Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Press reporting not impartial in Aceh

Kurniawan Hari and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Most national newspapers and television stations have failed to uphold the basic principle of covering both sides in reporting the Aceh conflict, a media watchdog says.

Head of Aceh News Watch Agus Sudibyo said on Wednesday that monitoring of reports by 13 Jakarta-based print media and all Jakarta-based television stations from July 28 through Aug. 12 indicated that their reports were biased, as they did not cover both sides of the conflict.

Most of the media preferred to get information from official sources rather than ordinary people in Aceh and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), he said.

"It is pitiful that our media is not finding alternative news sources," Agus said when presenting the results of his monitoring project at a discussion here on Wednesday.

He added that many reports on the Aceh conflict mixed facts with journalists' opinions.

According to Agus, the monitoring was part of efforts to promote and build control into the so-termed integrated operation in Aceh, launched on May 19.

The monitoring, funded by the Institute for the Study of Free Flow of Information (ISAI), started last July and is expected to end in December this year. It will publish its evaluations fortnightly.

The 13 print media monitored were: Tempo, Forum, Gatra, Suara Pembaruan, Harian Terbit, Warta Kota, Indo Pos, Rakyat Merdeka, Koran Tempo, Pos Kota, Media Indonesia, Republika, and Kompas.

ISAI also monitored nine television stations: Metro TV, SCTV, RCTI, TV7, Indosiar, TPI, TVRI, Lativi, and Trans TV.

Ivan Harris, a news editor with SCTV, acknowledged that his television crews had to remain physically close to the martial law administration in order to ensure their security.

"Of course we want to cover both sides, but the situation in Aceh has prompted us to seek protection from the Indonesian Military (TNI)," Ivan said in the discussion.

Ivan also blamed the rough terrain in Aceh and the lack of telecommunications services for the failure of his TV station to run balanced stories.

However, he said that although SCTV decided to stay close to TNI in Aceh, the station would continue to supervise its performance in the province.

"We shall ensure that TNI does not carry out human rights abuses during the military operation in Aceh," Ivan said.

Bambang Sukartiono from Kompas daily and TV 7 TV station concurred with Ivan, saying that attempts to cover both sides were difficult to achieve in practice due to limited access to the separatist movement.

"Enforcement of the military operation has reduced access within Aceh," Bambang added.

Meanwhile, military analyst Indro Cahyono from the University of Indonesia (UI) said most media institutions had degraded the news value of the Aceh conflict by burying Aceh stories on their inside pages.

Television reports from July 28 through Aug. 8 --------------------------------------------------------------- News Source MetroTV SCTV RCTI TV7 TVRI --------------------------------------------------------------- Military 39 12 18 15 24 Police 23 - 12 3 8 GAM 5 - 10 1 - Public 18 2 23 6 12 ---------------------------------------------------------------- Source: ISAI

Print media reports from July 28 through Aug. 12 ------------------------------------------------ No. News Source Percentage ------------------------------------------------- 1. Military 33 2. Police 9 3. Government 18 4. House 4 5. GAM 5 6. Non-governmental organizations 4 7. International 2 8. Religious leaders 10 9. Public 9 10. Journalists 4 11. Others 2 ------------------------------------------------- Total 100 -------------------------------------------------- Source: ISAI