|Pacific Media Watch|
Commentary - Assessing Keating's Soeharto statement
Title -- 5310 INDONESIA: Commentary - Assessing Keating's Soeharto statement
Date -- 18 February 2008
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- The Jakarta Post/Joyo News 15/02/08
Copyright - JP
Status -- Unabridged
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ASSESSING KEATING'S SOEHARTO STATEMENT
By Louise Williams, former Sydney Morning Herald correspondent in Jakarta
Terjemahan (atas jasa "Kataku"):
JAKARTA (JP Online/Pacific Media Watch):
The former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has much to
be proud of, particularly his visionary efforts to engage a
suspicious Australian public with Asia in 1980s and 90s.
However, his recent articles in The Jakarta Post -- trumpeting
the economic and social achievements of the late President
Soeharto, while sweeping aside human rights abuses and
corruption -- take a disappointingly narrow view of this
nation's recent history.
In defending the late President Soeharto's record, Keating takes
aim at a "jaded bunch" of Australian journalists; especially
those from the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC. He blames
critical reporting by this very small group for Indonesia's
unfavorable image in Australia during the Soeharto era. I
covered Indonesia for the Sydney Morning Herald from the late
1980s until 1999, so must count myself among the handful to
which he refers.
Firstly, Keating is right to be dismayed over the mutual
distrust which persists between Indonesia and Australia. He is
also right to point out that the media plays a large part in
shaping public perceptions.
However, he makes his argument the wrong way around. The media,
in any society, is a reflection of both the prevailing political
system and a nation's history. Australia's sometimes raucous and
frequently critical media is an integral part of its stable,
Australia's past, as a white colonial outpost sitting nervously
on the edge of Asia, also weighs heavily on the Australian
public's imagination. It could be argued that no two neighbors
have so little in common; historically, culturally, religiously,
ethnically and -- until Indonesia's recent democratization --
politically. These differences have, certainly, sparked tensions
over the years.
But, the critical reporting of the then Soeharto regime was a
product of these fundamental differences in political models,
not the cause of the divide. Australian journalists working
within their own media culture have no reason to apologize for
pursuing human rights issues and corruption at a time when
Indonesian journalists were unable to report freely.
Keating may recall that Western nations such as the United
States and New Zealand considered the human rights situation
sufficiently serious to cut military ties with Indonesia in the
early 1990s. Nor should was former President Soeharto be
portrayed as a hapless victim of "willful" Australian
journalists. The Soeharto government had many blunt tools at its
disposal to keep the media in check, including bans on foreign
journalists which he used against my newspaper.
It is not productive to engage in an argument with Keating about
Soeharto's legacy. This is very complex question and cannot be
reduced to a glib black and white "Soeharto the father of
development" vs "Soeharto the human rights violator". I have
traveled from Banda Aceh to the highlands of Papua. I understand
and appreciate the importance of poverty alleviation and
development under the Soeharto government.
But, I also understand the anguish of families of those who died
at the hands of his security forces or agent. The debate over
Soeharto's place in history will not be easily of quickly
settled on these pages.
However, it is both inaccurate and one-sided to portray the
Australia media as an irresponsible bunch of hacks merely baying
for Soeharto's blood. Many Australian journalists who live and
work in Indonesia establish a lifelong connection to this
country and engage with Indonesia in all its splendor. For
journalists this means continuing to report critically when
appropriate -- but also recognizing the human interest stories
which bring another society to life.
Since the fall of the Soeharto regime in 1998, sporadic
bilateral tensions have persisted, despite Indonesia's
democratization. But, there is cause to be optimistic.
The same Australian media organizations and journalists Keating
lambastes, reported accurately and compassionately after the
Bali bombings; recognizing the Indonesian victims as well as the
Australians and acknowledging the extraordinary cooperation
since between security forces.
Certainly, there is considerable anger at the terrorists in
Australia, but Australians and the Australian media is able to
distinguish between a small number of extremists and the broader
Indonesian public. The Boxing Day tsunami also led to an
outpouring of compassion for Indonesia, and the single biggest
relief package every pledged by an Australian government.
Since the 1980s, much has changed in the region. Asia's economic
rise means Australia looks north towards new markets, new
democracies and increasing affluent and educated neighbors; not
the mass poverty it once feared.
Australia's main trade ties are with Asia not Europe and Asian
immigration to Australia and the large numbers of Asian students
studying at Australian universities mean Australia is no longer
the culturally isolated "white tribe of Asia". Those historic
tensions which may have informed public opinion in the 1980s and
1990s are slowly breaking down. But, it does take time. Just as
it takes time for Indonesia to consolidate it's democracy.
The way to move forward is not to look for blame but to get to
know each other better. I was in Jakarta on the day Soeharto
stepped down and on the day he died; and like so many
Indonesians, I had mixed emotions. It was the end of an era, a
moment in history. I am now back in Indonesia for two months
with 25 young Australian and New Zealand journalism students who are taking part
in internship programs with Indonesian and foreign media
organizations in Jakarta.
The aim is to build a new generation of Australian journalists
who understand the importance of an informed engagement with
Indonesia -- and who embrace the people behind the headlines.
Ironically, it's not unlike the Hawke-Keating Labor government
scholarship program for young Australian journalists which began
my own engagement with Asia in the 1980s. For that mind
broadening start to my career, I will always be grateful.
* The writer is a former Sydney Morning Herald journalist, who
spent ten years as a foreign correspondent in Asia, including
four years in Indonesia from 1996. She is in Jakarta for the
Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies, a
non-profit consortium of universities which supervises foreign
students in Indonesia and can be reached at
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