Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 12 (of 30)
Political Environment: 12 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 13 (of 30)
Total Score: 37 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

  • Despite the imposition of a state of emergency from February through May following a rebel assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos Horta, the media environment improved slightly in 2008 as the government weighed new and generally positive media legislation and vowed to decriminalize defamation.

  • A new penal code under consideration by the parliament in 2008 would decriminalize defamation, but the old Indonesian code remained in effect at year's end. Five draft media laws that were also under consideration would establish a regulatory framework for the country's media. The London-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Article 19 pointed to a number of positive features in these proposed laws, including a provision under which defamation cases would be referred to the Media Council for mediation. However, the council would have the authority to fine journalists and news organizations for vaguely defined violations. Cases that could not be resolved by the Media Council would be sent to the courts. The council would also have the power to license journalists and expel them from the profession. According to Article 19, the proposed rules for obtaining a license "bear very little relationship to professionalism," and could be interpreted as restricting access to the profession.

  • Jose Belo, editor of the weekly paper Tempo Semanal, was notified in December that he was being prosecuted for defamation under articles 310, 311, and 312 of the penal code. The paper had published the results of an investigation alleging that Justice Minister Lucia Lobato had improperly awarded government contracts to friends and business contacts. If convicted, Belo would face fines and six years in jail.

  • In January, referring to inflammatory interviews with rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao threatened to arrest journalists who published "erroneous" information.

  • Agostinho Ta Pasea, a senior layout editor for the Timor Post, was beaten by military police in February as he took a computer file of the paper's weekend edition to the printer in Dili. The newspaper lodged a complaint, and the government issued a formal apology for the use of "unjustified force."

  • The presence of internationally funded media assistance NGOs has been a mixed blessing for journalists in East Timor. While these organizations have pumped more money into the system, decreasing the importance of state subsidies and arguably increasing journalistic independence, there is evidence that they have contributed to what some Timorese journalists have called a "project mentality," in which news organizations grow dependent on grants from nonstate actors.

  • At least five private daily and weekly newspapers operate on a regular schedule, and several more appear sporadically. After the country gained independence in 2002, broadcast media were dominated by public radio and television outlets, but community radio stations – many with international funding – are playing an increasingly important role in the media landscape.

  • Internet access was limited to just 0.1 percent of the population in 2008 due to infrastructural limitations and poverty. Nonetheless, the government does not censor websites or restrict users' access to diverse content.

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