Distinguished Portuguese journalist, Mr. Adelino Gomes who reported from Timor-Leste during the resistance period in 1975, asked the 200-plus participants at the Dili Dialogue Forum, the hard question of whether journalism is still worth defending in an age when “big tech” has eclipsed news outlets, when traditional journalism toils without much monetary gain, and when journalists are sometimes accused of “reckless” use of social media.
The questions from Mr. Gomes during his keynote address as well as from other speakers and experts at the forum are meant to provoke and challenge deeper reflection of the role of journalism and of journalists at a time when information can easily be accessed with a few taps on a personal smartphone.
Chairperson of the Timor-Leste Press Council, Mr. Virgilio da Silva Guterres and Director and Representative of UNESCO Office in Jakarta, Dr. Shahbaz Khan gave the welcoming remarks on the first day. Minister for Legislative Reform and Parliamentary Affairs, H.E. Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhaes officially opened the forum. The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Roy Trivedy presented the opening remarks on the second day of forum where he highlighted the role of journalism in the democratic development in the country.
The two-day forum which took place in Dili from 9 to 10 May was also attended by representatives from regional press councils and journalists associations who shared their experiences in dealing with social media in their respective countries.
The closing ceremony was attended by the President of the Republic of Timor-Leste, H.E. Francisco Guterres ‘Lu-Olo’. The President also presented a journalism award to three Timorese journalists who were acknowledged for their excellence in journalism in the past year.
Similar to other countries, the rise of social media has also disrupted traditional journalism in Timor-Leste where social media giant, Facebook is the preferred platform by many including journalists. Nevertheless, the platform is very much an unregulated space in the country which poses serious questions linked to ethics and disinformation.
Perhaps as a response, we can look to Mr. Gomes’s suggestions from his keynote address drawn from his own experience. The first is to increase Media and Information Literacy programmes in order to empower users to be more critical and conscientious consumer of media. The second is to increase engagement and outreach of journalists to the public from different places so rebuild the relationship between journalism and the public.
The Dili Dialogue Forum is an annual forum that takes place on the anniversary of the formal establishment of the Timor-Leste Press Council on 10 May 2016. Coincidentally, it comes days after the World Press Freedom Day (3 May) and thus has had a strong link with the global celebration led by UNESCO. The theme of World Press Freedom Day this year was “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Election in Times of Disinformation.” UNESCO Office in Jakarta has been a main partner of the forum since 2018 as part of the larger project of “Strengthening Media Self-Regulatory Mechanisms in Timor-Leste” that receives support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands.