In March, Timor-Leste declared a state of emergency to deal with the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. In this context, the media plays a vital role in providing the public with factual, up-to-date information – with journalists on the front line in the fight against the global pandemic.
Zevonia Vieira is President of the Timor-Leste Journalists’ Association. Every day she reports from the COVID-19 front line in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. “As a journalist, I have an obligation to share information with the public at any time, including during this outbreak,” she explains. “Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to provide information to citizens. People want reliable information but at the moment journalists are finding things quite difficult: companies are cutting salaries and we don’t have enough personal protective equipment.”
Even before the pandemic hit, a young Timorese journalist would only have earned about $200 a month. Often that would not be enough to pay the telephone and Internet bill and put petrol in the scooter. Covid-19 has only made matters worse.
In response, to mark World Press Freedom Day this year, the European Union and Camões, Portugal’s Institute of Cooperation and Language, donated 250 much-needed masks, together with $20 telephone top-up cards to 84 front-line journalists to help them pay their Internet and communication costs and follow online courses.
Team Europe is also offering around 140 Timorese journalists help with internships, and financial support to publish articles and buy advertising space in local newspapers. Thanks to this, journalists can carry on doing their job – something that Zevonia sees as indispensable. “Accurate reporting by journalists is needed to fight the huge amount of false information about coronavirus that is circulating, especially on social media. It’s more important than ever for journalists to have the freedom to oppose disinformation and fake news, so that citizens have access to crucial and reliable information,” she says.
“Money belongs to the people, manage it wisely”
Team Europe is proud to support Timorese journalists at this difficult time through the EU budget support programme called Osan Povu Nian – which translates as “money belongs to the people, manage it wisely”. The programme, which also benefits from Camões funding, seeks to help the government design financial policies for better public services. This includes involving non-state actors like the media in monitoring policies and policy-making. The harsh economic climate caused by Covid-19 is jeopardising journalists’ livelihoods at a time when they should be giving us the facts about COVID-19, about how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones, and about how the battle against the pandemic is going.