Video discussion on defamation in Timor-Leste and Australia

The impact of defamation law on press freedom was the subject of a videoconference discussion between journalists, lawyers and academics from Timor-Leste and Australia organised by the Timor-Leste Press Council and the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre. The discussion, held in October 2017, also involved representatives from media unions in both countries.

The discussion took place following the acquittal of “slanderous denunciation” charges brought against Timor Post journalist Raimundos Oki and his editor Lourenco Vicente Martins. The charges, under criminal law and not civil defamation law, were brought against them for a 2015 article about state contracts for IT services involving Finance Minister Rui Aria de Araujo, who subsequently became Prime Minister.

Dili-based lawyer José Teixeira said that Timor-Leste’s constitution and legal system tended to give priority to individual rights to privacy, good name, honour and reputation, and that this emphasis often created a barrier to free press activity.

He said the limits on press freedom in Timor-Leste went beyond legal restrictions. “I find the freedom of the press in this country is actually much more constricted by social norms, and the expectation of respect for our elders.”

International Federation of Journalists representative Jim Nolan praised the statement of support for the journalists made by the Timor-Leste Press Council at the trial.

Fairfax media journalist Michael Bachelard raised concerns about the legal environment for journalists in Australia. He said that since the establishment of a uniform defamation law in 2005, “pretty much all of the defences except truth have been knocked down to the point where they are virtually unusable”. The situation had contributed to Sydney becoming ‘the defamation capital of the world”, he said. 

The videoconference meeting canvassed a range of options for improving the position of journalism in Timor-Leste, including legal training for journalists and editors, media literacy for politicians, and advocacy for media reform.

Technical arrangements for the videoconference were made by ANU house in Melbourne and the World Bank videoconference facility in Dili.

Participants included:

Michael Bachelard, Fairfax Media

Pedro Camões, Lawyer

Alberico da Costa Junior,  Moderator

Francisco da Silva Gari, Journalist Radio Liberdade

Hugo Fernanades,  Timor-Leste Press CounciI

Vigílio da Silva Guterres, Timor-Leste Press CounciI

John Henningham, JSchool

Phillip Kafcaloudes, RMIT

Prof Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Jim Nolan, Barrister and IFJ legal advisor

Raimundo Oki, Journalist Timor Post 

Manuel Pinto, Journalist Tatoli   

Alana Schetzer, Freelance journalist, educator and MEAA federal delegate

José Teixeira, Lawyer

Vonia Vieira, Journalist            

Dr Alex Wake, RMIT

John Wallace, Co-Chair, Director, Asia Pacific Journalism Centre


Listen to the recording here.