Subject: JP: Indonesia bars Aussie reporter for undisclosed reasons

Media condemns Indonesia ban on Australia reporter
Indonesia Bans Australian Who Wrote About Abuses

The Jakarta Post March 18, 2002

RI bars Aussie reporter for undisclosed reasons

Annastasya Emmannuelle, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia showed signs of regressing into the dark days of curtailing press freedom when it was revealed that the government, without providing sufficient reason, refused to extend a journalist visa for senior Australian correspondent Lindsay Murdoch.

Murdoch, correspondent for Australian newspapers The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, was denied a visa extension despite having worked here for the last three years.

He left at the expiration of his visa on March 10. While he cannot work as a journalists here, Murdoch has not been banned and has since returned on a business visa.

No official reason was given by the government, raising speculation that it was prompted by critical news reports.

It ominously reminded many of the days, not so long ago, when the government kept an iron clasp on the media.

Foreign ministry deputy spokesman Wahid Supriyadi defended the decision and underscored the government's commitment to "always uphold press freedom in the country".

"The foreign ministry has its own considerations for not extending his visa," Wahid told The Jakarta Post. "It's common policy for a country to decline a visa application without having to provide an explanation".

He also brushed off speculation that the government was afraid of media criticism.

"The government is criticized by the media -- foreign and local -- almost every day. That is not a problem to us ... but we believe it's necessary for journalists to maintain journalism ethics," he said without elaborating.

But the refusal to provide an explanation and the fact it is the first incident since the fall of president Soeharto in 1998, speaks volumes on the sensitivity of the current administration.

Few thought that the government would be so extreme when Murdoch's visa first expired on Dec. 10 and extended for three months.

Murdoch, 48, is no newcomer to Indonesia.

Some of his more critical articles include an incident involving the death of a baby in Aceh allegedly at the hands of soldiers, and a story about a UN effort to reunite East Timorese children with their families after having been from refugee camps and put in orphanages.

A joint statement received here on Sunday from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that in discussions with Indonesian officials it was clear that the decision was taken because of Murdoch's "authoritative reporting".

The two dailies also rejected Jakarta's offer to nominate an alternative correspondent: "We respectfully reject that any government can seek to decide whether any of our journalists is acceptable for the purposes of reporting from a foreign country."

Murdoch said could not understand why the decision was taken. "None of my reports were unbalanced, unfair or inaccurate," Murdoch said. "But as a guest of the country I have been shown the door and will leave politely".

More rebuke came from the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club who said in a statement on Sunday that the move contradicted the government's pledge not to restrict freedom of expression.

Indonesian Press Council chairman Atmakusumah Astraatmadja if there are reports regarded as bias or inaccurate, the government who must counter or clarify them.

"Banning a journalist is simply not the way."

Media condemns Indonesia ban on Australia reporter

MELBOURNE, March 17 (Reuters) - The Indonesian government has refused a working visa to an Australian newspaper reporter in a move condemned by the media as a blow to press freedom.

Editors of The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age newspapers said on Sunday they were gravely troubled by the Indonesian refusal to renew a journalist visa to correspondent Lindsay Murdoch, based in Jakarta for the past three years.

During his posting Murdoch twice received Walkey Awards, Australia's major journalism honours, for his coverage of events in East Timor which was ravaged by killing and destruction by pro-Jakarta militias after it voted for independence from Indonesia in late 1999.

The editors of the papers said Indonesia had decided not to extend Murdoch's journalist visa or provide further accreditation after a temporary extension expired on March 10.

"It has been made perfectly clear to us, in our discussions with the government of Indonesia over the past several months, that this decision has been taken in reaction to Mr Murdoch's authoritative reporting on human rights and related issues in Indonesia," the editors said in a statement.

"We respectfully reject that any government can seek to decide whether any of our journalists are acceptable for the purpose of reporting from a foreign country."

Murdoch, whose posting was due to end later this year, was advised last year that his visa would not be renewed.

It was extended to March 10 after approaches by Australian representatives including Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, but a request by Murdoch for a further extension was denied.


"I am shocked and appalled by this decision which is a serious blow to press freedom in Indonesia. I hope the treatment of me will not intimidate other journalists -- foreign and Indonesian -- from continuing to report the truth," Murdoch said.

Indonesian foreign ministry deputy spokesman Wahid Supriyadi said the move did not challenge press freedom.

"We have our reasons not to extend Lindsay Murdoch's visa which we can't reveal. It is normal, there may be criticism (about our decision) but we think what we've done is not a setback for press freedom," he told Reuters.

"We are not blacklisting Lindsay and the Sydney Morning Herald. He is allowed to come back here with a tourist or business visa but he cannot work as a journalist. And we welcome the SMH's new correspondent here." Sydney Morning Herald deputy editor Geoff Kitney told Reuters Indonesian authorities had indicated to Murdoch they were concerned about some of his stories.

These included stories about East Timorese children being taken to Indonesian orphanages after the independence vote and a report during a visit to Indonesia's Aceh province on allegations of Indonesian soldiers pouring boiling water over a baby.

"This is really a bolt out of the blue. No correspondent as far as we are aware has been denied a working visa in Indonesia since the end of the Suharto regime," Kitney said.

The Jakarta Foreign Correspondent's Club called on the Indonesian government to approve Murdoch's accreditation, provide an explanation of why it had been refused and explain how the decision was made.

"Without such an explanation all members of the foreign press will justifiably feel vulnerable to similar arbitrary censure," it said in a statement.

The JFCC said the action contradicted the policy of President Megawati Sukarnoputri who last year said Indonesia's media was the freest in Asia and the government no longer imposed "strings or even restrictions upon the society to express its opinion."

(Additional reporting by Grace Nirang in Jakarta)

The New York Times March 18, 2002

Indonesia Bans Australian Who Wrote About Abuses


JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 17 -- The Indonesian government has banned a prominent Australian journalist from working in the country, apparently because of articles that dealt with human rights issues.

The refusal to give a routine visa extension to Lindsay Murdoch, a journalist based here for the last three years for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, two of Australia's leading newspapers, comes as President Megawati Sukarnoputri has expressed displeasure with Indonesian newspapers.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wahid Supriyadi, said today that Mr. Murdoch was no longer allowed to work as a journalist in Indonesia but could remain in the country on a business visa he obtained last week.

Mr. Supriyadi said Indonesia had no obligation to say why Mr. Murdoch had not been granted an extension. "We have our reason," he said.

The banning of Mr. Murdoch is the first time Indonesia has cracked down on the foreign media since the end of the 32-year reign of General Suharto, the authoritarian ruler. In the last four years, Indonesia has passed legislation protecting press freedoms and new national and regional newspapers have appeared.

But President Megawati has cautioned the Indonesian press to be less critical and ordered that journalists be kept at bay during her public appearances. She became president in July in a parliamentary vote, succeeding President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Executives of the two Australian newspapers said in a statement today that in discussions with the Indonesian government it had been made clear that "this decision has been taken in reaction to the authoritative reporting of Mr. Murdoch on human rights and related issues."

One article that upset the authorities described accounts by people who saw Indonesian soldiers pouring boiling water over a 4-month-old baby Aceh Province, where government forces are battling separatists. Other articles dealt with Indonesia's refusal to allow children who were taken from their families in West Timor and placed in orphanages on Java to return home.

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