Pool Scene


This scene from the movie - a confrontational one between Horta and East - is entirely fictitious. It was written into the movie partly to confront the audience with the obvious point: why care so much about five journalists when so many East Timorese are dying?
The fact is that those who campaigned - and still campaign - for justice for the Balibo Five also campaigned for the independence of East Timor. The journalists were murdered because they were trying to tell the world the truth about East Timor. Manuel da Silva, a Fretilin soldier who was one of the last to leave Balibo on 16 October 1975 subsequently stated to the coronial inquest:

"The reason why I came to be a witness was that I believe that the journalists are martyrs for East Timor and I believe they are East Timorese as well."

As for the real Roger East: he was a thoroughly committed person who - as the real Horta acknowledges - was "driven by a profound sense of mission."1

It is worth quoting from Jose Ramos-Horta's 1987 memoir (pages 100-1):

"Roger had come to East Timor at my invitation in October, leaving behind a well-paid job as Public Relations Officer.

I had told Roger about my idea of setting up a news agency, to be called "East Timor News Agency" or simply ETNA. I viewed such an agency as an indispensable instrument of the struggle, especially since ANTARA, the Indonesian news agency, was flooding the world with misinformation and outright lies about the situation in East Timor. I gave Roger carte blanche to run the agency, and secured for him access to all Fretilin leaders and daily briefings on the military situation, as well as off-the-record analyses of our plans to deal with the coming invasion.

To launch ETNA, I worked out a simple scheme: I arranged an exclusive interview for Roger with six Fretilin soldiers who had been in Balibo and actually witnessed the fall of the town and the killing of the five Australian newsmen by Indonesian troops. No other journalist had such a privilege, and Roger scooped everybody else. The next day, his bylines were featured front-page in most Australian newspapers, and ETNA began to be quoted.

The Reuters boss in Sydney fired an angry telex to his stringer in Dili for missing the story! The stringer justified her failure with the charge that ETNA was a semi-official agency for Fretilin. Within days, newspapers that had already commissioned Roger to work for them sent telexes terminating his contract. Reuters mounted a campaign to discredit Roger and our agency. I remember seeing Roger visibly hurt by this setback, particularly since the back-stabbing was carried out by a fellow journalist. In retrospect, I believe the whole incident could have been avoided had I acted more sensibly by inviting the stringer to the interview.

In the days before the invasion, when all other foreign correspondents had left the country, Roger was flooded with requests for stories. Even the Sydney bureau chief for Reuters phoned Roger, pleading with him to be their special correspondent. I was with him at the time and heard him saying, "I will file for you, but I am doing it for the Timorese, not for you." Roger was driven by a profound sense of mission. He was not a Fretilin partisan as his detractors claimed. He cared about the Timorese and felt very strongly that the Australian public ought to know the truth. He was angry at his government's cowardice and connivance with Indonesia."

1 J. Ramos-Horta, Funu: The Unfinished Saga of East Timor, Red Sea Press, New Jersey, 1987, p 101.