Journalism ethics and principles will get serious challenges when your own country goes to war, said Kate Edie of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It is true here in Aceh, a war-torn province of Indonesia.
At war, journalists everywhere, not only in Indonesia, will face problems on loyalties, nationalism, and patriotism.
If your own country in a serious threat of survival, at the edge of disintegration, or at the risk of Balkanization, then the principles of journalism and ethics such as truth, objectivity, and balance will be questioned by the military, the states, and the citizen.
Journalists in Aceh with their safety on risk and report the truth from the battleground will be criticized for not “patriotic enough” because they cover the stories both sides. The Indonesian government wants journalists to be on their side and not “sleeping with the enemies of the state”.
The Indonesian military (TNI), fore example, criticized media reports of the rebellion in Aceh province (GAM, Free Aceh Movement), saying that they labeled the separatist insurgents as “heroes” rather than traitors.
Military chief General Endriartono Sutarto urged the press to be fair in their coverage of the war-torn region.
“What is strange for me…is that rebels are labeled by the media as heroes. How could that happen?” he told reporters.
He said the media ran reports on the rebels “without a single sentence describing them as a group of Indonesians committing treason against the nation”.
However, he said, he wasn’t in favor of censorship. But, he wanted journalists as part of Indonesian citizen to be patriotic and do patriotic journalism. It means journalists asked to be on the side of the government and not to give voice to the rebels.
Since 1976, GAM rebels have been fighting for independence for the oil-and-gas-rich province. At least 12,000 people have been killed in the fighting so far.
At war, the state needs a good citizen rather than a good journalist.
“Before you become a good journalist, you need to be a good citizen first,” said Major General Endang Suwarna, the Military Commander of the Martial Law Administration in Aceh province.
Indonesian journalists as good citizen, he added, write the stories with the spirit of nationalism and patriotism. General Suwarna urges media for not publishing the leaders of GAM statements and invite journalists to use military facilities for their reporting in Aceh.
Learning from the success of embedded journalism in Iraq, the TNI invited journalists to cover the war in Aceh to open up the military campaign to public scrutiny. TNI encourage journalists to be embedded with the troops and discourage those who work independently, especially foreign correspondents.
The Martial Law Administration in Aceh issued on July 2003 a declaration banning foreigners from visiting the province and limiting the movements of foreign journalists to Aceh. Foreign journalists and correspondents may report only from the provincial capital Banda Aceh and the capitals of the province’s 15 regencies. Traveling between districts requires a military or police escort.
General Suwarna said that the guidelines were aimed at ensuring the safety of foreign in Aceh. But, foreign media correspondents in Indonesia criticized the declaration. They said the regulation had effectively banned foreign media access to the province. They urged the government to ensure that foreign journalists could travel freely to and within Aceh.
They believe that the guidelines for media coverage in Aceh had effectively hampering the press from obtaining balanced reports on the current military operation in Aceh. Coverage by local media is subject to restriction as well. The TNI bans statements from rebels while at the same time encourages the media to send embedded journalists reporting from the military side
Thus, ethical problems in the case of military operation in Aceh are:
1. Journalists take side to the TNI
2. Journalists tell only the half-truth (the truth belong to the TNI).
3. Journalists were not able to cover both sides (TNI bans statements from rebels).
4. Journalists could not maintain their objectivity (all fair in love an war).
5. Journalists have failed to fulfill their obligation to observe and tell readers
what is really going on in Aceh, because military restriction under Martial
Associated Press report on August 30, 2003.
The Jakarta Post report on 1 July 2003
T. Yulianti, Media Coverage on Military Operation, Suara Pembaruan Daily, 27 May 2003.
T. Yulianti, Patriotic Journalism, Kompas , August 2003.