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Balibo five far from forgotten

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John Sinnott, Kate Owen, Janette Corcoran, Jenny Mee and Cr Belinda Coates at last week’s forum in Ballarat.

LAST Friday the Ballarat East Timor Association Inc. (BETA) held a special forum titled “East Timor Calling: “What Made You Think Things Would Change?” The role of journalists and activists in East Timor’s struggle.

The purpose of this event was to focus on the significance of journalists and the media, both historically and in the contemporary world, with special reference to Timor Leste and the journalists’ contributions to fostering and maintaining democracy.

The seminar included a number of speakers including David Larkin who touched on the “Story of the Tapes”, the history and importance of the clandestine wireless operation between the ET resistance and Australian supporters. David Larkin was involved directly in the clandestine communication network in the 1970s and is a senior social worker in Ballarat. Dr Clinton Fernandes spoke about the role of journalists in East Timor’s independence struggle.

Dr Clinton Fernandes, the role of journalists in the East Timor struggle for independence.
Dr Clinton Fernandes, the role of journalists in the East Timor struggle for independence.

Dr. Fernandes is a historian, author and Associate Professor of International and Political Studies Program, UNSW. Final speaker, Eugene Duffy, Content Director at The Courier spoke about the role and significance of journalism and the social media in maintaining democracy, with particular reference to Ballarat, including the paper’s coverage of Ballarat’s role in the ET struggle from late 90’s to early 2000’s. What came out of the seminar was the importance of media in getting the information out to the world – information that was not distorted but reported in the manner it was seen. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor began in 1975 when the Indonesian military invaded East Timor ‘ 2015 also marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the Balibo Five – a group of journalists who worked for Australian television networks based in the town of Balibo in East Timor’ The group comprised two Australians, reporter Greg Shackleton, 29, and sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21; a New Zealander, Gary Cunningham, 27, cameraman for HSV-7 (Seven Network) in Melbourne; and two Britons, cameraman Brian Peters, 24, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 29, both working for TCN-9 (Nine Network) in Sydney. While the men were aware that Indonesian troops were to mount an attack on the town, they believed that, as journalists, they would not be considered military targets.

The sixth journalist to die was Roger East, 53, an Australian who travelled to East Timor to investigate the deaths of the five men. East was captured in Dili by the Indonesian military on 7 December 1975, the day of the invasion, and executed by firing squad on the morning of 8 December. He has been referred to as the forgotten sixth member of the Balibo Five.