Sacked head of Timor-Leste state broadcaster claims ‘political axe’

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Ousted Timorese RTTL television chief fought hard to prevent political pressure on his journalists. Video: RTTLEP

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The former president of of Timor-Leste’s public television network says he has been sacked for political reasons.

Gil da Costa was removed this month from the post of chairperson of the board of directors of Timor-Leste Radio and Television (RTTL) following an audit undertaken by the government – and he had no knowledge of the result.

He has told the Portuguese news agency Lusa that his removal from office – which he first learned about on the news – was a political decision following the audit that was led by his successor.

Ousted: Gil da Costa found out about his sacking through the news media. Image: RTTL

“I heard from the news that I had been ousted. They did not even talk to me before or about any problem that existed,” Gil da Costa told Lusa yesterday.

Da Costa alleged that he was removed after the audit whose results he never knew without any prior information from the government and without even having the opportunity to be heard or give any explanation.

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“It was definitely a political decision”, considering it “serious” the fact that his removal happened after the audit mandated by the Secretary of State for the Media (SECOMS), Merício dos Reis, and conducted in October by Francisco da Silva who became his successor and took office today.

“The appointment of my successor is political. They use alleged mismanagement and alleged irregularities to fire me, but whoever replaced me was the person who led the audit process,” Da Costa said.

Audit credibility
“And I do not even know if the audit has credibility. I have not even seen the results yet.”

Gil da Costa also also said he had acted directly to stop attempts at political interference in the newsroom, a “common” practice in the past and attempts were made to do this during his tenure at RTTL.

“There have been several attempts at political interference on me and directly on journalists to try to influence editorial content,” he said.

“As head of RTTL I always insisted that I wanted it to be an independent institution without political interference. And I’ve tried to do this. And there was a lot of political interference,” he said.

The sacking decision was made known to the public and himself in a short notice from the government at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on January 9, which did not even mention his name, Lusa reports.

Appointed: Francisco da Silva took office today. Image: RTTL

“The government approved the proposal for a Government Resolution on the dismissal of the current chairperson of the board of directors of Timor-Leste Radio and Television, and the appointment of the new chairperson of the board of directors of Timor-Leste Radio and Television, EP , Francisco da Silva on the proposal of the Secretary of State for the Media, Merício dos Reis,” the statement said.

Despite several attempts, Lusa was not able to obtain a comment from Secretary dos Reis.

Fretilin appointment
Gil da Costa was appointed to the position of RTTL president by a government resolution approved on January 25, 2018, replacing Milena Abrantes, who ended her four-year term that same month.

Asked whether his nomination – by the previous Fretilin-led minority government – had been political and therefore he had now been dismissed, Gil da Costa rejected this suggestion, claiming that he had accumulated “great professional experience” and fought to avoid “political interference”.

“I worked for many years with international agencies. And I may have been appointed by the Fretilin government but I did not obey Fretlin. The RTTL is from the state, not from the government. It is an institution of the state, not the government,” he said.

To avoid delays in wages, “I made the decision to use RTTL’s own revenue in advertising”.

“RTTL has been out of money for six months. And I don’t understand why,” he said.

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