Video discussion: journalists concerned over threat from criminal law

Timor-Leste journalists have raised concerns over the use of criminal law to deal with defamation matters, in a video discussion with Australian colleagues.

The T-L journalists said some members of Timor-Leste’s parliament want to broaden criminal law to regulate offensive speech in social media and that this could further interfere with the legitimate work of news media.

The T-L government last used the criminal law of “slanderous denunciations”, with its heavy penalties, when it prosecuted Timor Post journalist Raimundo Oki in 2017 over a report he wrote on Rui Maria de Araújo before he became prime minister.

The government lost the case, but T-L journalists are concerned that the interest in criminal law, rather than the civil defamation process, is not going away, said Alberico Junior, director of media analysis and monitoring at the Timor-Leste Press Council.

Much of the video discussion dealt with the need to educate MPs and the community about the important role journalism plays in public life, and the need to distinguish between journalism operating in an ethical framework and the ill-informed and abusive commentary often found on social media.

The video discussion was organised by the Timor-Leste Press Council and the Melbourne-based Asia Pacific Journalism Centre in collaboration with the Australia East Timor Association. Videoconference facilities were provided in Dili by the World Bank and in Melbourne by Victoria University.

Participants in Dili were:
José Maria Ximenes, Press Council TL member
Ana Teresa Sequeira, Executive Director
Zevonia Veira, Editor Chief
Antonio Cesar Mali, Corresponded Kyodo news
Venidore Oliveira, Timor Post editor
Frances Suni, Director information GMN
Alberico Junior, Director Media Analysis and Monitoring
Cristina Cidade, Legal Advisor
Greg Burchall, APJC
Helen Hill, AETA
Jefferson Lee, AETA
Juvinal Dias, Activist
Pedro Brinca, Media Advisor to Press Council
Altino da Cruz Freitas, Director Cooperation Social Relation Institution and Cooperation
Maria Bibel, Press Council staff

Participants in Melbourne were:
Jim Nolan, adviser on legal issues to the International Federation of Journalists
Michael Bachelard, investigations editor of The Age
Andrew Dodd, director Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne
Jean McLean, chair of AETA and Timor-Leste advisor at Victoria University
Tony Marjoram, deputy chair of AETA
Patricia McQueen, government relations Victoria University
John Wallace, director of the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre
Mengting Zou, APJC intern in international journalism, University of Melbourne