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Tales from the new country

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 13:03 UK time, Friday, 26 May 2006

In the last couple of days the unrest in the world's youngest country, East Timor, has forced its way up the news agenda with the government there calling for international military intervention from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia to help put down a rebellion by discharged soldiers.
World TonightSix years ago, East Timor was in the headlines for weeks when the Indonesians and their local allies went on the rampage as the country voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN run poll. The UN ran the country for a few years then helped the Timorese set up their own insitutions - the idea was to help them stand on their own feet. This now seems to be unravelling.

We decided we should do this story on The World Tonight for a couple of reasons:

a) the country is descending into chaos and there is the human drama of some of the poorest people in the world having to flee their capital city to avoid getting caught in the crossfire

b) with difficulties of large scale nation-building in places like Iraq and Afghanistan in the news, the apparent failure of nation building efforts in tiny East Timor (pop.n 700,000) despite a large effort from the international community, highlights the difficulties of imposing western standards of governence in places torn apart by conflict.

As a news programme, we usually want to get interviews with decision makers (or what we broadcast journos like to call 'real people') in order to try to get a news line out of them. Given the time difference to Timor and Australia from London we couldn't get an interview with either government there so we arranged to do an interview with the Portuguese Foreign Minister (Lisbon is on the same time as us) and arranged for John Taylor, a former UN adviser from South Bank Universtity to come in and explain what's going on there.

That's all fine and dandy but as this is live radio it's never that simple. In the run up to going on air, Robin Lustig was composing his introduction - what we call the cue - he was trying to bring listeners up to date with the background to East Timor since it disappeared from the headlines a few years ago while telling listeners why we were doing the story - ie the appeal for troops from abroad.

Robin and I discussed and revised the cue a couple of times. After I had said we couldn't say Timor became independent from Indonesia (because it was never legally part of the country) but we needed to say the Indonesians had occupied it for 25 years, Robin said he couldn't give a two miunte history lesson. After two attempts we think we got there and we had a 45 second intro that established the background and told us why the story was important on this day ... the art is to make it sound effortless, give the essential context for people to understand the story and do it in less than a minute.

And then the Portuguese FM stood us up - when we called him during the programme, his daughter answered the phone and told us he hadn't got home from the restaurant. It happens more than you think, which is why we have a stand-by item for each programme, and why our listeners heard from the Enron whistleblower after all.


  • 1.
  • At 06:01 PM on 26 May 2006,
  • Brian wrote:

This is interesting stuff - I don't work in News, and I'd never really had much idea that interviews would fall through at the last minute. Makes you wonder why there's not more dead air on TV and radio.

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