Australian Press Council welcomes Dili Declaration on Press Freedom

The Declaration—signed by Australian Press Council Chairman Professor David Weisbrot and representatives of six other regional Press Councils on 10 May 2017—was the culmination of an international conference to mark the first anniversary of the establishment of the Timor-Leste Press Council.

Professor Weisbrot said that "press councils have a vital role in supporting the development of quality journalism and a free media, as well as promoting the safety of journalists, and enhancing media inclusion of under-represented and vulnerable groups in society.

"The Dili Declaration recognises the essential role that the free press plays in a democratic society," Professor Weisbrot said.

"Countries like Australia and New Zealand—with a long history of press councils providing that delicate balance between encouraging robust free speech (including confronting and challenging free speech) and mechanisms to ensure good standards, fairness and accuracy of media reportage—are well placed to make a key contribution in this region.

"Press councils in Southeast Asia and the Pacific face the dual challenges of negotiating these same issues, but doing so in countries that traditionally have not enjoyed a free press. They are working from the ground up to build a framework for responsible journalism.

"It's an ambitious and sensitive task," Professor Weisbrot said, "but one we are willing to help with wherever possible."

Signatories to the Dili Declaration are the press councils of Timor-Leste, Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Myanmar, Thailand and Papua New Guinea.

Timor-Leste Press Council Chair Virgilio da Silva Guterres described the Declaration as an historic step for the collective advocacy of press freedom and freedom of expression.

"It reflects the collective commitments to share experiences and resources among the declarators in advancing democracy in both regions and in respective countries. And we, (the Timor-Leste Press Council) are honoured to have hosted this event and become part of this Declaration."

Professor Weisbrot said it was gratifying to see the strong support for the fledgling Timor-Leste Press Council by the Timor-Leste government, with the conference in Dili opened by the Prime Minister and closed by the President. The Timor-Leste Communications Minister was an active and engaged participant throughout the event.

"Also gratifying was the fact that at least 100 young local journalists and journalism students attended the conference—and had no hesitation in asking the tough questions of their leaders. Their energy and fearlessness provides great cause for optimism about the future of the media—and its role in further promoting democracy—in that country."

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