World

Waves of Justice: The TV show teaching viewers in Timor-Leste about human rights

Broadcast nationally in Timor-Leste, Waves of Justice is a Tetum-language series that combines family tensions, football and music with issues of democracy and human rights.

In wealthy countries, free-to-air broadcast television may be giving way to marathon binge sessions on your favourite streaming service.

But in Timor-Leste, viewers are getting something extra in their terrestrial TV programming and it's proving a hit.

A new locally-produced law and order drama is taking the fledgling nation by storm.

Laloran Justisa, or Waves of Justice, is a Tetum-language series that presents family tensions, football, music and love stories in combination with important human rights and democracy themes.

Currently broadcast nationally, there are also public screenings under way in remote villages from Maubisse, in the central highlands, to Fohorem.

"The shows sets a good example for us students as well as our families," class three student Sonia de Reigo explains.

"When a relative stays with us to go to school, we should let them go to school, the housework can be done after school." 

The show is part of a broader project where students are taking part in an art and writing competition.

Teacher Maria da Silva says the show engages students, making it a powerful education tool. 

"The show can motivate the students: they can learn from the series, the good and bad," de Silva said.

The show is the result of a close collaboration between Australian human rights lawyer Patrick Burgess, who runs Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), and award winning writer Phillip Gwynne.

Burgess isolated the human rights themes while Gwynne wrote the drama and action to ensure the show would be engaging entertainment.

The project was developed in conjunction with the Timorese government and bankrolled by the European Union.

Gwynne wrote the scripts, while Dili Film Works produced the shows with the aim of delivering education through entertainment. 

"People aren't going to watch it if there's not enough drama, love stories ... and you're going to fail," Burgess told SBS World News.

"You have to have that but if the messages are not clear you have also failed."

Sister Marcelina, from the Fohorem Church, says two of the show's characters, who are keen to assert their independence, offer some good coming-of-age lessons.

"From what I see in the two kids, they both are enthusiastic about the life in the city," Sister Marcelina said after a public viewing.

"But along the way, when they are faced with the reality of life, they couldn't go through with it.

"So this reflects the reality of life, where children have high hopes, but with the lack of support from family they decide to find their own place to live." 

That's no accident. Burgess says there's a theme for each of the 20 half-hour episodes.

"One might be domestic violence, one might be environmental pollution and those episodes can be used as training in schools, in government and the police," he said.

Burgess is no stranger to conflict and nation-building. He's worked on reconciliation after the Rwandan genocide, atrocities in Yemen and as UN Human Rights chief in Timor-Leste.

"There are a lot of village people who don't understand their rights, that they have the right to basics like schooling, education and that they shouldn't tolerate corruption by local officials and that nepotism is something that is not going to benefit anybody, so we put those in," he said.

The idea is modelled on a similar series The Sun, the Moon, and the Truth, also made by Asia Justice And Rights in Myanmar.

Watched by seven million people, it was so successful it's now used to train all police officers.

"We had no idea it was going to be that successful. It has such an impact that the show is now used to train every new police officer in Cambodia," Burgess said.

"There's a scene with a domestic violence situation where an older cop says: 'You know this is a family problem', while the younger cop is pursuing the legal process, siding with the victim.

"Trainee cops are asked to assess that situation."  

The good-cop-bad-cop scenario in that series is also used in Waves of Justice too.

Fohorem Village Chief Fernando Ferreira attended the public screening in his community and says it demonstrates the right approach to law enforcement.

"I learned something from the movie, about the police capturing the suspect," Chief Ferreira aid.

" lock him up in cell and brought to court. It shows the good cop/bad cop, which is a good example that reflects reality.

"If there were any cops here tonight watching, I hope they could learn something from the show. The shows set good example for us students as well as our families."