Murdered journalist finally honoured

Family members of murdered journalist Gary Cunningham feel "just a little bit better" with the commemoration and ceremony held in his honour in Wellington today.

Mr Cunningham was killed by the Indonesian army during Indonesian incursions before its illegal invasion of East Timor in October 1975. He was one of the Balibo Five, a group of journalists working for Australian television networks based in the town of Balibo in East Timor.

About 50 people came to honour Mr Cunningham's life, including family members from Auckland, Christchurch and Melbourne.

Aunt Pat McGregor spoke on behalf of the Cunningham family, on a wet and blustery day at Charles Plimmer Park in the Wellington suburb of Mt Victoria.

Ms McGregor said he had lived for his job and was a fun loving man. "Its important to honour him after all this time. We feel just a little bit better now."

Ann McCallum, Mr Cunningham's aunt by marriage travelled to Wellington from Christchurch. She said it was a wonderful and emotional day for the entire family, most of whom had come from out of town.

Media Freedom Committee secretary Tim Pankhurst said even though the events happened 35 years ago, it was important not to forget that journalists needed support and protection in dangerous war reporting. "The Australian Government finally responded to pressure by opening a war crimes investigation into the Balibo killings just last year."

"The New Zealand Government should show similar courage and commitment," Mr Pankhurst said.

Representatives from the Labour Party, the Green Party and the Wellington Council attended the ceremony where Mayor Kerry Prendergast planted a pohutukawa. A traditional resistance song from Timor-Leste was sung and a bench bearing Mr Cunningham's name was unveiled.

The Australian Federal Police launched a war crimes investigation into the killings in September last year.

A spokesman from New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Government would be watching very closely to see what eventuated from that investigation before deciding its own course of action.

"We are interested in getting to the bottom of what did happen and have raised the issue with the Mr McCully's former counterpart in Indonesia."

There were no representatives from the Government at today's ceremony, though several sent apologies.

NZPA