Wed, 04 Jun 2003

Local media try to remain objective in Aceh coverage

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite their stance on the integrity of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, local media have attempted to remain critical in covering the government's ongoing integrated operation in Aceh.

Aris Hilman, the national desk editor of Jakarta-based Republika, said that his newspaper supported the government's stance that Aceh is a part of Indonesia.

"Despite having the same stance, we try to remain critical about the integrated operation in Aceh," he said on Tuesday.

Republika has put a special logo on its Aceh coverage. The logo has a map of Aceh and a red-and-white flag. The word "damai" (peace) is written under the logo.

Kompas chief editor, Suryopratomo, and Sinar Harapan deputy chief editor Kristanto Hartandi shared the same view.

"We understand the government's decision to launch the operation in Aceh. But we must also be sure that the government conducts the operation correctly," Suryopratomo said after a meeting between Indonesian Military Chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and chief editors of local media over the weekend.

With six journalists covering the conflict, Kompas, the biggest daily in the country, focuses more on humanitarian issues.

Kristanto said that Sinar Harapan as "a national newspaper", which supported the territorial integrity of Indonesia, has also focused its coverage on humanitarian issues and not "the war itself".

"We have tried to practice peace journalism. We support dialogue and diplomatic efforts to solve the Aceh conflict. Even though the operation has already started, we still believe there is a chance for peace," he said.

Kristanto admitted that Sinar Harapan is facing difficulties in "covering both-sides" of the conflict in Aceh as it only has two reporters in Banda Aceh and Lhokseumawe respectively.

Responding to the governments call to practice "patriotic journalism", Kristanto replied, "Are we not patriotic if we focuses more on humanitarian aspects?"

The government has asked local media to practice "patriotic journalism" to win the hearts of the Acehnese. Aceh Military Ruler Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya has set up several restrictions for media covering the military operation in Aceh, including asking them not to quote GAM leaders.

Kristanto said that Sinar Harapan has tried its best not to cover the Aceh conflict "the way some foreign media covered the U.S.-led aggression in Iraq".

Aris agreed, saying that Republika always tried to present balance reports, covering all conflicting parties in the restive province.

Republika is deploying four journalists to Aceh to get access from the military, GAM and civilians in a bid to provide fact-based information to its readers.

Suryopratomo agreed, saying that Kompas has no problem with the government's requests of the media.

"Basically, they want us to present accurate reports. We also attempt to do so. It's a matter of perceptions," he said.