Who should we trust for news from East Timor? Monday’s Crikey
carried a report from Peter Murphy, by-lined
as “a freelance journalist recently returned from Dili”. He wrote:

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.

Paul Toohey in The Bulletin, however, has a
very different take on Murphy:

The Australian
peacekeeping effort is meanwhile facing a campaign of misinformation gaining
circulation through activist networks in Australia
and East Timor. Emails, dressed up as news stories and also distributed to
journalists, claim Australian soldiers were interfering in the political
process by urging Alkatiri’s overthrow.

In one such
“story”, Australian trade unionist and long-time Fretilin supporter Peter
Murphy, who is in Dili, wrote: “On June 9, two Australian helicopters flew to
Los Palos at the eastern end of the island to tell people there to support the
president and oppose the prime minister. They were surprised by a very angry
reaction and had to make a hasty departure.”

Murphy’s are
serious allegations. Asked if he could back it up, Murphy admitted he had
simply “heard it from someone” and gone ahead and reported it.

“Getting
something credible and reliable out is important,” said Murphy, who claimed it
was only one of “many incidents where soldiers tell people to support Xanana
and oppose Alkatiri”. Murphy admitted these, as well, were hearsay.

A military source in Dili has confirmed
Toohey’s account – and his claim: “The concern in the rumour-frenzied cauldron
of East Timor is that misinformed reports could potentially expose peacekeepers
to unnecessary danger.”

Murphy tells Crikey:

I work for the
SEARCH Foundation as an administrator, plus organiser plus writer.

We are
socialists, the work is mainly oriented to the labour movement, Aboriginal
rights, environmental sustainability, democracy and international solidarity
for these values.

Our website is www.search.org.au

We have been
connected to the East Timor independence movement since 1974 and I have now been there four
times.

I am a member of
the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, journalists section.

Our military source offers a very different
account of the TVTL incident. Of course, it’s in their interest to do so – but Toohey
makes a strong accusation:

Behind the
misinformation campaign is an anguish felt by die-hard Australian socialists and
activists who delighted in Alkatiri’s hardline leftist outlook and considered
him an anti-imperialist (read: anti-Australian) regional hero. The people of Timor – most of them, anyway –
did not share their view.

Peter Fray

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