Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Bali Bombings: 15 years since innocence lost in Kuta Beach.

Ross B. Taylor AM

Very few Australians, or anyone in the World for that matter, could have imagined the impact of the devastating bomb blasts that ripped the heart out of Bali on 12th October 2002 killing 202 people including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians. It also destroyed the unwritten belief that Bali was ‘ours’; a natural and safe extension of Australia where young Aussies have holidayed since people like me lived in small losmans on Kuta Beach in 1971.

Almost no-one could have also imagined that the shocking carnage inflicted upon the Kuta Beach nightclubs that evening would, 15 years later, become a reality of daily life as international terrorism spread its evil doctrine to every corner of the earth.

Today, for many young Australians the story of the ‘Bali Bombings’ is something that mum and dad or grandparents talk about, as a new generation of Aussies get to fall-in-love with this incredibly beautiful island and its chilled-out atmosphere.

So on this 15th anniversary of this horrifying terrorist attack, perhaps it is a good time to pause and ask:  Is there anything ‘good’ we can take from this terrible event that could make our world a little better?

Ironically, at a government level, relations between Indonesia and Australia should have collapsed as a result of what happened in 2002. Yet in their commitment to find the perpetrators of these bombings, the Indonesian National Police and our Federal Police formed an unusual alliance that resulted in most of the Bali bombers being apprehended and convicted.

This ‘odd’ partnership only happened due to an act of terrorism, yet it has endured, with many planned attacks in Bali and the region being thwarted in time to undoubtedly save the lives of many more tourists and locals.

The Bali bombings have actually brought the Balinese people and Australians closer together rather than forced us away as the terrorists would have hoped. Bali 2002 has highlighted the very worst of what can happen when fanatics take control, yet today both our countries are closer because of the lessons learned from that experience.

Bali today is a very different place. Last year over one million Australians holidayed in our favourite playground, and we have saw an unprecedented boom in the number arrivals by mainland Chinese and Indian tourists.
The good news is that, despite the ongoing danger of a ‘lone-wolf’ terrorist attack, Bali is now a far more enjoyable, safer and secure place than in 2002. But for those who were directly impacted by the Bali bombing, the pain and grief continues to be very real and ‘raw’.

So as we pause to commemorate this terrible event that occurred 15 years ago today (12th), let us all make that commitment to to show more respect to our Balinese hosts, and to be more caring towards those who are important to us.

To do this gives some purpose and meaning to our own lives, and truly honours the spirit of those who were badly injured, or lost their lives, on the streets of Kuta Beach in 2002.

Ross B. Taylor is the president of the WA-based Indonesia Institute Inc.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Watch out Indonesian democracy – Islamism, communism and Jokowi’s Neo-New Order?


On 16 September, police broke up an academic discussion at the offices of renowned activist NGO the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH). The topic was the killings of alleged leftists in 1965 and 1966 in the wake of the failed coup that brought former president Soeharto to power.
This event was more significant than it seems at first glance. LBH has always been critical of government and unafraid to address highly controversial issues. Despite this, security forces have never before broken up a meeting at its offices – not even under Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order, when LBH was often the most vocal opposition voice in the country.
The trouble started when protesters gathered outside LBH, claiming the meeting supported communism. They included prominent Islamist ginger groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and others involved in recent mass rallies against former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. As is so often the case, the police gave in to the mob. They surrounded LBH, forced their way in and closed the event down.
Discussion of the mass killing or imprisonment in 1965 and 1966 of Indonesians supposedly associated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) may still be controversial in Indonesia but it is hardly novel. There have been many similar events in recent years (including at LBH) and even public conferences, some endorsed by the government. Likewise, Joshua Oppenheimer’s dramatic documentary about the killings, ‘The Act of Killing’ has been screened in Indonesia and covered widely in the media. Every Thursday, survivors and supporters protest outside the palace to remind President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) of his broken election promise to resolve past violations of human rights, including the massacres of 1965/6.
In this context, having police break into LBH to halt a private meeting seemed extreme and heavy-handed, so LBH organised an artistic event the next day to protest. The mob gathered again, using social media to spread rumours it was a secret congress of the PKI, and pelted those trying to enter with stones. This time, police held protesters off but activists were trapped inside LBH for hours before being evacuated to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
The idea that communism might be resurgent is ridiculous in a country that doesn’t even have a leftist political party. Although the PKI was violently obliterated in the mid-sixties, and communism is a dead letter globally with has no popular support in Indonesia, it is alive and well as Indonesia’s No. 1 bogeyman. Jokowi helped legitimise this in May, responding to claims that he is from a former PKI family by calling for communism to be ‘crushed’ if it rose again.  Communism remains the label of choice to smear progressive opponents, as Islamist groups showed in their highly effective attack on LBH.
Civil society leaders like those at LBH are, in fact, the intellectual engine of the reform movement that delivered democratisation in the years immediately following Soeharto’s fall in 1998. For them, the attacks on LBH are another marker of what they see as Indonesia’s slow slide away from liberal democratic reform, towards what they are now calling the ‘Neo-New Order’.
Civil society figures like Nurkholis Hidayat, the former director of LBH Jakarta,  point to a series of disturbing events suggesting a trend towards authoritarianism or, as they call it with a heavy dose of hyperbole, a ‘democratic emergency’. Typical examples are: the government’s continuing failure to resolve past human rights abuses, including state-led massacres and assassinations, despite Jokowi’s promises to do so; increasing use of bogus criminal charges to silence critics of the government and anti-corruption activists; growing self-censorship in the media; increasing extra-judicial killings of drug suspects;  and, more recently, the controversial emergency law (Perppu) on mass organisations that will allow the government to ban civil society groups (like LBH) without going through the courts.
They also point to an increasing number of military ‘tough guys’ in the Jokowi administration, including Wiranto, Ryamizard Ryacudu and Gatot Nurmantyo, who feed paranoia about the rise of communism using rhetoric borrowed from the Soeharto era.
In short, civil society is losing faith in Jokowi as he follows global politics further to the right. He is probably not greatly troubled by this, however, as there is no progressive alternative for them to support.
In fact, Jokowi’s position is not an enviable one. He is an outsider and a weak president, who has less institutional support than most of his predecessors. He is not a former general like Soeharto or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, or the head of his party like Megawati Soekarnoputeri or B J Habibie.  He does not even have a major popular organisation behind him, as did Abdurrahman Wahid. And he faces an array of ‘wicked’ problems.
One the one hand, he is under great pressure from the emergence of aggressive Islamist politics of the kind that targeted LBH. Earlier this year, they forced the jailing of his close friend Ahok, the former governor of Jakarta, and they clearly have Jokowi in their sights too, trying to smear him as a closet Christian as well as a covert communist.
On the other hand, Jokowi also has to deal with the continued dominance of powerful oligarchs, who control political parties, most of the media and, some claim, more than 60% of the economy. He cannot afford to have too many of these among his enemies, and that means there is not much Jokowi can do about Indonesia’s a poorly-regulated political system, which favours the wealthy and drives candidates to illegally recoup the high costs of getting elected once they are in office. This system has entrenched corruption among the political elite and is a key reason for their predatory approach to public procurement.
All this feeds Indonesia’s continuing poor reputation for transparency, which, in turn, keeps foreign investment away, notwithstanding Jokowi’s constant rhetoric that Indonesia is ‘open for business’. That, combined with persistent low tax revenues and red tape, has seen economic growth stagnate at 5.2%, well below what is needed. The resulting high prices and lack of new jobs feed discontent.
With elections ahead in 2019, Jokowi knows he has to cater to Islamist rabble rousing and keep the oligarchs happy in order to convince the public that he should be re-elected –  all while somehow keeping the police, army and Megawati’s conservative nationalist political party (PDI-P) on side.
In these circumstances, Jokowi probably feels he has little choice but to dump many of his promises to civil society, which is increasing marginalised in any case. After all, if former general Prabowo Subianto runs again against him, most of civil society will have little chance but to stick with Jokowi, even if they think he has betrayed them.
This all suggests the next two years will likely be marked by continued pressure on civil society groups and, just as they say, a continued slide away from the liberal democracy they thought they had won at the turn of the century.
Tim Lindsey is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law in the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne.
(Permission to re-publish this arctic;e was given by Professor Tim Lindsey)

If Indonesia wants to combat hoaxes it must fix its public broadcasters.

By Dr Ross Tapsell

State run TVRI consistently fails to attract more than about 1.5 per cent of the viewing audience. Photo by TVRI.

On election night in 2014, Indonesians tuned in to two 24-hour news stations to see who won. On TVOne, Prabowo Subianto was touted as the winner. Over on MetroTV, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was declared the winner. Given the partisan coverage of both stations throughout the election, it was not surprising that many viewers had no idea who actually won. Few bothered to check TVRI, Indonesia’s state-run television station.

Since then, citizens have become increasingly wary of partisan mainstream news sites, and are turning to a swathe of alternative online sources of information, some of which are deliberately produced to encourage sectarianism.(link is external)

One solution to this problem is an independent, fearless, public media that could provide a serious alternative to privately owned conglomerates and the increasing spread of hoax news and disinformation online. Indonesia is in dire need of a robust publicly owned media in the digital era. Unfortunately, public broadcasting in Indonesia is ‘dying’ and needing ‘revitalisation’(link is external).

In countries such as the United Kingdom (BBC), Australia (ABC), and Japan (NHK), nation-wide public broadcasters produce news and information across a variety of platforms, including the internet. In Australia, for example, the ABC has three digital television stations, a 24-hour news station that can be live-streamed online, and hundreds of local radio stations (which are also available online), as well as a growing online news and information presence through

Indonesia’s public media looks more like the United States model, where television station PBS is underfunded and ignored by viewers, overpowered by privately owned cable news stations like Fox and CNN.

Travel to any provincial city in Indonesia and one of the largest buildings will likely be the state-owned TVRI. Many of these buildings are a relic of the expensive infrastructure that went into spreading the propaganda of Suharto’s authoritarian regime. So, for example, in Ambon, 2,000 kilometres from Jakarta, TVRI is a grandiose six-story building on the hill overlooking the city. Yet like most TVRI buildings today, only about half of it is in use, paint is peeling off the walls and some equipment and furniture is about 20 years old.

After the demise of the New Order, Indonesia’s successive governments have largely chosen to ignore TVRI, and the organisation languishes towards irrelevance. TVRI remains full of(link is external)“organisational problems, ranging from limited resources and a large, mainly unmotivated staff to an extensive, but mainly outdated technical infrastructure”.

TVRI’s annual budget in 2013 was US$74 million. The same year, the average annual budget for a private television company was US$172.8 million(link is external). In 2015, disbursement of budget funds to TVRI was delayed, and some staff did not receive salaries for a month(link is external).

TVRI contributes little to meeting audience demands for news and information, nor in providing innovative and diverse content for a young generation increasingly glued to mobile phones. In fact, it consistently fails to reach more than 1.5 per cent of audience share.

By contrast to television, however, public radio still plays an important role in Indonesia. Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI), with more than 1,000 radio stations, is the only service by which citizens in many rural communities can access news.

In keeping with trends of convergent multi-platform content delivery of the digital era, RRI and TVRI are scheduled to merge as a single entity by 2019, to become RTRI (Radio and Television of the Republic of Indonesia). RRI employees are concerned this merger will weaken the broadcasters, rather than strengthen them, because they fear a further reduction in funds and job losses.

Indonesia’s state-owned news service, Antara, is also adjusting to digital technologies. In 2016, Jokowi appointed former Jakarta Post chief editor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat to become Antara’s new chief editor. The move signalled some change to the service, but the site still lags behind and in terms of audience share and numbers of journalists.

A merger of Antara, RRI and TVRI to become a multi-platform convergent news service must occur soon, and must be properly funded to compete in news-gathering with other privately owned digital conglomerates. But an injection of funds alone would not be sufficient. An entire rejuvenation of the public broadcasting vision and mission in Indonesia is required.

While TVRI is not the same as it was under the New Order, it continues to be run by managers and editors who see promotion of state-sponsored messages and Pancasila principles as their key purpose. Many Indonesian government officials (and older generation TVRI staff) still see public service news as the mouthpiece of the president.

Indonesia’s public digital media service should not be in the form of Singapore’s digital conglomerate, MediaCorp, nor Malaysia’s Media Prima Berhad, where reports are uncritical of government policies. Citizens must trust their public digital media to have their interests at heart, not that of the government’s. If not, they will continue to turn to alternative sources, especially online. For the most part, in Australia the UK and Japan, citizens trust their public media more than other sources of news and current affairs, even if they too come under attack from private media interests and from their own governments.

Many younger Indonesians have grown up with little fondness for public broadcasting, and are more accustomed to the entertaining television news provided by stations like TVOne and MetroTV, and increasingly, news from social media platforms accessed via mobile phones.

There have been many recent short-term efforts to “counter” hoax news in Indonesia, including verification ticks from the Press Council, anti-hoax units within the palace, even anti-hoax “car free days”. But countering disinformation requires serious long-term initiatives and funds to improve the quality, reliability and reach of Indonesia’s public service media. A credible multi-platform convergent public media would be one way of negating hoax news and misinformation, particularly as the 2019 elections are just around the corner.

Dr Ross Tapsell is a lecturer at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. He is author of the forthcoming book Media Power in Indonesia: Oligarchs, Citizens and the Digital Revolution. 

Inaugural Australia - Indonesia Youth Test Match

The Australian Bridge Federation is pleased to announce the establishment of an inaugural test match between Australia & Indonesia.

 A conversation late last October between Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson, and Australian businessman Geoffrey Gold, a long-term resident of Indonesia, laid the beginnings of the inaugural Australia-Indonesia Youth Bridge Test Match. Geoffrey has initiated high profile sports diplomacy programs between Australia and Indonesia including Soccer, Basketball and AFL, and now Bridge.

 Geoffrey drew to the attention of the Ambassador the importance of Bridge in Indonesia, an observation he had initially made during visits to Jakarta by his son Leigh Gold, a top Victorian bridge player who was always warmly welcomed by Indonesia’s expert players. He was also aware that not only is Indonesia a regular finalist in major bridge tournaments, but its national organisation, Gabungan Bridge Seluruh Indonesia (GABSI), has always included very high profile community leaders, including Mr Wiranto, the current Security Coordinating Minister and a two-term President of GABSI.

Bridge is also one sport that can be played within the walls of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, although the match will be held as part of the Indonesian Open Tournament from 10 to 12 December 2017 at the Margo Hotel, Depok.

 Through Leigh, Geoffrey ascertained full support from ABF President, Bruce Neill, which accelerated the diplomatic interest. At the Ambassador’s request Geoffrey then prepared and delivered a detailed briefing on the sport in Indonesia and Australia and the two organisations, ABF and GABSI.

 The speed with which the first tournament has come together reflects the serendipity of its beginnings.

The Australian Youth Team will be: Renee Cooper – Francesca McGrath and Jamie Thompson - Matt Smith, and the Chef de Mission/Non Playing Captain will be Justine Beaumont.
The ABF are particularly grateful to Geoffrey Gold for his efforts in suggesting this match to the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, and to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta for providing funding and consular support for the Test Match.

 For further information on the inaugural test match, please contact Allison Stralow the ABF Secretary on 0403 153 823.