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The voice of Papua

Journalist and former Media Report presenter Andrew Dodd takes us to Indonesian-controlled Papua. There's no shortage of media outlets on offer, but do ordinary Papuans have a voice?

(This program was orignially broadcast on 07/2/08)


This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.

Antony Funnell: Hello, I'm Antony Funnell, and welcome to the Media Report on Radio National Summer.

Today the third in our series of highlight programmes.

In this offering, Melbourne-based journalist Andrew Dodd takes us to the Indonesian controlled province of Papua, on a search of its indigenous voices.


Andrew Dodd: The capital of the Indonesian province of Papua is Jayapura. It's set in the most beautiful natural harbour, but like most Indonesian cities, it's bustling and noisy. One way to escape is to jump on a motor bike and ride up the steep winding track to the mountain lookout above the town.

On most afternoons you'll find groups of teenagers up there, sitting together and playing music. These kids, like at least a third of the Papuan population, are transmigrants. They moved to Papua from the island of Ambon, under the Indonesian government's controversial scheme of resettling people from overcrowded regions.

And like all Indonesians, they love to sing.


Andrew Dodd: As they were singing, I couldn't help noticing the television transmission towers, hovering overhead. The towers broadcast the signals of Indonesia's major TV networks into Papua.

With transmigration creating a flood of outsiders into the province and with so much media from Jakarta dominating the airwaves, I was wondering where are the Papuan voices in Papua's media?


Andrew Dodd: Well the truth is, when you're looking for Papuan voices, you have to look pretty hard, especially in the electronic media. But a good place to start is the studios of Metro Papua Television in downtown Jayapura.

Last year the giant Metro network that broadcasts right across Indonesia was invited by the Papuan Provincial government to set up a local operation.

But how local is it? Bambang Sujatmoko was recruited from Jakarta to run the network.

Bambang Sujatmoko: We only have limited resources here, so we record our morning show called 'Good Morning Papua'. This is a news bulletin in the morning, and for half an hour. We record it because yes, we have limited resources.

Andrew Dodd: So it's now 10 minutes to 10pm the night before; you're recording tomorrow morning's news now.

Bambang Sujatmoko: Yes. We are waiting until the last news we receive from our reporters in Jayapura and from our contributors all around Papua, and after we receive maybe at 9pm or 10pm, we start to record the show.


Andrew Dodd: Where is the program broadcast, just here in Jayapura, or does it go further afield?

Bambang Sujatmoko: We have in three cities and next year we plan to make ten towers around Papua to make people receive our television more easily.

Andrew Dodd: So this is part of the vast Metro TV network right across Indonesia?

Bambang Sujatmoko: Yes. Metro TV already has a network right around Indonesia, but Metro Papua TV is different because in this station, we try to make local programs. The local program is designed to fulfill the information needs for Papuans especially news about Papua, about Papua's culture, about Papua's social problems, about Papua's heritage as well.

Andrew Dodd: How many Papuan presenters do you have here in Jayapura or in Papua so far?

Bambang Sujatmoko: Right now we only have one Papuan presenter. We are still in progress to recruit more presenters from Papua. We have one presenter from Manado, not Sulawesi, not Sulawese, but we have three cameramen from Papua and another crew. It's not Papua origin but they were born and live in Papua. A lot of Javanese of Makassar or Bugis already born and live here, they think they are Papuans.

Andrew Dodd: Yes, I've heard from some local people that they consider it still to be an issue that there aren't Papuan faces on Metro TV.

Bambang Sujatmoko: I can understand what the face of Papua people. They want Papuan faces on the screen. We have only two months to prepare the station. We are recruit in hurry, but in the future, I think there's a lot of Papuan face you can see in our television.
Andrew Dodd: But Metro Papua has its critics. Some journalists believe the arrival of the network has more to do with the political agenda of Metro Television's owner, Surya Paloh and Papua's Governor, Barnabas Suebu, than it has to do with the quest for local voices in Papua's media. Here's Ignatius Haryanto from the institute for Press and Development Studies.

Ignatius Haryanto: Well the problem is I heard some rumours from local journalists here that the governor and vice-governor tend to give favour to Metro TV for access of information here, so that the local journalists here cannot really have a good relationship with the government and vice-governor here because most of the local journalists here are saying that Yes, it's part of the political deals between this governor with Surya Paloh who is also the Commissioner of the Golkar Party in Indonesia. So knowing about Metro TV's habit about politics, I think it's understandable that Surya Paloh usually have their own political and economic agenda. At the same time, by using their media openly to support his political ideas. It's strategic to have media here that can also support your political agenda.

Andrew Dodd: The last few years have seen dramatic changes in Papua. The province that was formerly Irian Jaya has been split into two provinces, Papua and West Papua, although for many locals the terms are still interchangeable.

But more importantly, in 2001, Papua was granted special autonomy, giving it at least some control over its own destiny.

But the question is whether it's worked. Agus Alua is the head of the Majelis Rakyat Papua, the Papuan People's Assembly, which represents the interests of the Melanesians, or indigenous Papuans.

Agus Alua: Special autonomy decide because of Papuan political aspiration of freed independence, but the central government decide that we cannot answer your political aspiration, but we offer a special autonomy law in order to increase your welfare and then we hope that your political aspirations will be minimalised. But all of this cannot work perfectly until now.

Andrew Dodd: So what ways has the Indonesian government ignored, or not met the requirements of the special autonomy law?

Agus Alua: Because of in Indonesian campaign, a lot of money comes from donors, from International, from the European Commission or the United States or Australian government. A lot of support or money for how do you say they can help Papuan people. But this money come and then how this money can arrange and how this money can make Papuan people became and their life is better and better. We can never see the reality in West Papua. Where it go a lot of money come. Where?

Andrew Dodd: Can I ask you about the media here in Papua? To what extent is the media here local and reflects the voices of Papuans or are you subjected to the media from Jakarta without much local content?

Agus Alua: Yes, a lot of media is here in West Papua. Some media work independently to try to herald the voices of Papuans but also some media here is very closely work under direction by military. So not some media, they try to expose real, real aspiration, but never, never we can have good access to exposed news because sometimes military protect this information with their interference.


Andrew Dodd: Agus Alua wonders where all the money's gone.

Agus Alua wonders where all the money has gone. Under the special autonomy rules, an extra 3,000-billion rupiyah, that's about $AU365-million, flows into Papua each year. Of this about half is set aside for infrastructure projects, like the repair of this bridge in Sentani, near Jayapura. At least these funds are transparent, but a lot of the money is not. In fact a committee of the Indonesian national parliament recently declared Papua to be the second most corrupt province in the country.

In a sense this creates lots of good stories for journalists. According to Danang Widoyoko of the NGO Indonesian Corruption Watch, 1800 cases of corruption were exposed by Indonesian journalists last year. In Papua, where the media is less developed, the challenge is even greater.

Danang Widoyoko: You can see corruption everywhere in Indonesia, in the streets, in the Customs, in the Immigration, in the public service of visas. So corruption's become their life, and also the corruption by the political elite and I think a lot of cases that's why, yes, , because a lot of cases to be reviewed .

Andrew Dodd: What about in Papua, are there special challenges trying to report on corruption in this province?

Danang Widoyoko: Yes, I think Papua is one of the I think challenging, because after the Government has passed the Special Autonomy Law on Papua. The national government, they transfer a lot of money to Papua province, but we see that there is no significant development or changing in terms of public services in Papua. So the main question is where's the money go? How the elite use the money, and how the public spending by the government by the local government of Papua, because the Papuans still face that old problem here, poverty and also lack of infrastructure. So I think there is a problem because a lot of money has been spent by the government but there is no significant progress on that. So I think people must question where the money goes.

Andrew Dodd: Reporting on corruption is a job that Berth Kambuaya takes seriously. He is the co-owner of Papua Pos, a small newspaper set up in 2004 to compete with the dominant Chenderahweasih Pos, the paper owned by the enormous Java Post Group.

Berth Kambuaya: Papua Pos talk a lot about corruption issues in Papua. People in the grassroots like Papua Pos because it's what they want. They want to see, they want to read about the situation in Papua. A lot of people, especially Papuan people, they make common critic about special autonomy law, the funds go to, just go to the government officer for a lot of corruption, and not go to the people in the community. So they like to read information about corruption now in Papua, if you compare with the Chenderahwasih Pos, they talk a lot about what government, they try to protect government.

Andrew Dodd: I don't see a lot of government advertising in the Papua Pos.

Berth Kambuaya: They don't like it because we talking about corruption, the critic of government here in Papua, but for the people in grassroot, they like this newspaper, because we're talking about everything they like it, especially corruption. Yes.

Andrew Dodd: Does Papua Pos support Papua Medeka, a free Papua?

Berth Kambuaya: Free Papua, Papua Medeka, it is difficult problem here in Papua, so we go the other way. We want people free in time of life, education and something like that. Because when we talk about political independence, politically it's a problem.

Andrew Dodd: Tell me what would happen if you put on the front page of your newspaper, a call for Papuan independence? What would happen?

Berth Kambuaya: Go to jail. Go to jail. Yes. You understand that? Yes.

Andrew Dodd: What would happen? Would the military intelligence turn up, would one of the intelligence or security organisations turn up and close the building down? What would occur?

Berth Kambuaya: Sure. That's where we go.

Andrew Dodd: As well as tackling corruption and dealing with the Indonesian military, Papua's media faces another challenge. The rate of HIV and AIDS infection in Papua is 15 times higher than the national average. And the province now has the third highest rate of infection of any region in Indonesia.

In workshops like this, Papuan journalists are given basic sex education in an effort to shatter widely held myths about HIV and AIDS.

The woman leading the training is Indonesia's most senior AIDS bureaucrat. She's holding a condom in one hand and a plastic penis in the other and she's quizzing the reporters about their awareness of the disease.

Nafsiah Mboi: I'm Dr Nafsiah Mboi, and I'm the Secretary of the National AIDS Commission.

Andrew Dodd: A huge job.

Nafsiah Mboi: It is indeed. Thank you for recognising that.

Andrew Dodd: You're a Presidential appointee.

Nafsiah Mboi: I am.

Andrew Dodd: You've just spoken for a couple of hours to 20 journalists, here in Jayapura. That seemed to be a very important job for you. Is that true? And why?

Nafsiah Mboi: It is. The media is very important for us and it's because we will never be able to meet as many people who need to be reached without the help of the media. But also knowing that media first of all, journalists actually, they can change the perception and the knowledge of the people.

Andrew Dodd: You said something fairly confronting, you said journalists can kill people. What in particular were you referring to when you said that?

Nafsiah Mboi: In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, we had journalists who stigmatised people. They were not truthful, etc., and a lot of people were killing themselves because they thought that this was a disease that was shameful, this is a disease of people who don't deserve to live. And we saw in the early days, that people did kill themselves because they read this in the papers. The number of AIDS patients reported, the highest is in Jakarta, the second is West Java and the third is here, in Papua.

Andrew Dodd: For a province with a small population, that's extraordinary.

Nafsiah Mboi: That's right. That's why we're so concerned. And that is why it's so important to have them on board, to give the right information all the time.

Andrew Dodd: I think her in Papua you've found an alarmingly low level of awareness about the disease, even now after all of this time of trying to raise the level of awareness.

Nafsiah Mboi: That's true. First of all because some of the people who used to talk about HIV still are using the old version, saying that this is a disease that's for sinners, this is a disease easy a realistic advice, and so people are scared, the stigma is very high. And then we come with the new methods, the new messages, that this is a disease that is preventable, and if you have it, it's manageable. This is the new message. But it's only quite recently, one or two years. The problem here in Papua is that there are so many people who cannot be reached, except by radio or by - mostly radio, because printed media also only has a very small reach. TV only in the urban areas. But radio can reach much more.


Andrew Dodd: This is The Media Report. I'm Andrew Dodd, although at the moment we're listening to the rather funereal tones of Radio Republic Indonesia from its studios in Jayapura, where programs are beamed across the remote districts of the Papuan province. Although state radio is in many ways still the official voice of Jakarta, it does offer some local programming, and its most popular local program may surprise you.

Here's broadcaster Maria Nomi.

Maria Nomi: Most popular program is death news.

Andrew Dodd: By that you mean obituaries, stories and information about people who've died?

Maria Nomi: Yes. Most everybody in Papua think it is the most important thing, who has died today, maybe they're family. So they concerned to listen our program. I try to explain: for the first we read news, local news, and then we read that news and then we try to read about something very important from government, from society or NGOs. The people must pay 16,500 for a one time read because if we didn't do it, maybe too much that news we can receive, so we must make a rule, the people must be it. It is very, very popular.

Andrew Dodd: As well as understanding complex issues such as HIV and AIDS, there are calls for the Papuan media to better understand Melanesian culture. That's the quest of academic and parish priest, Dr Neles Tebay. He believes the media often misjudges issues in Papua because journalists simply don't understand the culture they're operating in.

Neles Tebay: We Melanesian people have Melanesian values. Cultural, fundamental values that can be found in all Melanesian tribes. In my opinion, many different activities conducted in the past by the government did not take into consideration these cultural values, so the meaning of a development activity is decided not by cultural value but decided by something else outside Papua. So by telling this, I'm hoping that the journalists will do a report on development activities from Papuans' cultural perspective. So that the journalist could help the Papuans to raise the real need, the real issue, the real problem for the Papuans so that when they raise their protest against land grabbing, conducted by any institution, then the journalist can explain why the Papuans raise their protest.

It is not because of being anti-development, or anti-Indonesian country, or of being separatist, no. But the protest is raised based on and guided by the Papuans' cultural understanding of land. That's why we need many more Papuan journalists, we need many more Papuan media, but also we need many more non-Papuan journalists who really understand Papuan culture.

Andrew Dodd: There's another TV network attempting to generate programming about Papuan issues. The recently launched Top TV is certainly local, but whether it's delivering the kind of programming Father Neles likes is debatable, especially when it comes to divisive issues like the recent riots in Timika, near the controversial Freeport Gold and Copper Mine.

The station's secretary is Bento Madabun.

Bento Madabun: Our program is just about local issues, you know television doesn't care about Papua, so we think all of the programs here are about Papua. We want to make everybody in the world know that Papua is beautiful, Papua is good, Papua is just not bleeding, it's not bad, you know, Papua is very beautiful, people of Papua is very nice, very good, so we want to show to the world that this is Papua, it's not bad.

Andrew Dodd: Does that mean you just tell good news, or do you deal with bad news as well?

Bento Madabun: Good news.

Andrew Dodd: So if something bad is happening in Papua, are you going to report it?

Bento Madabun: Yes, we're going to report it, but we won't use the bad angle, we use the good angle for that case. But we must see something in that bad happening, we can take a good impact, you know, and every case must have an impact that we must take the good thing for that.

Andrew Dodd: So there are riots going on at the moment in Timika. If you're covering that story, how would you cover it?

Bento Madabun: Yes, we cover this story and we come to the policeman and we ask about the story, and we come to people and we ask about the story; and we have two different stories. So we try to not come to the difficult story, and we just take the easy story. The same story from police and the same story from people, we get that. We not go to a different point about story.

Andrew Dodd: Top TV is just one take on how outsiders are trying to cater for Papua's needs, and this seems to be a recurring theme, because with the exception of just a few outlets, most of the media is controlled by outsiders. So even with the best intentions, local culture is often misinterpreted or overwhelmed by the voices of Papua's newcomers.


Antony Funnell: And that special report was from Andrew Dodd, with technical assistance by Chris Lawson. Thanks also to Joy Tikoalu for her assistance.

Well that's the program for today.

Now if you haven't already done it, check out the ABC Radio National website to find out about more of the summer highlight programmes on offer. Over the next couple of weeks the network will continue to bring you some of the best radio of the past twelve months.

Next week - Media Work, Media Practice - three leading international thinkers on media issues, - Henry Jenkins, Mark Deuze and John Hartley.

Thanks to The Media Report's production team of Andrew Davies and Jim Ussher.

I'm Antony Funnell and this is Radio National Summer.


Bambang Hamid Sujatmoko
Station Manager - Metro Papua TV

Ignatius Haryanto
Institute for Press and Development Studies, Jakarta

Dr Nafsiah Mboi
Indonesian National Aids Commission

Dr Neles Tebay
Catholic priest and lecturer

Agus Alua
Majelis Rakyat Papua (Papuan People's Assembly)

Bento Madabun
Secretary of TOP TV

Berth Kambuaya
Co-owner and founder of Papua Pos

Danang Wodoyoko
Indonesia Corruption Watch

Maria Nomi
Broadcaster RRI


Antony Funnell


Andrew Davies, Andrew Dodd (reporter in Jayapura)