PARIS (Reporters Without Borders / Pacific Media Watch): Two journalists and publishers from small states in the Asia-Pacific region have been included in an inaugural list of “100 information heroes” by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders organisation for World Press Freedom Day.
They are José Belo, investigative journalist and publisher of the “uncompromising” independent weekly Tempo Semanal in Timor-Leste, and Taimi ‘o Tonga publisher and broadcaster Kalafi Moala from Tonga.
For the first time ever, Reporters Without Borders is publishing a list of profiles of “100 information heroes” for World Press Freedom Day (May 3).
Through their courageous work or activism, these “100 heroes” help to promote the freedom enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”, Reporters Without Borders said in its statement today.
“They put their ideals in the service of the common good. They serve as examples.”
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “World Press Freedom Day, which Reporters Without Borders helped to create, should be an occasion for paying tribute to the courage of the journalists and bloggers who constantly sacrifice their safety and sometimes their lives to their vocation.”
The list of “100 information heroes” comprises women and men of almost all ages (25 to 75) and 65 nations.
The youngest, Oudom Tat, is Cambodian and the oldest, Muhammed Ziauddin, is Pakistani.
Twenty-five of the heroes are from the Asia-Pacific region, 20 from the Middle East and North Africa, and eight from Europe.
Iran, Russia, China, Eritrea, Azerbaijan, Mexico and Vietnam are each represented by at least three heroes.
The Pacific island states are represented by:
José Belo (Timor-Leste):
“During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste in the 1990s, José Belo learned to cope with anything. He was handcuffed, hung by his feet, burned and put in prison for three years.
"Finally in 2008, the country’s legal system, which had been independent for only a short time, threatened him with seven years’ imprisonment for accusing the minister of justice of corruption.
“Today the founder of the uncompromising weekly Tempo Semanal and president of the Timor-Leste Press Union is waging a new battle -- against a new media law being cooked up by the Dili government and parliament.
“He believes the legislation will give too much power to a proposed Press Council to be appointed by the government. He says he is prepared to go to prison again to prevent its passage into law.”
Kalafi Moala (Tonga):
“If you’re going to influence any society, or any group of people, information is the key. [...] The victory for freedom of the press and freedom of expression is a victory for the people.” That is the motto of Kalafi Moala, publisher and managing director of Taimi Media Network based in the archipelago’s capital, Nuku'alofa.
In 1989, at a time when all news outlets were in the hands of an authoritarian government or the church. Moala launched Taimi O Tonga, Tonga’s first independent weekly and one of the most controversial newspapers in the whole Pacific region.
In 1996, Moala and his colleagues were sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment each for publishing pro-democracy reports that were judged to be seditious. Using prison visitors, the tenacious journalist managed to smuggle out editorials written on toilet tissue which were published in the course of the following four weeks.
Banned from publishing in 2003 and again in 2004, Kalafi hung on and in 2009 he acquired the state-owned Tonga Chronicle, Tonga’s first newspaper.Two years later, he launched a website www.taimionline.com which streams the media group’s radio stations.
Through his news outlets and groups such as the Pasifika Media Association, Moala continues to fight for press freedom and to inspire young journalists in the region.
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