Australians, reporting on Indonesia

Australians, reporting on Indonesia
Ross Tapsell's book titled By-lines, Balibo, Bali Bombings: Australian Journalists in Indonesia.

For the last 70-or-so years, Indonesia and Australia have been in a dynamic relationship, frequently punctuated by tensions.

The nations have often gone head to head in disputes, such as during the alleged wire tapping incident several years ago. However, the countries have also stood together, as in the aftermath of the Bali bombings.

However, Australian and Indonesian journalists have always been at the ready to deliver factual reports that might affect either nation.

Looking to explore how our southern neighbours have reported on Indonesia, Ross Tapsell, a lecturer in Asian Studies at the Australian National University (ANU), recently launched his book, titled By-lines, Balibo, Bali Bombings: Australian Journalists in Indonesia.

The work, which sprang out of Tapsell's doctoral research in 2005, highlights important news events that affected relations between the countries, such as the Balibo Five and the Bali bombings.

Tapsell offers profiles and stories of foreign correspondents stationed in Indonesia during the early 1940s and the tumultuous 1960s.

He goes into detail on how local staff works with foreign publications, how governments influence the reporting process and the impact of new technology.

"This book is about the Australian media in Indonesia. It's actually a history of Australian journalism in Indonesia since the Indonesian independence of 1945," Tapsell told The Jakarta Post during the book's launch in Cikini, Central Jakarta, recently.

"I went back and looked at a lot of documents and reports," he said. "They often said that the biggest problem in the bilateral relationship was the Australian media - that the Australian media often deliberately destabilised the relationship."

Tapsell interviewed several Australian journalists previously stationed in Indonesia, such as Tony Rafty, a cartoonist who came to Jakarta in 1945 after independence to draw pictures of then-president Sukarno.

Rafty "actually went straight to the palace and knocked on the door and said 'Can I speak to Sukarno?'" Tapsell said. "They let him in and he drew pictures of Sukarno and Hatta and the first Cabinet."

Sukarno was so happy with Rafty's work that they stayed close friends.

Initial good relations with the Indonesian government soured, particularly after the Balibo Five incident in 1975, when five Australian journalists were killed while reporting in Timor Leste, which was then occupied by Indonesia.

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