UNESCO Celebrates World Press Freedom Day in Timor-Leste

Commemorating the World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2022, the Timor-Leste Press Council (Conselho Imprensa – Timor Leste) held a seminar in hybrid format on “Journalism under Digital Siege” in Dili. UNESCO contributed to the discussion along with journalists and government representatives. Over 200 people participated in the event, including media practitioners, students and policymakers. 

The discussion focused on the impacts of digital transformation for journalism, from surveillance and online harassment of journalists to public trust and news media viability crisis.

Referring to the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021/2022 data, Ms Hesthi Murthi from UNESCO Jakarta Office highlighted the increasing threats faced by journalists and activists, particularly those working in conflict areas and countries  experiencing overall shrinking of civic space. She  pointed out that online harassment, mass and targeted surveillance, data breaches and hacking are among the many ways that digital tools have been used to jeopardize the safety and integrity not only of journalists, but also of their sources.

Women journalists are at a higher risk of experiencing gender-based violence on the Internet. According to the 2020 UNESCO study, 73% of over 1200 women journalists surveyed from around the world said they had experienced online violence in the course of their work, including threats of physical and sexual violence, along with digital security attacks.   “This violence, in its many forms, poses a threat to diversity in the media, as well as equal participation in democratic deliberation and the public’s right to access information,”  said Ms Murthi.

In relation to this, Ms Zevonia Viera, President of Association Journalist Timor Leste,  highlighted the need to equip journalists with the knowledge and skills ensuring their online security and physical safety. Virgiolio da Silva Guterres, the President of the Timor-Leste Press Council emphasized the importance of media and information literacy for both journalists and the public to counter harmful content, including hate speech and disinformation. Finally, Francisco Martins da Costa Pereira Jeronimo, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Social Communication spoke about the urgency for legacy media in Timor-Leste to adapt to the digital era.

The World Press Freedom Day is celebrated worldwide on 3 May. It is an occasion to highlight the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluate its state, defend media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. The World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference.