Eight journalists from eight Indonesian media outlets traveled to West Papua last week to investigate media freedom and the safety of journalists in the region, after an international delegation called on Indonesia to address press freedom violations in 2015.
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) launched the investigation on January 30 in Jayapura, Merauke and Timika, where the Media Freedom Committee-Indonesia followed local journalists from Papuan news organisations for five days.
WAN-IFRA’s Asian Regional Manager Eko Maryadi said: “We expect the program to send eight reporters from Jakarta, from non-Papuans to do reporting, that they can understand the issues, difficulties, and problems faced by journalists in Papua.”
The Committee reported eight key findings:
- Government officials and security personnel are discriminatory towards OAPs (“original Papua persons”)
- Journalists are stigmatised as pro-independence or pro-Homeland, leading to intimidation and fragmentation among the journalist community
- Environmental damage through development programs are underreported due to heavy restrictions on the press
- Strengthening journalism in Papua relies on an improved code of ethics, understanding of the journalist profession, use of technology and a business model that maintains the independence of the press
- Journalists need to actively change the media perspective of Papua
- 11 out of 16 foreign journalists who recently gained access to Papua were monitored by intelligence officials
- Sexual harassment of female journalists in Papua is underreported
- The quality of public services and competition depends on equitable access to communication infrastructure and information technology
More detailed reports were documented on the Committee’s blog, featuring daily updates and interviews with journalists from Tabloid Jubi, Papua Salam, Mongabay.co.id and many more.
Journalists from the Papua South Post shared stories about police and government intimidation, including two publication bans in 2007 and 2008, being threatened with criminal law, and a prohibition on reporting on President Joko Widodo’s Merauke investment program.
A journalist in Timika recalled a terrifying experience of being held at knifepoint and then stabbed. Another pointed to the difficulties faced by female journalists and the prevalence of sexual harassment.
The investigation marks one month before Indonesia will host the World Press Freedom Day in Jakarta on March 3, an honourable hosting position that the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) criticised Indonesia for holding due to ongoing restrictions and violations in Papua.
In July 2016, PFF Chair Titi Gabi urged Jakarta to “ensure that there is open access to West Papua for foreign media, and an end to abuses against local media.”
Whether any changes will be made in the near future is questionable. Just recently, Suara Papua’s website was blocked for SARA and publishing “negative” content, despite the government insisting that it does not censor journalistic websites.
Tell us who you are as a filmmaker and how you began your career?
Before joining Papuan Voices, I made videos in my hometown which were mostly recordings of Christian songs, as well as some indigenous songs. My early works in 2011 were more like video clips, and produced my first documentary only when I joined Papuan Voices in 2014.
My first film was about a report for Forum Masyarakat Jayawijaya on the denouncement of the erection of a military building in Wamena - A movement I was also involved in. I also did photo documentation, shot demonstrations, and the activities of my friends, all of which I put together as a video report.
In the beginning, I made films without any training. I just made them spontaneously, acted based on my own plans. I made them by simply putting content together such as text with photographs. After I joined Papuan Voices, I started to understand the steps needed, such as writing a script beforehand and all sorts of other techniques.
Can you tell us about the video production scene there?
Now, we have so many Papuan children studying outside of this island. But there rarely are any who study music or film. They mostly apply for degrees in Law or Economics, but don't have links to this kind of work. So it's only us (in Papuan Voices) who maybe understand about the situation here. This is why we try to teach our brothers and sisters, based on what we know from our experiences. That is very important.
What do you think about Indonesian audiences in relation to Papuan issues?
On one occasion, I held a screening in University Negeri Jakarta where I played several videos. And I played one film about Freeport (a mining company). At that time, in Papua, many indigenous people held demonstrations about police brutality towards protesters, some of whom had been shot by the police.
After that event, I began to understand that the people in Jakarta don't know anything about the situation in Papua. I mean the real situation. They have the idea that Papua is very rich and all that the people in Papua live in luxury, especially seven tribes which receive yearly donations from Freeport. So they think they must be wealthy, have fancy houses and cars, all those sorts of things.
These mindsets emerged because Freeport broadcasts their own information and only present the good side of things, and ignored all the bad things that happened to ordinary people. But yesterday we had a screening in Bali, and then in Yogyakarta, after which people (Indonesian audiences) began to understand that the situation in Papua is not like what they think it is.
National and local media in Papua are privately owned or owned by the government. We call it "red plate" media because it only publishes beautiful images of Papua. They rarely expose the many failing policies of the government. My films are about these failures, all the lesser known issues, and there are so many. This is so we can expose the failure of their policies in Papua and outsiders can see what's really happening in Papua.
Do you agree that video has the power to persuade and change people?
I think using film is much more suitable for that nowadays because most of the younger generation who are still studying in University, let alone those who don't have any high education or drop out, don't read much. If they've dropped out, they won't read books but they do like watching films. From my analysis, people enjoy watching films about issues and they quickly understand them. Its ability to influence is much more than with reading books. It's much slower with books.
Finally, what's your message to young Papuan artists out there?
In Wamena for example, there are not many people who make their own videos or songs as I have. It's still hard to find this kind of people, so for now I think it will need and go step by step. I produced songs, made them into a DVD, and sell my own music. For most people, even if they can write music, they still need people from outside Papua to help them to record and produce their albums. Everything for the music video, shooting and editing must be done outside Papua.
I've recently watched films that have been produced by young locals. Even though they are still very rough and elementary, it's still progress for youth in Papua. If you compare us with elsewhere, we have a delay of access to information and technology. It's very slow. So to be able to compete with others, we need to go step by step, slowly. If we force it to be quick, it's only going to make things more difficult.
Read more featured filmmaker interviews from the Asia Pacific region here.