Indonesian archipelago and the Australian continent, Timor Leste is the youngest democratic country in the world. Its media faces issues that mirror that of other developing countries.[Photo from Conselho de Imprensa de Timor-Leste]

Timor Leste mandated the formation of the press council and appoints a government representative to the multi-partite council. 

The government also bankrolls its operation, a necessity in an economy largely buoyed by exporting crude oil to petrochemical firms in Australia but then importing food and other consumer goods, with very little by way of local manufacturing. 

Considered the world’s youngest democracy, Timor Leste enacted its own charter in 2002.

Prior to that, it was a colony of Portugal from the 16th century until Nov. 28, 1975, when the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretelin) declared independence, and from Dec. 7, 1975 to Sept. 12, 1999, a province of Indonesia, which occupied and annexed the territory to purportedly avert a communist buildup on its border.

Timor Leste occupies the eastern side of Timor Island and has applied to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Map shows the country’s location within ASEAN.

Indonesia relinquished control of the territory following a rather under-reported but nevertheless bloody war of attrition and after a UN-sponsored Act of Self Determination. The UN then took administrative control of the country in 1999 until 2002.

Geographically, Timor Leste is about three times the size of Cebu but only has a third of the population. The official languages are Tetum and Portuguese.

Karlon N. Rama is acting deputy director of Cebu Citizens-Press Council and associate editor of CJJ Magazine Online. CCPC sent him to Dili to represent the council.