Pacific Media Watch

19 January 2014

EAST TIMOR: Roger East, killed in Indonesian invasion, on ABC memorial

Hero image
Roger East ... executed by Indonesian troops in Dili in 1975. Image: ABC

OBITUARY: SYDNEY (ABC/Pacific Media Watch): Roger East, a former ABC journalist who was working as a freelance reporter when he met his death at the hands of Indonesian troops during the invasion of Timor-Leste in 1975, has been recently added to an online memorial for staff who have "lost their lives in the call of duty".

He was reporting as East Timor's independent news agency when he was murdered.

Roger East was born in Girraween in Sydney's west on February 7, 1922, but grew up at Eumungerie, near Dubbo. After serving with the Navy in the 1940s he began his journalism career reporting for several NSW rural newspapers. He joined ABC Radio in Melbourne in 1958 before moving to Brisbane.

East left the ABC in 1961 to work on the liberal Rand Daily Mail in South Africa, as early stirrings of opposition to apartheid emerged. In 1963 East became an editor of the ABC-affiliated television news agency Visnews in London.

John Tulloh, later the ABC's head of international operations, worked under East and recalls him as very fair, a good mentor and a good guide.

Roger East rejoined the ABC in Sydney in 1965, working for radio and TV, before heading overseas once more to edit an English-language newspaper in Spain and working at the UN in New York. Once again back in Australia in 1972 he became a publicity officer for the National-Country Party and later did a similar job for the Labor Party.

'Getting the truth out'
It was the tragedy of East Timor which drew Roger back into reporting. He told people he wanted “to get the truth out”.

He opened a one-man news agency in East Timor, stringing for both ABC Radio in Darwin and the AAP news agency in Sydney.

He filed reports on East Timor's calls for international support and provided the first accounts of the killing of the five Australian-based journalists at Balibo. As the sole remaining foreign reporter in East Timor, his stories described the approaching Indonesian forces and the plight of the civilian population.

Roger East's final story for ABC Radio was heard on Correspondents Report on the afternoon of December 7, 1975.

His plans to flee to the mountains with retreating Fretilin soldiers were thwarted when he was cornered in Dili by Indonesian paratroopers. He was executed on Dili wharf with a single shot to the head on December 8, 1975. His body fell into the sea and was never recovered.

His life was featured in the 2009 Australian feature film Balibo.

Roger East was 53 and was survived by his sister Glenise 'Katie' Bowie, and brothers Alan and Bill.

Information courtesy of Peter Cronau, co-founder of Pacific Media Watch.

Roger East obituary | ABC online memorial

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons