Free the people of west papua? Free the Media about west papua issues! Broadcasting Papua’s voices of freedom
It is almost a cliché today that peoples wishing to free themselves from tyranny are turning in huge numbers to citizen journalism, both to tell their stories to the outside world, and to put a formidable brake on the out of sight, out of mind mentality that allows state organs to conduct constant human abuse with impunity. The rise of citizen media is giving mainstream journalism the kick it needs to remember its core business of giving voice to the Voiceless. In West Papua, the Voiceless are slowly discovering they can roar. In early February an event occurred in Tunisia that was to be the spark for the pan-Arab awakening which quite quickly saw another dictator ousted in Egypt. After a local trader immolated himself in protest against the Tunisian regime, citizen media succeeded in viralising the news of this event. “We could protest for two years here, but without videos no one would take any notice of us,” said a relative of the martyred 25-year-old. For media activists and journalists reporting Papua, this truth is self-evident, and its acceptance hopefully could ignite the spark of uprising in Papua. The opportunities presented by the pan-Arab (and other) awakenings are not being lost on the young generation in Papua. Social media in Papua is buzzing, unafraid, with vibrant discussions of the implications for Papua of the pan-Arabic revolutionary success. The reality is that a spontaneous awakening and mass politicisation of ordinary Papuans is completely inevitable, and is being ably assisted by switched-on local people developing their capacity to tell their story to the world. In researching for several stories this year at West Papua Media Alerts, my sources have told me in no uncertain terms that they are all ready for a trigger to 30 explode the situation. The only thing holding back sustained mass action – revolution even – across occupied Papua is the constant bickering between exile groups, the actions of the collaborator elites, desperate to cling to the illusion that Jakarta is not there just to steal their land and send them to the moon and to look after those who will put their own interests ahead of those surviving under occupation. What is a mystery is how this mass consciousness will survive the elite and exile power games that are evident in most transitional polities throughout recent history (and are certainly present in West Papua today). Will the exiles hijack the efforts of the young generation or listen to the actual wishes of their people? If Jakarta can be trusted not to unleash the truly evil and deeply entrenched habitual brutality that has been its only constant as the new colonialist, will it claim a place amongst the civilised by not slaughtering those who want peace? Well, History is a wise teacher and its lesson is never to trust the evil or greedy to reform of their own accord. To keep the ugly realities in check, West Papua (and the international community) need a determined, effective, vibrant and fearless citizen and professional media to deliver real-time accountability both internally and internationally. Real time advocacy is vital for the international community to act to end Papua’s suffering. Human rights advocates conduct scientific research into abuses, but because this information does not get out easily, the problems in Papua are only now becoming known to the world. I need to ask you, dear reader, an honest question: Without the hard work of journalists in Papua and those outside assisting them to get their voice to international media, would Papua even be in people’s consciousness today? So why is the international civil society arena more concerned with West Papua 31 falling prey to the disease of factionalism and Big Man syndrome than in assisting West Papuan people to get their stories into the living rooms of the world? Many Papuan exiles claim significant legitimacy, but baulk and splutter when asked to prove it. This has developed a culture of opacity across the exile movement. A strong and diverse citizen-based media across Papua can easily counter exiles’ game playing and false claims by ensuring credibility and honesty in social movements. It benefits and strengthens social movements too by imparting the skills and practice needed for sharpening their message and creating powerful arguments for international support for their aims. Strong domestic media also removes international governments’ excuses for inaction by seriously raising the credibility and verification bar. If the international community is serious about improving the lives of Papuan people, it will help develop the capacity of the West Papuan media to tell the story of what is going on, and press Jakarta hard to allow international media access on demand. After all, with full accountability, what is there ultimately to be afraid of? Largely in response to years of willful ignorance and self-censorship of the Indonesian created horrors in West Papua by international media, many sectors of Papuan society spontaneously and independently began a dramatic take-up of social media technology, which has been exponentially increasing since 2008. Blogs, social networking and online media outlets are being utilized all over the country by a young generation of Papuans impatient for real change. Today’s mass Papuan movement is mainly urban, educated, innovative, nonviolence based, and significantly embracing of the power of citizen and social media as a key plank of civil resistance strategy. 32 Very occasionally West Papua does get in the news, but only through coordination between committed journalists and human rights workers working together and ear-bashing news editors. Due to the ongoing ban by Indonesia on international media and humanitarian organisations having access to Papua, allegations of abuse are notoriously difficult to verify. While this ban remains in place only the most dedicated journalists make the effort to go in undercover. West Papua Media Alerts has been proud to facilitate undercover trips into occupied territory and meetings with many West Papuan people prepared to tell their own story. This is getting more difficult by the day so local people are working for a solution. Live images, videos and online activism by Papuan people have already created tremendous momentum in action and awareness of Papua. By creating their own media, and their own narrative, Papuan people are reclaiming self-determination denied for so long. But reporting in West Papua is a highly risky business. Journalists, Papuan and outsiders alike, are under constant threat for reporting West Papua, with four journalists dying in suspicious circumstance in 2010 alone. Anywhere journalists report fearlessly they are targets, but most journalists in West Papua simply put up with it; they have no other option. What can international media do to lessen their risk? Partly in response to this danger and partly to give local journalists a voice globally, West Papua Media Alerts (WPMA) was started in 2008. It aims to provide a professional service to international media covering West Papua, ensuring high quality, verifiable reporting gets into the international media directly from the ground and not from those who seek to distort the truth of daily experience in Papua. By reporting Papuan campaigns to end human rights abuses and bringing unreported Papuan issues to the front page, we hope to hold the abusers to account. With an ever growing stable base 33 of committed and disparate voices from citizen media to professional journalists, West Papua Media Alerts is proud and excited to be part of this movement. Some of our real time work has assisted directly in the prevention of mass acts of violence by the Indonesian security forces, such as our coverage and media advocacy fixing of the July 8-9, 2010 Otsus Gagal (Give Back Special Autonomy) demos and occupation of the Jayapura DPRP (Legislative Assembly of Papua Province). Less than ten minutes before the deadline for dispersal of the two day rally of over 45,000 people Indonesian security forces were forced to back down after a BBC report aired, organised by the WPMA, which brought international attention to the explosively dangerous situation. Extensive international diplomacy occurred in that 15 minutes and, together with the extreme discipline of the mass protest, enabled the protestors to peaceably leave the scene of the protest. WPMA has worked very hard raising the media profile of West Papua, launching significant joint investigations with major media outlets and breaking several key stories in 2010 and 2011. None of this would be possible without deep trust from the people of Papua in reporting their stories. West Papuan citizen media, in conjunction with several co-author colleagues mentioned in these pages, played a key role in alerting the world to deeply heinous cases of abuse. One was the sourcing, verification and release of the deeply shocking leaked Kostrad (the Indonesian army’s Strategic Reserve Command) videos of civilians undergoing torture in Puncak Jaya. The Kiwo incident neatly captures why the Indonesian military cannot be trusted to reform themselves from the inside, and why the role of a robust media is so critical in Papua. The other was footage of Indonesian BRIMOB (mobile police) taunting a former political prisoner, Yawan Wayeni, having disembowelled him moments before for 34 arguing with them. Both these videos showed the power of citizen media in activating international human rights networks to effectively raise the issue of Papua. There are many more videos in preparation for release. A swarm movement cannot have a single media strategy, but media need to understand that the swarm will get media out in its own way too. Media that had wilfully ignored West Papua’s voice for so long really has no right to dictate how information disseminates, and, if it wants to get the stories before others, then it just has to move faster. Because it is new media techniques that have already and will more in future propel Papua onto the front page, to make people choke on their cornflakes. Likewise, evidence dissemination also needs multiple, failsafe distribution routes. Single dissemination routes can easily be shut down or silenced. West Papuans have tailored their mechanisms to this very effectively; yet this is significantly frustrating outside journalists. According to many in mainstream media, West Papuans can be their own worst enemy when it comes to disseminating information. People on the ground do need to get smarter about media distribution strategies, but the media also must adapt to a social and cultural reality. West Papuan human rights and citizen media are not chaotic: they are maximising the potential audience for their information. It is important to understand that no one faction or sector in West Papua can claim dominance or leadership of this mass movement. This is not Congress in India and there is no single Gandhi figure. Rather, this is a movement with thousands of Gandhis. The civil movement refuses to be based around a single leadership group, and instead features multitudes of groups and tribes all acting autonomously and independently (where everyone knows their role and works their hardest), but which is nevertheless unified under its collective goals. 35 Such a swarm structure can occasionally present difficulties for those who cannot think outside traditional top-down strategies for national change, including traditional media. Rather than being shut out of dialogue by the game playing of unaccountable elites, this type of structure encourages a longer lasting peace by enabling all actors to have their voices heard. It is also a natural strategy to employ in a nation where it is, for the most part, illegal to congregate in groups. Other barriers for West Papuan media are much more easily solved with a bit of training and understanding of the friend-enemy (this being media executives and their unreasonable expectations far removed from reality). One issue is the lack of speed with which many West Papuan media activists work, and, whilst the performance is improving, events have to be filmed, edited, packaged and disseminated faster than ever—in one day where possible. There are issues of journalistic discipline and professional journalistic practice in new media. There must be safe information gathering, careful abuse documentation, scrupulous investigative journalism methodology, information quality assurance, assured protection of sources, and more. Effective citizen and professional media training are required to develop awareness of major current and future challenges to safe information dissemination – these are all programs that the West Papua Media network is currently engaged in and needs help with to increase its capacity. All of the above costs money and requires the international community to understand that the development of indigenous journalism in West Papua is crucial to the protection of human security and peace across Asia-Pacific. It requires international institutions in media and academia to get out of their cloisters and get muddy: to actually pool resources and help identify new sources of sustainable funding to start training journalists in innovative new media reportage techniques and to support their work for the global human interest. As 36 I said before, the West Papua Media network already has training programs ready to go; we just need the funds to make them happen. In West Papua, as across the world, accountability is always the simplest solution to combating impunity. An aggressive culture of investigative journalism must be encouraged, and the skills to enable it must be developed to deliver that accountability, be it for human rights abuse, military business mafias and corruption, human insecurity, environmental vandalism or whatever. The culture and skills must cover (and protect) the desires of the Papuan population to determine their own future in both the current occupation and in any situation for the future. Both academia and international media must take a strong role in its development, to embed international protections to enable West Papua’s journalists and citizen media to report, without fear, hindrance or threat, the stories that are important to West Papuan people and their freedom. Our hope is that we will have a really robust citizen media that can deliver accountability. We want to stop people from being afraid of speaking out, and we want West Papua’s voice to be its weapon, to broadcast its songs for Freedom.