AJF condemns impunity over Balibo Five murders in Timor, other killings

Balibo Five
A scene from the film Balibo about the killing of five Australian-based journalists by Indonesian special forces at the Timor-Leste town of that name in 1975. The photo appeared on the cover of a joint ACIJ and Pacific Media Centre edition of Pacific Journalism Review in 2010. Image: Tony Maniaty/Pacific Journalism Review

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Today, October 16, marks the 45th anniversary of the Balibo Five – the five Australian-based Australian, British and New Zealand – journalists murdered in East Timor in 1975. Their case remains unsolved.

Roger East, a former ABC journalist, was later murdered when in Timor-Leste investigating the earlier killings and running a Timorese news agency.

This was a marked moment in press freedom history in Australia, yet after investigations were launched to find those responsible and prosecute them, after 1868 days – according to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) – the AFP (Australian Federal Police) had not made one attempt to question the suspect identified by a prior inquest.

The investigation was subsequently dropped.

Since then, nine other Australian journalists have also been murdered, again with complete impunity, reports the Brisbane-based Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom (AJF).

Globally, impunity in cases of journalist murders remains at almost 90 percent.

Professor Peter Greste, director and spokesperson of the AJF, said:

“This trajectory shows a broad and continuing failure of our judicial process, and a lack of political will to address one of the most egregious attacks on the media in our history.

“A liberal democracy stands on the shoulders of a sound legal system, a free press, transparent governance and security forces that protect both the people and the integrity of the system itself.

“Failure to hold those responsible for the Balibo Five murders and those subsequent to them is a failure of our democracy. If we hope to be a strong and flourishing country in the region in future, we must ensure this never happens again.”

Murdered were the three-man Channel Seven crew reporter Greg Shackleton, (29), New Zealand cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27; and 21-year-old sound recorder Tony Stewart; and the two-man Channel Nine crew Scottish-born reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28, and British cameraman Brian Peters.

Roger East
Journalist Roger East … murdered during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste. Image: ABC

Roger East opened a one-man news agency in Timor-Leste, 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 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 7 December 1975.

The Balibo Five
Murdered journalists … Gary Cunningham (New Zealand, from left), Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart and Brian Peters (United Kingdom). Image: MEAA

The AJF promotes press freedom and the right of journalists to report the news in freedom and safety. This includes working with Australian governments to ensure legislation supports press freedom. Professor Peter Greste is a director of the AJF and is UNESCO chair in journalism and communication at the University of Queensland (UQ).

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