By Kristian Lewis
A leading Indonesian language program is now set to close at the University of New South Wales due to low interest, at a time when Australian-Indonesian people ties are disturbingly low. This has raised the question again by some whether Australian press is reporting fairly on our giant Muslim neighbour.
Some have agued that Australian media is too narrowly focused and reports only negative stories such developments on Schapelle Corby, terrorism, live animal exports and people smuggling have a strong case, but I think this argument is only semi-correct.
I concur that most Australian’s wouldn’t realise that experts commonly regard Indonesia as the most democratic of all South East Asian countries.
I would also be surprised to see how many Australians have even heard of Indonesia’s fourth President Abdurrahman Wahid (or Gus Dur) who was impeached partially over his radical attempts at democratic reform. Gus Dur prevented major military figures from re-entereing politics, initiated special autonomy legislation for the troubled West Papuan and Aceh region and proposed truth and reconciliation commissions on Indonesia’s dark and murderous past. These were just some of his initiatives and some in Indonesia still wish for his progressive style of leadership to return.
The list of positive developments in the archipelago have received little if any attention and the list could go on for ages, but ill stop right there.
The saddest part in all this for me is that not only are Australian’s been fed a distorted narrative of Indonesia today, but that the really disturbing stories of today are generally overlooked.
When I gave a class presentation on human rights reporting in Indonesia for my journalism course in semester 1, few of the students had any knowledge about the scale of atrocities that occurred in East Timor. Even worse, was that only one student who claimed to know about the West Papuan conflict thought I was referring to Papua New Guinea. This mistake is incredibly common as few have even heard of West Papua.
This particular independence movement has been ongoing for 50 years, has claimed at least 100,000 lives and Australia has been actively supporting Indonesia diplomatically and militarily in spite of ongoing abuses there. It has all the ingredients to be of major ongoing media interest, especially given the regular comparisons to East Timor, that did achieve its independence.
My point can be summarised by the public outrage in June 2011 that forced the Gillard Government to halt live animal exports to Indonesia following video revelations of animal rights abuses towards cattle. Only months earlier horrifying video footage of West Papuans being tortured by the Indonesian military, but since then security ties have only been strengthened. Does anyone remember this footage?