Timor-Leste, the media and democracy

On another thread, amused made a very astute point very well in a comment:

The effect of not having to go out, and actually mix with the hoi polloi to do your reporting is becoming obvious, as is the effect on the quality of ‘reporting’ (if one call it that), of not having someone who actually specialises, and knows something about, the issues on which they report. It’s like having a agoraphobic write pieces on travels across the Gobi desert. It lacks the essential qualities of closeness to topic, and engagement with the experience: consequently it lacks conviction and credibility.

It’s not just IR. It’s also foreign policy and our region, both of which are of increasing significance in our own politics and for our future. Such “expert” commentators as do get regular space in the dailies are people like Greg Sheridan, who function more as ideologues than informed observers.

It’s been observed at this blog more than once that the politics of near neighbours of Australia, such as Fiji, Timor, the Solomons and PNG, in regard to whom the Howard government has adopted an increasingly forward policy stance, are both little discussed and poorly discussed in the Australian media. Naturally, the elections in Timor, despite the fact that their ramifications continue, are now no longer “news”. So I’m happy to be able to counter these regrettable lacunae by linking to a piece in On Line Opinion by a friend of mine since Uni days, Michael Leach from Deakin, whose article is both an important piece of reportage and a significant critique of media coverage of Timor.

You can read it here.

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Posted in Developing world, Foreign policy, media, politics
9 comments on “Timor-Leste, the media and democracy
  1. Lefty E says:

    Nice link Mark! Saw that piece the other day, and I generally agreed with it.

    There are some very good Oz journos on the job there, but part of the problem is that most dont get the whole picture working in English – and frankly, some elements of the Timorese party system do the English language press conference / media release / spin better than others.

    Ramos-Horta has just called the ADF off the hunt for Major Reinado today. If you want my (slightly cynical) view on why, it may be because JRH polled rather more poorly than he’d hoped in the Western districts.

    Lets just hope Reinado doesnt pop up and create voting problems somewhere in the 2nd pres round, or parliamentaries in June. He’s on the record as opposing elections until the “military crisis” is resolved.

  2. Robert says:

    Thanks for linking to this, Mark.

    I note that it was originally published (in abbreviated form) in Crikey. I’ve got to say that Crikey has been the best source of news and analysis of Timorese politics in the Australian media in the last few weeks, thanks to two academics from Deakin — Leach and Damien Kingsbury. Kingsbury’s post-election pieces are here and here.

  3. Nabakov says:

    Tres true. Where are the fabled foreign correspondents of yesteryear like Dikko Henderson?

    The ABC still at least one in the shapely shape of Jane Hutchinson, a half gwalio – often expelled from China and on first name terms with both Honkers billionaires and Burmese dissidents. Where are the rest of such a legendary breed? Paul McGeough? Gabby and Vesnor? You certainly won’t find their like on most commercial channels now. Richard Carleton for all his many faults understood this unique trade well too.

    Dunno about the rest of you, but I grew up in a world where being a foreign correspondent seriously embedded in a strange country was a very useful and glamorous thing to be,

    These days it’s just freelance stringers having their shit filtered through online collation centres, bean counter EPs, presenters who are all head and no talking and dinner party fed pundits.

  4. Nabakov says:

    And back then, great foreign correspondents also wrote great books. With the funny too!

    Check out “Any Number Can Play’ by the late 60s Far Eastern Correspondent of The Observer, Dennis Bloodworthy. It’s a wonderful Tom Sharpe meets Ian Fleming (another foreign correspondent natch) satirical spy novel about Indochina then. Think The Quiet American (written by another occasionally foreign correspondent) meets Monty Python. You’ll look certainly look more closely at a glamorous Eurasian vamps named after the RN’s “Flower” class frigates and Cambodian Bonzes with sarf London accents after reading Dennis’ pisstake on the whole thing.

  5. Fiasco da Gama says:

    Dili-gence agrees, but from a different perspective.

    The international press have been widely reporting on the election outcomes and to be honest, I think they got bored and left.

    Nabakov, don’t forget Le Carre’s Honourable Schoolboy.

  6. Mr Denmore says:

    Mainstream media journalists look down on the blogosphere because it is supposedly composed of single-issue nutters who spend far too much time on their computers and never going out to talk to actual people.

    In fact, the MSM journalist operates in just that way these days. I spent 25 years as a journalist. In the earlier days, chief reporters would tell the staff to get out of the office. “You’ll never break news, sitting their waiting for the phone to ring.”

    These days, they don’t even bother with the phone. It has become just too easy to cut and past from transcripts of media interviews, PR releases, official source websites and their competitors’ work.

    It is not just the technology of the media that is pushing journalism in that direction. The economics of the media is doing it as well. With little growth in revenue and private equity vultures circling, the only option for publishers to maintain margins and keep shareholders happy is to drive down costs. You achieve that by having fewer journalists and keeping them chained to their desks. At the same time you sell more ads, which requires ever greater amounts of editorial content.

    The upshot is that you cover the world from your desk, watching CNN, BBC World and surfing the web. It is patently obvious that this is a surefire to magnify inaccuracies and half-truths and over-simplify everything. The truth often moves on, but the desk-bound journos are still reporting a filtered, pre-digested version of the truth that is a week or a month out of date.

    You are seeing this not only in foreign affairs news, but here in Australia with political reportage. This, more than anything, explains why the MSM journos are missing the story on Rudd – that a good proportion of the electorate has given up believing Howard (or indeed even listening to him). Instead, the inward-looking press corps spend all their time reading each other’s copy and reporting politics as a game where everyone knows the rules.

    The best news and analysis these days is on blogs such as this one.

  7. philip travers says:

    I will never be an expert on either East Timor or its people and journalism,but Iwill apply my mind to the blog subject.I do not think it is possible to say any number of persons as Nationals, cannot be reduced down to accepting matters at election time they wouldnt accept 8 years prior.For two distinct reasons a, individuals are not the summary of national characteristics,and can never be as a function, if you like,that observing a human life at a time is complex enough.b,.And the particular circumstances the East Timorese have found themselves in recent times,as reported wherever it is reported are not the singularity of individual life.Journalism isnt an exact science of description of phenomena or circumstance including the humanity which maybe both.I express disappointment rather than gratitude here,even though the reportage is slightly clearer.Why does the idea emerge,and wherefrom,of a tendency to accept a form of corruption in ones own voting intentions unless there are valid reasons that others may see in my intentions!?Are you here as cheer squads for each other and not noticing the game and teams!?

  8. nabs its Jane Hutcheon and yes she is pretty hot. One of the reasons I watch Foreign Correspondent is that they occasionally show the non cliched shots and stories of other places.

    f’rinstance I’ve never seen a shot of Iraq that hasn’t had a burqa, wrecked building or desert dust in it.

    Yet we know there are rich farmlands and familiar looking people wearing jeans and going to university, blogging, getting their hair done, giving birth, looking afte rkids, listening to music and trying to survive and create small a oasis at home and in neighbourhoods amid clusters of chaos and mayhem.

  9. mark says:

    Gough Whitlam has been summoned to appear and give evidence at the inquest into the deaths of Australian journalists Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters at Balibo in 1975.

    Also appearing will be Bill Morrison, Defence Minister in Whitlam’s Labor Government and John Menadue, Department Head.

    Whitlam had previously tendered a statement that said, in effect that he was not shown intelligence about the journalists until 5 days after their deaths.
    (so he obviously knew the score in October 1975)

    Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch somewhat pre-empted any evidence from Whitlam by stating “On the face of it I doubt there is further he can add to that”.

    MODERATOR – this could be the subject for a new discussion thread, but there is no facility to initiate a thread, only reply.
    Really enjoy the site.

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