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'Shameful silence' on West Papua attacked

David Robie
Professor David Robie - It takes "serious guts" to report on West Papua issues in the South Pacific

| Asia Pacific Report/Melanesia Media Freedom Forum/Pacific Media Watch | Extract

BRISBANE - Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie has condemned the Australian and New Zealand governments and mainstream media for their “deafening silence” over the West Papua crisis.

Speaking before next month’s Melanesian Media Freedom Forum at Griffith in Brisbane, Dr Robie said Canberra and Wellington needed to get behind the Vanuatu-led Pacific initiatives on West Papuan self-determination or face growing insecurity in the region.

He told the audience – which included experienced ‘Pacific hands’ Dr Tess Newton Cain, Lee Duffield, Sean Dorney, Bob Howarth and Stefan Armbruster – that the 1969 UN-mandated plebiscite on the future of West Papua was a sham and that a fresh vote was needed.

While praising public broadcasters ABC and RNZ Pacific for their coverage of West Papua, Dr Robie described the mainstream commercial media’s reporting of recent protests in Papua as “shameful.”

Dozens of people have been killed and many thousands forced to flee over the past three months as Indonesian military and police clashed with Papuan demonstrators protesting against racism.

Dr Robie said some Pacific media were doing a better job of covering the crisis than mainstream Australian and NZ news organisations.

He also said it was embarrassing that international news agencies were doing a better job of covering something “right on our own doorstep”.

“West Papua has generally been poorly covered by New Zealand mainstream media – and only slightly better in Australia – apart from RNZ Pacific and a handful of specialist websites such as the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report,” he said.

Dr Robie spoke about the principles of “human rights journalism” as a guiding framework for covering conflicts in the region.

He commended specific journalists and media practitioners who have incorporated this into their work and “stuck their necks out in defence of a free press.”

“It takes serious guts to do so in the Pacific.”


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Arthur Williams

I have in my large file on the Indonesia-West Papua story an item dated 2003/02/01, 'Dying to live: is the war on terror in West Papua an expression of institutionalised racism?', by Christine Richards.

It is worth reading when we ever we think about the often hidden unrelated sad, dangerous ethos of the western end of New Guinea Island.

Another story worth reading is 'Singing for life: Music is still a potent source of cultural resistance in West Papua' by Alex Rayfiel in Inside Indonesia April-June 2004.">">

Just three extracts:

Just before he was murdered on 24 April 1984 by Kopassus – Indonesia’s notorious special forces – renowned West Papuan musician and anthropologist, Arnold Ap wrote his last song.

Arnold Ap, leader of the cultural music group Mambesak, was living on borrowed time. He knew that the military wanted to kill him.

Sitting beside an old portable tape recorder in his prison cell, guitar in hand, Ap lovingly recorded ‘The Mystery of Life’” Ap sung in the closing words of that song, ‘The only thing I desire and am waiting for is nothing else but freedom’.

Papuans and or New Guineans cannot fail to be moved by the lyrics of his group’s songs. The lyrics of ‘Awin Sup Ine’, sung in the Biak language, tells of the West Papuan people’s (indeed any nationalist’s) connection to their homeland:

"At twilight, the rays of the sun paint beautiful skyscapes, stirring the eye and heart. At these times, one cannot help but recall sweet moments from the past and feel again the bonds of love that bind one to the land."

Another; ‘Nanen Babe’, a song from Sarmi on the north coast of Papua, has layers of meaning:

"The Morning Star appears in the east and will soon be followed by the sun. The beauty of the sky brings back memories of home. The last star in the inky darkness before the dawn, the light that guides fisherman safely home."

Apparently that song invokes the creation story of Kumeseri – the Morning Star – in the Biak language. Legend has it that Manarmakeri.

For some years I have regularly received email newsletters from ETAN, A US-based grassroots organisation working in solidarity with the peoples of Timor-Leste (East Timor), West Papua and Indonesia. ETAN provides information about, and ways to help.

It’s worth subscribing to (it's free) at if you are interested in Australia’s nearest neighbours.

I used to get the paper edition of ‘Inside Indonesia’ which is now available online and often provides insights into PNG’s ‘big neighbour’ about all aspects of Indonesian society not just politics but ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ – ‘Diversity in Unity’ - the nation’s motto.

David Kitchnoge

Clearly there is a vacuum in the Melanesian world that must be filled. Part of us is missing.

PNG's official stance and apparent timidity regarding the plight of the West Papuans is not to be interpreted as that we do not care about our fellow Melanesians.

We do! And deeply at that. But we don’t have the means to show how much it hurts us that our family is being spat at and trampled on.

But what we know is that there is a dragon looking for a foothold in the Pacific. West Papua might just be the opening it needs to get in. We need a big brother.

He who wipes our tears at the time of our need has our hearts.

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