Balibo Ban: Three Decades of Lies Remain Unexposed
by Enrico Aditjondro — April 30, 2010
The banning of Balibo sparked reactions from activists, film communities, and historians.
As some had predicted, Indonesia’s censorship board (LSF) banned the screening of Robert Connolly's feature film Balibo. The decision was made just minutes before the film’s premier screening for the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club on December 1, 2009. The ban was delivered over the phone to JFCC President Jason Tedjasukmana. "I haven't received anything official but after consulting with our legal advisers, we decided it would be too risky because, while this is a private screening, it would be in a public place thus violating the law," Tedjasukmana told The Jakarta Post. Furthermore, the LSF forbids the film to be screened at the Jakarta International Film Festival this month. JIFFEST Director Lalu Rois Amri said he was disappointed by the decision and would try to appeal. "Basically they won't allow us to show it, but I'm still waiting for the formal explanation," he told the press. Spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Department, Teuku Faizasyah, told the Kompas daily that the screening of the film would only open a new conflict between Indonesia and Australia. House of Representatives commission chairman Kemal Azil Stamboel said he agreed with the LSF’s decision. "I believe LSF has its standard to review a movie that bothers our people. The movie could ignite trauma in the society," he told the press. Balibo is a film based on the murder of five Australia-based newsmen in Timor Leste’s border town of Balibo in 1975. For years, the Indonesian government indicated that the men were killed in crossfire, however, Timor campaigners and supporters of the newsmen said the Indonesian military led by "Major Andreas" (an alias for Indonesia's former Minister of Information Yunus Yosfiah) killed the five men in cold blood. Long time Indonesian supporter of Timor Leste activist Tri Agus Siswowiharjo said the government is overreacting. “The armed forces and the government of Indonesia hasn’t changed much even after the reformed era. The banning of a film based on whatever reason is a foolish move. Crimes committed in the past are a lesson, no matter how bitter it is, which we need to learn when looking at the future. If that part of history is being hidden, then people will question and become suspicious. Film is one way to look at the past with moving pictures. Maybe it will be hurtful, however it would hardly change a regime. The film won’t raise the five dead newsmen from the grave. So, fearing over a film is just a shameful act.” Historian, film critic and former coordinator of the Indonesian Solidarity for the Maubere People (SPRIM) said: “It seems like the current rulers in Indonesia are afraid that the film will uncover the historical lies which have been defended for decades on the Timor Leste integration process in 1975. The film also depicts that the historical problems of Indonesia is still very much the problems of today’s politics. If the problems of the past are not being uncovered to seek the truth, then authoritative actions such as this will continue to be done as a symbol of fear from the truth of the past.” Recently the strong Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa for Muslims not to watch the Hollywood apocalypse film 2012. However, the government did not response and moviegoers still flocked theatres to watch the film. Indonesia’s Independent Journalists’ Alliance (AJI) also protested LSF’s decision to ban Balibo. The Alliance stated that the decision contradicts with the principles of freedom of expression, freedom of appreciation and disrespect the public’s right to know. AJI stated that the film is useful as a reminder to respect journalists covering war zones and those responsible for the killing of the five journalists must be held accountable. The film itself was long awaited by many Timor observers. However, even some Australians were not too happy with the depiction as it corners the Indonesian side solely as the “bad guys”. Paul Cleary wrote for the Eurekastreet saying while the film went into great detail of “the type of pistol put to the head of journalist Brian Peters”, it “omits the Australians and Americans who sanctioned the unlawful invasion by Indonesia.” “This is a serious omission that undermines Balibo as a historical work,” he wrote. Nevertheless, many hope that the film would not hurt the relations between the people of both nations. Clinton Fernandes of the UNSW ADFA in Canberra was Robert Connolly's historian to consult for the film. He offers the following suggestion: "This is not a fight between Indonesians and Australians but between those who believe in the people's right to know and those who want to hide the facts from the people. I would ask my Indonesian neighbours to access our website and decide for themselves." - http://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/hass/Timor/Timor_translated/index.html