Last Thursday morning, 40 anti-government thugs attacked staff and smashed furniture at the building of TVTL, Timor-Leste’s main media, and forced all radio and TV news broadcasts off the air. According to station management, Australian-led international security forces only arrived on Friday morning, so the station was forced to only broadcast Portuguese visual feed and no local news before then.

There was one exception – President Xanana Gusmao’s speech to the nation was taped at the President’s office last Thursday and then broadcast safely that night.

The gang attack on Thursday morning was in retaliation for the TVTL news broadcast on Wednesday night of Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri speaking to more than 5,000 supporters to the east of Dili. TVTL reporters had been threatened over the previous weeks by anti-government protesters that this would happen.

By terrorising the TVTL staff, these gangs have shut down reporting of Thursday’s Fretilin procession into Dili and Friday’s important pro-government rally in the main city square, addressed by Lu-Olo, the Fretilin President, and the National President Xanana Gusmao.

TVTL management have been requesting security for five weeks. Australian forces eventually arrived on Friday. TVTL now hope to recommence news broadcasts today.

TVTL was slated for major upgrading in the 2006-07 budget, which needed to be passed by the parliament today. The TV and radio network was to be expanded in all 13 Districts of the country. Portugal was to fund the expansion in six of the Districts, and the government budget was to ensure the other six outside Dili were upgraded.

Lack of adequate information, and the use of rumours, were major factors in the destabilisation of the country in April and May this year. A spokesperson for TVTL said on Friday that normal news transmission would resume today when security would be assured.

However, over the weekend, there was further evidence of bias in TVTL when a bogus poster was distributed depicting ex-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri under arrest [see right]. An Australian Military Liaison Officer, Paul Foley, urgently contacted Fretilin, expressing concern at the security impact of this poster, and asking for a Fretilin media conference to correct it.

Fretilin duly held the conference on Saturday, and issued a statement:

Yesterday, a small group, with ill intent fabricated and distributed throughout Dili copies of a photo falsely depicting international forces arresting Dr Mari Alkatiri.

Australian Forces brought this pamphlet and handed it to the Fretilin leadership.

Fretilin requests the cessation of the political persecution of its leaders and cadres.

Fretilin rejects this propaganda aimed at smearing the name of Dr Mari Alkatiri and his dignity not only as Prime Minister of the first constitutional government of Timor-Leste, but also as a Timorese citizen.

TVTL taped the statement being read, but failed to broadcast it. However, a separate statement by Foreign and Defence Minister Jose Ramos Horta was broadcast.

Despite positive statements from both Mr Horta and Australian Brigadier Slater that the Fretilin rallies were extremely helpful and well-conducted, not one statement from the two days of Fretilin rallies has been broadcast inside Timor-Leste.

Peter Fray

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