01 December 2009

Balibo -- The Film -- Banned in Indonesia...

The decision of the Indonesian Film Censorship Board (Lembaga Sensor Film / LSF) to ban the screening of the film Balibo is hardly one for the surprising column. It pretty much was expected, and even more so when the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club and the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFF) both indicated that they were going to screen the film. It certainly was a case of upping the ante.

Well, the LSF responded as expected and banned the film because of the political nature of it, and probably because the film conveys a position that the Indonesian government considers to be lies, a complete fabrication, and a distortion of the truth in the extreme. All of those things mean essentially the same, but they needed repeating in slightly different forms to highlight how seriously the Indonesian government would have been working the LSF to ensure that a ban was forthcoming.

The simple reality here is that the Indonesian position is that the five journalists, who became known as the Balibo Five, were killed in crossfire between Indonesian and Fretilin troops. Whereas, in stark contrast to the official Indonesian position, the film depicts the five being murdered by Indonesian troops under the immediate command of Captain Yunus Yosfiah who went on to reach the rank of general, become a minister, and serve time as a parliamentarian.

These actions were found by the Coroner's Court in NSW to be tantamount to war crimes and worthy of further investigation, and ultimately prosecution.

The Australian Federal Police are committed to completing a war crimes investigation into the deaths of the Balibo Five. So, bilateral tension seems certain to escalate over this matter at some point in the future.

A final point on the issue of censorship. I think the majority of Indonesians are ready enough to cast a critical eye over the film and make judgments as to the content. The idea that the LSF is banning this film because Indonesians are not mature enough to watch and determine for themselves the validity of this film is an insult to all Indonesians.

Oh well.

(Photo from here)


Unknown said...


Rejecting the movie can be done tactfully thus avoid strong protest:

Let the movie be shown to a limited viewers like JFCC and JIFF, before banning it.

Those who are against the movie should make its own version of the story. Let the viewers be the judge.

Rob Baiton said...


I dunno. Censorship really needs to be an all or nothing approach, doesn't it?

My basic point was why bother. The great majority of Indonesians I know are more than capable of casting a critical eye over this film and making excellent judgments for themselves with regards to the content.

Yes, I am sure that if an Indonesian film version of the events has not been made, then perhaps it should. Then it can be screened alongside those other historical gems that provide the official Indonesian version of events in 1965 / 1966.

Agreed, let the viewers be the judge.

David said...

I dunno Rob, I haven't followed the Balibo story closely, but how much of it has actually been proven? It is essentially a propaganda film isn't it? Little wonder Indonesia wants to ban it. Should we have expected anything different?

Rob Baiton said...


How much of it is proven? I guess this depends on how much faith you put in the NSW Coroner's Court :D

The most recent inquest at the NSW Coroner's Court called the deaths murder and pegged them as war crimes. The brief has since been sent to the AFP for them to undertake a war crimes investigation.

Is it a propaganda film? No, I do not think that it is. However, I wonder whether the NSW Coroner's Court had access to a full set of facts and evidence aside from the recollections of a few "eye witnesses".

Indonesia has always maintained that it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting caught in the crossfire. I do not believe that this was the case. Wrong place, in hindsight, yes. Crossfire? No.

Personal opinion, I think they were murdered.

Should we have expected anything different? Absolutely not. However, I am the eternal optimist and would hope that one day the LSF has more belief in Indonesia and her citizens that it will not ban political material, or material that portrays some Indonesians in a bad light, and allow Indonesians to make reasoned and rational judgments for themselves.

If the Indonesian armed forces (who allegedly lobbied the LSF for the ban) have nothing to hide, then they could simply have issued a statement that this film is nothing but fiction. There could even have been a disclaimer at the front of the film that said this is not the accepted view of blah, blah, blah...

There is always more than one way to go about the business of censorship.

I find it disappointing for no other reason than I think Indonesia and Indonesians are smart enough to recognize that this is a film, and that it portrays a particular view and interpretation of history; nothing more, nothing less.

Oh well! I am sure it will pop up as a pirated version and be seen by many Indonesians in the privacy of their own homes.

rima fauzi said...

Umm.. our menkominfo was even considering banning 2012, and it had NOTHING to do with Indonesia. So this is not news to me.

things are shittier now, or maybe the same as orde baru, but either way things are just shitty in indo. cape deh..

Rob Baiton said...


cape deh, indeed!

There could be a few of these moments with the new Menkominfo :D

Katadia said...

Why should the LSF say it's fiction when the film makers clearly state that: this is a true story! Correct me if i'm wrong but the opening credit said 'this is a true story', as distinct to 'based on a true story'. Mr Horta got plenty of viva Horta moments in the movie though.

Rob Baiton said...


Long time, no hear?

Indeed. However, even true stories take a little liberal creative license sometimes. The film is not portrayed as a documentary, is it? And, it is not shot in a format to give the impression that it is a documentary either.

The LSF could still whack a disclaimer there saying that it is fiction and not the accepted Indonesian version of that particular historical event irrespective of what the film makers put in the opening credits, can't they?

Katadia said...

Hi Rob, I went to the mummy cave for a while :)

They did a really well casting job I must say. I went through the extras in the DVD watched the 'docos'. It's easy to mix up the real news footage and the what was in the film at times. I thought the movie was well done in that sense.

The thing is, do you think a person who goes to watch Balibo on some random 21 cinema would care much about what LSF say?

I'm thinking of my 21 y.o cousins, watching this with his friends in Senayan, and my guess is, Balibo would be the first piece of visual 'information' about East Timor that would make a lasting impression on him. For sure, there'd be some ppl who won't be happy about that!:)
Selamat tahun baru... we'll be watching Cedar Boys tonight!

Rob Baiton said...


The mummy (or daddy) cave is always an excursion in learning, isn't it?

Nope, they probably would not care all that much. However, most would be aware that the film has some "issues" that have made it controversial.

To my mind the banning of anything increases interest in it (perhaps the recent move to ban books is an example of how to promote the sale of something that might otherwise have not done very well, sales wise).

Good point. For many Indonesians this may well be the first point of "contact" with anything East Timor related. Nevertheless, despite what the lead in credits might say most people generally watch films as entertainment and documentaries as more interpretative truth providers.

But, I agree, there are obviously some who are unhappy about young Indonesians getting this version of the truth.

Happy New Year to You and Yours as well. We had a quiet one at home and played cards and watched the fireworks on the tele ;)

most interesting facts said...

Lot of film is banned in Indonesia. But sometime I just don't understand some "naked" film still shown in the cinemas, such as zwerbook that contain naked is still shown in blitzmegaplex in not censored version.



The Weary Traveller said...

It is an interesting but completely inaccurate and one sided (left wing sided) view of what happened. Nowhere in the movie does it mention who Fretlin are (members of Socialist International), who funded them (Marxist nations) and no mention whatsoever of the civil war prior to the Indonesian invasion.

In 1999 Ramos-Horta said that "one day the political leadership of my generation will have to answer for its actions and atone for the many senseless killings in the civil war of August 1975".

The movie fails to mention that 200 people were massacred by Fretlin at Mau Lau, they burned down the entire villages of Maulesse and Turiscai, with great loss of life. Hundreds of houses in Dili were burned down. They murdered civilians in Se Lao and Atsabu, and at Tibar they forced the entire village, women and children included, to walk in front of them as protection as they engaged the Movimento forces. The only crime these people committed was failing to support Fretlin.

The movie fails to mention that Fretlin, an unelected minority movement in Timor, declared unilateral independence on 28th November 1975, without any authority to do so other than the arrogance typical of socialist movements.

The movie fails to mention that from July 1975 onwards Fretlin armed militia controlled the roads around Aileu, only allowing Fretlin card carrying members access to the Dili markets, thus virtually starving the South of the Island into submission.

The movie fails to mention that Fretlin forced over 40,000 people who didn't agree with their socialist ideals over the border into Indonesian Timor.

In the movie Shackleton is seen the Australian flag on the wall of their accommodation in Balibo. No one ever mentions the fact that the Fretilin flag was painted on another part of the wall, and the photograph of it is never shown.

In the movie the journalists are seen wearing civilian clothes. In the October 2009 Quadrant Online article John Whitehall (at that time an aid worker) claims they were in military uniforms, claims backed up by a part time ASIO agent Gino Favaro.

Given this, I am not surprised Indonesia invaded, and even less surprised that 5 Westerners in military fatigues were shot during the invasion.