East Timor | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

East Timor

East Timor

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Political violence led to a continued deterioration of the press environment in 2006, as widespread unrest hampered the media’s ability to disseminate news. Although the 2002 constitution guarantees that the state shall protect “the freedom and independence of the public mass media from political and economic powers," Section 40 states that the rights to freedom of speech and of information “shall be regulated by law,” thereby opening the door to criminal penalties for defamation. In December 2005, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri signed an executive decree approving a new penal code that contains severe penalties for defamation of public figures. Under Article 173, anyone can be jailed for up to three years and fined for publishing comments seen as defaming public officials. Article 176 doubles the terms of imprisonment when defamation is made through the media. The code sets no limits on fines or other penalties for defamation. President Xanana Gusmao neither signed nor vetoed the bill and in February 2006 sent it back to the Ministry of Justice for reconsideration, where it remains. A 2004 court of appeals ruling suggested that until a new Timorese penal code is passed, the Indonesian law (which contains criminal penalties for defamation) still applies.

A power struggle between Prime Minister Alkatiri and his political opponents in April resulted in civil unrest, gang violence, the deaths of at least 37 people, and the internal displacement of 15 percent of the population. Many journalists were among the displaced, and for a period of several weeks each of three newspapers based in the capital city of Dili was temporarily unable to publish. Although the political crisis lessened after Alkatiri resigned on June 26, Jose Ramos Horta, the new Prime Minister, has not eliminated criminal penalties for defamation.

A small number of privately owned daily and weekly newspapers publish in a variety of languages and provide some diversity of views. The Public Broadcast Service owns and operates a radio station that reaches most of the population, as well as a television station that has a limited geographic range. However, severe economic pressures on the press continued to hamper the free flow of information. A majority of the community radio stations established after independence failed to function during the crisis. Owing to the technical limitations of public radio and television broadcaster Radio and Televisao de Timor Leste (RTTL), those Timorese who were outside Dili had almost no access to news. Moreover, although RTTL is supposed to be an independent institution governed by an independent board of directors, the public broadcaster was reportedly under political pressure from the Fretilin ruling party-appointed president of the board not to broadcast reports critical of the government. Infrastructure limitations and poverty severely restricted access to the internet in 2006 (less than 0.1 percent of the population was able to make use of this new medium during the year); nonetheless, the government does not censor websites or limit users’ access to diverse content.