East Timor | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

East Timor

East Timor

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


A slightly improved security situation and increased access to information under a new coalition government brought a modest improvement in press freedom in the latter part of 2007; nevertheless, heightened political tensions surrounding elections yielded some attacks against journalists, and criminal defamation provisions remained in law. Although the 2002 constitution contains provisions protecting press freedom, 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 2005, then prime minister Mari Alkatiri signed an executive decree approving a new penal code that provides for jail terms of up to three years for defaming public officials and doubles the terms of imprisonment when defamation takes place through the media. The code sets no limits on fines or other penalties for defamation. In February 2006, the measure was sent back to the Ministry of Justice for reconsideration, where it remains, and neither the new prime minister nor President Jose Ramos Horta moved to eliminate criminal penalties for defamation. 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.

Despite some improvement in the political climate, tensions surrounding presidential and parliamentary elections and the formation of a new coalition government led to attacks against journalists, particularly by individuals affiliated with the Fretilin party, which was removed from power in the elections. In March, militants from the party beat a Timor Post journalist when he tried to take their photograph at a security checkpoint. In April, a Fretilin lawmaker threatened two journalists from the public broadcaster, National Television of Timor Leste (TVTL), when they tried to record images of empty desks and inactivity at the national parliament. In July, a noneditorial staffer from the daily Suara Timor Lorosae, generally perceived to favor the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party that had recently formed a coalition government, was beaten after his assailants confirmed his employment at the paper. Several days later, the windows of the newspaper’s office were broken. On November 17, a coroner in New South Wales, Australia, issued a report establishing that the Indonesian army had “deliberately killed” the British, New Zealand, and Australian reporters known as the “Balibo Five” who were in East Timor covering the 1975 invasion.

Although severe economic pressures continued to hamper the free flow of information, there were several promising developments, including a government initiative to distribute East Timor’s three daily newspapers to each of its 13 districts. Radio Timor Leste is estimated to reach approximately 68 percent of Timorese, and in May 2007, TVTL became available outside of the capital, Dili, via satellite bandwidth leased from Indonesia Telkom. However, a majority of the community radio stations established after independence remain dysfunctional. Infrastructure limitations and poverty restricted access to the internet in 2007 to 0.1 percent of the population; nonetheless, the government does not censor websites or limit users’ access to diverse content.