Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Can SBS doco help change Oz West Papua policy?

The Arab uprisings continue as a civil war develops in Syria. Apparently fair witnesses, in the form of a delegation sent by the Arab League, are touring Syria taking notes and visiting hotspots. The protests are painted as "terrorism" by the Assad regime but it's clear that some army soldiers are defecting and joining in the rebellion. Many people believe the protests are a legitimate expression of dissatisfaction with the government, as they were in Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia. The world watches as the Arab League delegation gets its shoes on the ground, and starts, hopefully, to deliver reliable reports about what is really happening there.

But Syria is just one place where the media is banned. Right on Australia's doorstep, in West Papua, a similar ban is in place. It has been in place for a long time. The ban has effectively enabled the Yudhoyono regime to limit exposure of what many call crimes against humanity. Hundreds of thousands dead, say some reports. Even if it's not precisely true - we have no way of knowing due to the media blackout. An occasional story appears in the media in Australia about the situation in West Papua but it's entirely sporadic and transitory. Meanwhile, the Australian government continues to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua. In Papua New Guinea - a country with its own problems - the government says nothing also. They're probably worried about a refugee influx in the event of a full-scale war like that which took place in East Timor.

There's no novelty in the West Papua conflict. It's low-level and enduring but not notable. The main reason for our apparent complacency, I think, is the attitude of the Australian government, which is chary of upsetting a prickly Indonesian administration at a time when it needs their cooperation in order to keep up the pressure on people smugglers. Australian people are unaware, as a result, of the savagery being committed by troops from across the seas. Maybe a new documentary will help. It's to screen on SBS next Tuesday at 9.30pm and it's worth watching. The doco was first mooted a year ago and then it was screened on the BrisbaneTimes website earlier this month. Made by Australian Charlie Hill-Smith, it takes a long, hard look at the crisis simmering in West Papua and is good-quality as well as informative.

Perhaps if more people start to take note of this conflict we can get the Australian government to do something about opening up the province to external monitors, as they have done in Syria. Or at least let the media in freely. The people there, who want independence, are unhappy with Indonesia's rule and want change. We should be trying to help them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this- I'll be watching it. You're right about news from West Papua being so desultory, and nearly everything I hear or read about West Papua fills me with misgivings. The Indonesian insistence on silence about it makes me even more uncomfortable.