The Mainstream Media

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  • by Anup Shah
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Unfortunately, yet predictably, there was one-sided media coverage of the crisis in East Timor by major media institutions in the West (especially from nations that continuously supported the often brutal regime). Most mainstream coverage failed to trace back the root causes for such gross violations (for example, the fact that East Timor has oil, timber and other rich resources and that Indonesia is strongly anti-Communist, which has helped western backers ignore brutal crimes and therefore continue "business as normal").

In fact, to get an idea of how bad some (not all) of the media coverage has been, check out about 8 minutes and 20 seconds into this real audio recording of a radio show called Democracy Now, which quotes and comments a New York Times journalist describes East Timor: "Though the anti-independence militias have clearly had the upper hand in terror, the pro-independence forces, with 24 years of experience in both war and propaganda, have seized the role of well-intentioned victims." (NYT, 8/30/99). Would we have described the French Resistance during World War II as having "seized the role of well-intentioned victims"? Consider, in contrast, the following quote from another journalist, Alan Nairn, who, with Amy Goodman (who who hosts the above-mentioned Democracy Now Radio show) was caught up in the middle of a massacre in East Timor in 1991:

"It should be noted that the Catholic Church is the only Timorese institution. All others have been obliterated on orders of the army high command. There are no Timorese unions or press, peasant leagues, political parties, or student groups. Their leaders have been executed and their existence banned. Timorese have been jailed and tortured for reading newspapers from overseas or attempting to listen on shortwave to Radio Australia or the BBC. Social organization can only take place under the army's control. Public speech and assembly are prohibited by army fiat. This means that the civic life of the East Timorese must be conducted underground


"As the [Indonesian] soldiers were doing this [shooting indiscriminately at people who turned up for a funeral], they were beating me and Amy [Goodman]; ... grabbed Amy by the hair and punched and kicked her in the face and in the stomach. When I put my body over her, they focused on my head. They fractured my skull with the butts of their M-16s.

"The soldiers put us on the pavement and trained their rifles at our heads. They were shouting, "Politik! Politik!" We were shouting back, "America! America!," and I think that may have been the thing that saved us. They had taken my passport earlier but Amy showed them hers, and the soldiers seemed impressed when they realized that we were indeed from the States. We were, after all, citizens of the country that supplied them with M-16s. ... The soldiers were still firing as we left the scene, some five to ten minutes after the massacre began."

See Alan Nairn's entire account at this link. (See below for links to Amy Goodman's accounts as well.)

"For almost 20 years, the BBC and the major western news agencies preferred to "cover" East Timor from Jakarta, which was like reporting on a Nazi-occupied country from Berlin. The coverage was minute; not offending the invader and keeping your visa became all-important. A Jakarta-based BBC correspondent told me that my film, made undercover in East Timor, had "made life very difficult for us here"."

John Pilger, 7 September, 1999 (and available at this link).

To see how the media in the US has covered this check out parts I, II and III for journalist Amy Goodman's first-hand account when she was caught up in the middle of a massacre in Santa Cruz, East Timor, 1991. (Part I starts about the corporate media in the US and then goes into the situation in East Timor.) Amy Goodman and Alan Nairn helped bring awareness of this problem to the rest of the world. They were actually almost killed themselves during that 1991 massacre. Amy Goodman believes that the Indonesian military only spared them because their passports were the same nationality as the weapons that armed the oppressors. US.

In fact, Amy Goodman was recently expelled from Indonesia due to being on a blacklist (because she witnessed and reported on the Santa Cruz massacre and has continuously reported on East Timor). Alan Nairn too was on the black-list, but managed to get into East Timor. On September 14, 1999, he was arrested by the Indonesian military and faced a possible prison sentence in Indonesia for 10 years, but was instead deported to Singapore.

Amy Goodman and Alan Nairn have also won many awards for their coverage on East Timor. For many, many years, these two as well as others, such as John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Ed Herman, the East Timor Action Network and others have been working tirelessly to report and raise awareness about this "tiny island" just 400 miles north of Australia.

In a similar parallel to Kosovo (when the OSCE were asked to withdraw from the area by NATO and journalists were expelled by Milosevic just before the bombing was to start), the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET) and journalists are essentially being told to get out of Timor. Numerous foreign journalists were shot at and even killed and the Australian peacekeeping force would not allowed any more relief groups or journalists in there.

While the common reason presented by most media was due to the increasing amounts of violence by the militia towards the UN staff (with some members even being killed), some have pointed out that an additional reason that they were expelled by Indonesia is so the rest of the world could not see first-hand what the Indonesian military and supportive paramilitaries will be doing there. (Note again the similarities to the Kosovo crisis where we saw NATO target and obliterate Yugoslavia media stations to "attack the heart of Milosevic's propaganda" while critics of NATO observed that this also served to prevent most reports on NATO's actions, as well as Milosevic's, from being presented firsthand, to the rest of the world.)

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