East Timor | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

East Timor

East Timor

Freedom of the Press 2010

2010 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

  • The media environment in East Timor improved in 2009, largely due to President Jose Ramos-Horta’s implementation in June of a new penal code that decriminalized defamation.
  • Owing to the passage of the new code, the widely criticized defamation case against the editor of the weekly Tempo Semanal, Jose Antonio Belo, was dismissed. Belo’s paper had published the findings of an investigation into Justice Minister Lucia Lobato’s improper awarding of government contracts to friends and business contacts.
  • The controversy over five draft media laws proposed by the UN Development Programme continued, as Timorese and regional press organizations argued that the proposed laws would place new restrictions on journalists. The London-based freedom of expression advocacy group Article 19 noted a number of positive features in the laws, such as a provision giving the Media Council the power to mediate defamation cases. However, the council would also be given the authority to fine journalists and news organizations for violations that Article 19 called “vaguely defined.” Cases that could not be resolved by the Media Council would be sent to the courts.
  • In December 2009, a journalist from Tempo Semanal was ordered to appear as a witness in the prosecution of 28 individuals for a February 2008 attack on Ramos-Horta. The journalist had conducted an interview with one of the defendants. However, the judge affirmed his right to protect his sources, and he was not forced to testify.
  • At least six 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.
  • The presence of internationally funded media-assistance organizations has had mixed effects on journalists in East Timor. These organizations have made significant financial contributions, thereby decreasing the importance of funding from the state and arguably increasing journalistic independence. At the same time, evidence suggests that their presence has contributed to what some Timorese journalists call a “project mentality,” in which news organizations become dependent on grants from nonstate actors.
  • Internet access was limited to just 0.2 percent of the population in 2009 due to inadequate infrastructure and poverty. Nonetheless, the government does not censor websites or restrict users’ access to diverse content.