"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Monday, November 9, 2015

Press representation of the ‘Bali Nine’ in Indonesia and Australia

Andrew Chan (left) and Myuran Sukumaran (right)
Andrew Chan (left) and Myuran Sukumaran (right)
Given the very different views about the death penalty in Australia and Indonesia, it was perhaps inevitable that the bilateral relationship would come under strain as the executions of convicted drug smugglers, Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, became imminent in early 2015. 

Press reporting in both Australia and Indonesia in the decade since their arrests, trials, long imprisonment on death row, until their executions, did little to bridge this gap in understanding of each country’s point of view.

The arrests of nine young Australians (known as the ‘Bali Nine’) on drugs trafficking charges in Bali in October 2004, including Chan and Sukumaran, were preceded by the extraordinary interest in the trial and conviction of fellow Australian, Schapelle Corby, also for drug trafficking in 2005. In the early stages of the Bali Nine cases, media attention in both countries was decidedly less intense than the Corby case.

Reporting on court cases and sentences

Australian and Indonesian journalists covering the court cases and sentences for Chan and Sukumaran, demonstrated different reporting styles. Australian journalists tended to write longer articles and were more likely to talk in the first person, even when not necessarily writing opinion pieces. For example, Melanie Morrison’s one thousand word article, ‘Mercy for the condemned?’ published in the Jakarta Post on 22 July 2011, begins with a conversation between Morrison and her young daughter after hearing about Andrew Chan’s death sentence. Morrison summarises Chan’s family background, his personality, activities in prison, his religious awakening and the effect of the death penalty his family. Morrison quotes from former prisoners and Chan’s family.

By comparison, Indonesian journalists wrote shorter pieces and rarely revealed their own opinions or raised questions about why young people would become drug couriers, or whether the death penalty is a suitable deterrent. 

During the New Order, the press was tightly controlled and the safe option was to quote officials in reports. Although it is more than 15 years since Suharto stepped down, quotes from authorities remain important in news reporting. 

The article by Jakarta Post reporter Desy Nurhayati, ‘Bali Nine ringleaders express remorse, beg for pardon’ on 21 September 2010 is typical of this style. The article is neutral, short and factually correct, although it does provide quotes from the court case, including Chan and Sukumaran’s official statements. Nurhayati does not reveal her position on the death penalty. 

Nevertheless, while rarely expressing their own opinions about sanctions, Indonesian journalists did quote critics of the death penalty. In another article in June 2011, Nurhayati quoted the views of Todung Mulya Lubis, the lawyer for Chan and Sukumaran. Given both pieces were published in the Jakarta Post, the difference in reporting is clearly not due to editorial policy.

Source: Inside Indonesia, Helen Pausacker, November 9, 2015. Helen Pausacker is Deputy Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne.

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