Monday, December 14, 2009

Indonesia's Balibo ban backfires

I was aware that there was a new Australian film called Balibo about the five journalists who were killed in highly-suspicious circumstances when Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste in 1975. But I didn't watch it until I heard that Indonesia's censors had banned it.

That piqued my interest and, sure enough, when I happened to be passing through the Ambassador Mall, which is a notorious centre for the pirate DVD trade in Jakarta, over the weekend I picked up a copy of Balibo.

It seems I was not the only one, according to this story in the Jakarta Globe (where I'm editing at the moment). The story claims that pirate copies of Balibo are flying off the shelves as a direct result of the ban.

It was a decent film, if nothing special, and a good introduction to the Balibo story for those unfamiliar with it. The problem the Indonesian authorities have with it is that it suggests that the five journalists, who were reporting on the border between Indonesia and Timor-Leste, were executed by the Indonesian forces so that they could not reveal the illegal manner of the invasion. The Indonesian army has always maintained that the reporters died in a crossfire.

In the film, the actor playing Greg Shackleton, one of the five reporters killed at Balibo, recreates his last-ever piece-to-camera. The original is a fine if haunting piece of journalism and I'd urge you to watch it. Shackleton was killed shortly after recording this:

One question that the film raises but never really answers is why it takes the death of five Western reporters for the world to care about what happened in Timor-Leste, where the Indonesian invasion led to the deaths of as many as 200,000 people. I'll have to leave my own answer for another day.

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