The role of the media in Timor-Leste

These are excerpts from an unofficial translation of a story printed today by Timorese daily newspaper Diario. You have to think that the facts are accurate as Diario is essentially reporting about itself, but you can never be sure in this country.

The directors of national print media (Suara Timor Lorosae, Timor Post, Diario Nacional, Tempo Semanal) in Timor-Leste met yesterday in Dili and decided not to cover stories about the activities of Minister of Foreign Affairs Zacarias da Costa because he does not value the national media and lies to the people.

You cannot make a decision not to report on a person because he doesn't value the media. You simply cannot. He is the country's minister of foreign affairs. The fact that he doesn't value the media isn't even a good reason.

At the end of the meeting, the spokesperson for the directors of the mass media, Jose Belo [Tempo Semanal editor], said to Diario that the decision not to cover stories on Minister Zacarias is because in a lot of his statements, he shows he doesn't value the media, and when there are polemics, he always blames the media.

Is that the same Jose Belo who fearlessly reports the truth and takes on government ministers?

The last polemic that happened with Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao shows that he does not have ethics, new generation respects to guerrillas and their leader.

Tempo Semanal actually ran a story about da Costa yesterday, so obviously the foreign minister's ethics have only become an issue in the past 12 hours. There has supposedly been something of a spat between da Costa (leader of the Social Democratic Party) and Gusmao (leader of the CNRT party).

Tempo Semanal, getting its info from government spokesman Agio Pereira, ran a story about da Costa sending an SMS to the PM threatening to resign over differences of opinion related to ambassadors attending last week's Development Partners' Meeting.

Then, a big fuss was made about da Costa not being at the Dili International Dialogue. There were rumours he had either quit or been sacked. Some newspapers even said there might be an early election as a result.

Two days ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release stating how da Costa was still the country's foreign minister and that he was fully behind Gusmao.

Back to the Diario story, it continues:

"In the past he said that he did not send the SMS, but at the end, people understand that he is the one who sent the SMS and threateend to resign. This is an act of manipulation," said Jose Belo.

Apparently, one of the problems is that da Costa often uses Portuguese, one of East Timor's official languages, which most journalists cannot speak.

In most places, journalists and editors would see these issues as reasons they should report on da Costa.

The daggers continue to fly in da Costa's direction for the remainder of the story. Obviously he won't be given a chance to defend himself because the media won't report on him any more.

Who is pulling the strings of the media?

A few things come up here. It's important to remember that there will be a general election in 2012 and Gusmao is the leader of a coalition government. Gusmao does not want to lead another coalition. He wants to lead CNRT.

And what of Agio Pereira? Does he want to be foreign minister?

We can but speculate. One thing that is clear is that this country's media will be taking a huge step backwards if its daily newspapers continue to let themselves be manipulated in this way.

Also, I'm still confused about when this apparent ban on da Costa will begin, as all the papers ran stories about the minister today.

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