Subject: Film recalls heroism of former Examiner journalist 

Film recalls heroism of former Examiner journalist

Published Date: 23 January 2009

THE life – and tragic death – of a journalist who worked for the Isle of Man Examiner in the 1950s is to be explored on the silver screen.

Actor Anthony LaPaglia, best known for his role as FBI agent Jack Malone on the American TV series Without a Trace, stars in Balibo as Australian journalist Roger East, who was killed in East Timor while investigating the murders of five fellow reporters by Indonesian armed forces in 1975.

The killings of what became known as the Balibo 5 have been well-documented in Australia amid claims of a cover-up by the authorities.

But the story of Roger East, who was 52 when he died, has up until now been largely forgotten.

Roger East was the last foreign journalist left in Timor when the Indonesians invaded the former Portuguese territory in December 1975.

He had planned to try and stay on through the occupation, and send independent eye-witness accounts of the events in Timor from a hiding place in the hills outside Dili.

Two months before the invasion, five young newsmen, including two British nationals, had travelled to Timor but were shot during a military incursion in Balibo by Indonesian troops.

After their deaths, East, then working as a public relations officer in Darwin with the government's Cyclone Tracy reconstruction commission, travelled to Timor to investigate.

At the same time, he hatched plans with the young Fretilin rebel and future East Timorese president Jose Ramos Horta to set up a Timorese news service.

Less than two months later, on December 8, East was seen being dragged, hands bound, across Dili's main square. An Australian inquiry 20 years later concludes he was shot at Dili's wharf.

His news reports of the Indonesian invasion and massacres never reached the outside world. He filed an incomplete transmission for the wire service Reuters. No record of the story remains.

East became a newspaper man after leaving the navy. Having trained on local newspapers in Australia, he travelled the world, eventually arriving in the Isle of Man in 1953 where he was taken on as a senior reporter on the Isle of Man Examiner.

Retired Isle of Man Newspapers' news editor Alan Bell was a junior reporter on the rival Isle of Man Times at the time.

From his home in Patrick, Alan recalled: 'He was a typical Australian – a real character. He worked hard and played hard, he liked a drink.

'He'd been around a bit. His party piece at NUJ meetings was standing on the table reciting Kipling's Gunga Din!

'He was very competitive. I remember we were walking back along Peel Road after reporting on a football match and he had an idea that the chap across the road was walking faster than us and we ended up in an imaginary race!

'He wasn't at the Examiner very long. We used to get all sorts of characters turning up in the Island and working for the newspaper in those days. I read in the newspapers that he'd been killed in East Timor.'

The story of Roger East's life and untimely death sheds fresh light on Australia's own role in the Indonesian invasion, and the Timorese people's subsequent struggle for independence, across more than two decades.

There is another link between the Balibo tragedy and the Isle of Man – the mother of Malcolm Rennie, one of the two British reporters killed, moved to the Island.

Balibo is due for release in Australian cinemas this year but may also be screened in the UK.

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