By Raimundos Oki in Dili
Journalists in Timor-Leste are facing pay cuts amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has joined its affiliate, the Timor-Leste Press Union (TLPU), in calling on media company proprietors to reconsider this decision and to protect the rights of journalists who are on the front line in the fight against the Covid-9 coronavirus pandemic.
Timor-Leste President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo declared a national emergency on Friday, March 27. Since the following Monday, April 1, all activities in the capital city of Dili have been significantly reduced to stop the transmission and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Several printed media outlets have reportedly cut the workers’ salaries, as media companies face a steep decline in revenue.
The decision also affects correspondents in regional areas, with the newspapers focusing on news coverage in the capital as transport delivery to areas outside Dili is limited.
Even before the pandemic, journalists in Timor-Leste struggled to make a living because of wage pressures. In general, journalists receive around US$150 a month which is insufficient to make a decent living and provide for a family.
Key safety threat
The South-East Asia Media Freedom Report 2019 revealed that the key safety threat for journalists in Timor-Leste is poor wages and working conditions.
This results in journalists being forced to take on other work after hours to supplement their income. It also affects their professionalism and independence, as journalists are more likely to use sources that provide a fee for their services.
The lack of decent wages and associated benefits continues to discourage and undermine good journalism in the country.
Timor-Leste has confirmed five positive cases of Covid-19 and around 570 people are still under isolation.
The chairman of TLPU, Manuel Pinto, has asked media owners to review their decision to cut journalist salaries.
“Actually, in such a situation journalists’ salaries must be increased rather than cut because journalists are on the front line in the fight to overcome this pandemic,” Pinto said.
The IFJ said: “IFJ is disappointed with the decision to reduce the salaries of journalists at a time when high quality reporting in vital.
“IFJ urges media proprietors to review their decision, as protecting workers’ rights and ensuring their safety must be prioritised in this health crisis.”