Subject: Peacock tried to pressure ABC over Timor
Peacock tried to pressure ABC
* Leo Shanahan * January 1, 2009
THE Australian government considered moving ABC journalists out of Indonesia to avoid offending the Indonesian government with reports about East Timor and the corruption of the Suharto regime.
In a submission to cabinet released by the National Archives of Australia, foreign affairs minister Andrew Peacock said he had regular complaints from the Indonesian government about ABC reports.
Mr Peacock was critical of journalists, including the late Richard Carleton, for their role in what he saw as fanning the flames of anti-Indonesian sentiment, particular in relation to East Timor. He went as far as to ask that the government use its proximity to the ABC to influence the type of journalists and managers in charge of broadcasts to Indonesia.
"Radio Australia, because of the ABC's statutory relationship with the Australian Government and because it has a large Indonesian audience, is particularly closely monitored by Indonesian officials for the possible dissemination of 'unhelpful' views and opinions about Indonesia," the submission stated.
"There needs to be continuing liaison between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Radio Australia in order that its management and correspondents can be altered whenever the Indonesian authorities appear to be entering a phase of particular sensitivity."
But, 30 years on, Mr Peacock told The Age he had been merely trying to warn cabinet and Radio Australia of Indonesian sensitivities and complaints.
"As I recall, they held us accountable to the views of Radio Australia because they believed it was a government propaganda unit, which of course it was not. I found that a delicate issue to handle because the underlying principle there is the right and opportunity of freedom of expression."
When asked if any journalist was moved because of the complaints, Mr Peacock said he "had no recall of that happening" but "if we found some over-enthusiastic manager somewhere moved something then I'm proved to be a liar, but that was not my responsibility".
Former Radio Australia Indonesian correspondent Warwick Beutler, who was thrown out of Indonesia in 1980 by its government for what it considered unfavourable coverage, was aware of pressure by the Indonesians resulting in "self-censorship" on the ABC. But he was unaware of any reporter being moved or of censorship by the ABC as a result of Australian government censorship.