Sun, 15 Jun 2003

Aceh-bound reporters get marching orders at boot camp

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Karawang, West Java

The only danger that most reporters have to face in their daily routine is getting caught in the crossfire of office politics. But a real fear of staring down the barrel of a gun prompted some reporters to sign up for some military training.

They were part of the second batch of reporters who took military training with the Armed Forces Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) instructors at the Sanggabuana military training camp in Karawang, West Java, from June 8 to June 11.

The training was a part of the Indonesian Military's (TNI) embedded program for journalists to cover the ongoing military operation in Aceh.

A total of 64 journalists, aside from the curiosity to find out what has really been going on in the restive Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, had to sacrifice their sleep due to the tight schedule during the training.

They had to be ready -- wearing military uniforms including the boots that can kill the wearers -- at 5 a.m. every morning during the four-day training from June 8 to June 11.

The "torture" had already begun upon the reporters' arrival at Sanggabuana camp. The 64 journalists were ordered to duckwalk (walk in a squatting position) to the complex. The complex itself is located at the top of a hill and to reach it the journalists had to climb 225 stairs.

Unlike regular military training where soldiers often face physical punishment, the journalists only received verbal lashings and the harsh training schedule.

The training turned out to be a major problem for the journalists, most of whom never exercise.

Taking place in Sanggabuana jungle, the reporters had to go on foot to different mountainous sites while at the same time adjust to the instructors' shouting at them. The habit of shouting back at editors in the newsroom apparently was not the norm with the instructors.

Some of the journalists, mostly women, collapsed during the training. Like it or not, the show must go on and so did the program. Otherwise, the journalists would not receive a certificate stating that they had passed the training.

The certificate was another reason why reporters joined the training as without it they could not cover the ongoing military operations.

Since martial law was imposed in Aceh, journalists must show the training certificate to the Aceh martial law administrator before they start reporting.

One of the instructors, Maj. Zaid, said the strict regimen would be badly needed by journalists in order to survive in the middle of the battle.

"The training is tough but it will help you avoid fatalities in Aceh," he said.

Apart from physical training, reporters were also taught to use weapons and survive in the jungle.

The latter topic was more interesting as the reporters were introduced to various edible plants and animals. The journalists also had to drink snake blood and eat snake and lizard meat during the training.

"We got new knowledge of survival in a combat zone and we're grateful for that. However, we will remain objective while reporting from Aceh," said Arief Suditomo, a news anchor with SCTV private television station.

An event called jurit malam was another mental test for reporters as they had to walk one by one into the jungle around midnight. People said that the hill was "spooky."

Apart from the nationalist indoctrination for journalists, the main task as members of the press is to cover both sides of the actual situation.