Asia - Pacific
Index 2024
20/ 180
Score : 78.92
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
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Index 2023
10/ 180
Score : 84.49
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Social indicator
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No journalist has ever been jailed in connection with their work in this young democracy, but the 2014 media law is a permanent threat hanging over journalists and encourages self-censorship.

Media landscape

This former Portuguese colony, invaded by Indonesia in 1975, obtained its independence following a self-determination referendum in 1999. Now, with many publications in the Tetum language, Portuguese and even English, including the leading weeklies Timor Post and Dili Post, and the dailies Suara Timor Lorosae and Independente, the country’s media are among the freest in the region. Radio Televisaun Timor Leste is the main broadcaster. Many online media have been created, including a news agency that competes with the traditional media. The Press Council and the journalists' association organise training and have their own fact-checking body, which is backed by UNESCO.

Political context

During Timor-Leste’s short history as an independent nation, the executive power’s division between a president and prime minister has helped to limit press freedom violations. Nonetheless, politicians regard the media with some mistrust, which has been evidenced in several proposed laws hostile to press freedom, including one in 2020 under which defaming representatives of the state or Catholic Church would have been punishable by up to three years in prison. Journalists' associations and the Press Council often criticise politicisation of the public broadcaster and news agency, in particular, the fact that government appointees to key positions in these public media outlets have close ties to the ruling party. 

Legal framework

Articles 40 and 41 of the constitution protect freedom of the press and expression. Although the 2009 penal code decriminalised defamation, journalists involved in legal disputes are threatened by misuse of article 285, which penalises “slanderous denunciation.” The Press Council created in 2015 is intended to facilitate a peaceful resolution of disputes involving journalists, even if the process of electing its members lacks transparency. In 2021, the public prosecutor's office drafted a cybercrime bill that was submitted to parliament without consulting the Press Council and journalists' associations. Although the bill was ultimately not approved, media organisations denounced a lack of transparency in the procedure used.

Economic context

By law, Timorese media are required to be transparent about their ownership, and cannot be more than 30% foreign-owned. Outside the capital, Dili, print runs are very low. This is due in large part to the challenges of illiteracy, the high price of newspapers compared with a low average purchasing power and the difficulties of distributing across the country. Technical challenges and limited Internet access hinder the reach of TV and online media in rural areas, leaving radio as a crucial source of information. The lack of a robust private sector  poses a significant challenge for media outlets, forcing many to rely on government advertising. 

Sociocultural context

A culture of deference and respect for hierarchy continues to permeate journalism, to the point that some editors are content to reproduce the official reports of press conferences. There are still cases where journalists are paid by the organisers to attend press conferences. The influence of the Catholic Church, followed by more than 95% of the population, deters journalists from covering some sensitive subjects, such as the emancipation of women, the right to abortion or paedophilia in the clergy.


Journalists are usually free to report the news and are rarely the targets of harassment or physical attacks. However, they are exposed to many forms of pressure that limit their freedom, including legal proceedings, intimidation, police violence and public denigration of the media by politicians.