From Paras Indonesia

September, 14 2006 @ 01:31 pm

Australian TV Crew Faces Deportation
Roy Tupai

An Australian television news crew will be deported from Indonesia after being caught attempting to work in Papua province, which has a ban on foreign journalists.

The five-member crew from the Seven Network's Today Tonight program had flown from Bali to Papua, apparently with the aim of filming a story about an orphaned boy due to be eaten by a tribe of cannibals. Authorities on Wednesday (13/9/06) ordered them to leave because they were traveling on tourist visas.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said Thursday the Australians had been told to leave the country as soon as possible. "We have evidence that they were conducting journalistic activities, which is in contravention of the specific purpose that has been given for the visa on arrival,” he was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.

He denied reports that the crew, led by controversial presenter Naomi Robson, had been jailed overnight, saying they stayed at the Sentani Indah hotel in the provincial capital Jayapura.

Papua Police spokesman Kartono Wangsadisastra said the crew had planned to stay for three days and requested permission to cover "cultural" stories in Jayapura and Merauke. They were told to leave and return with proper permits, he added.

An unnamed member of the crew said they were flying out of Indonesia on Thursday morning and had been advised not speak publicly about their trip until out of the country. He confirmed they had not been detained.

The Australian Foreign Ministry said the five had been questioned about their visas and were told to leave.

In Jakarta, Foreign Affairs Ministry secretary general Imron Cotan said the crew would be sent back to Bali and deported because they violated immigration and visa laws. "They claimed to be tourists, but they brought equipment for journalistic purposes and were carrying out journalism," he was quoted as saying by The Age daily's online edition.

Percaya said authorities were yet to decide whether the five would also be fined or banned from returning to Indonesia.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard played down the affair, saying he "would be amazed" if it reignited diplomatic tensions between Jakarta and Canberra. He said he was unaware of any requests for diplomatic assistance. "Obviously if any Australian anywhere in the world wants consular help they will receive it. But I am not aware of any particular requests, particular responses, particular contact," he told ABC Radio.

The Seven Network said "the crew are on a special assignment" and "in a difficult situation". Seven's news and public affairs director Peter Meakin said authorities were tipped off about the trip. "Journalists are not always welcome and to get into places to cover stories they sometimes work on tourist visas and it happened in Indonesian Papua a few months ago with Channel Nine operating on tourist visas but they didn't get pinged," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Meakin did not apologize for sending the crew to Papua illegally. "This is a short-cut that has been taken by a few people. It's fairly standard operating procedure when you're not allowed in to do stories in the public interest. It happens very commonly. Channel Nine was up there recently and I believe they used tourist visas as well," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

He declined to comment on reports the crew had been sent to film a story about cannibalism. "I'm being really tight-lipped here... for a number of reasons, we're still on the ground there and I don't want to do anything that jeopardizes us journalistically or politically... The Indonesians are being very decent at the moment and they're handling the situation in a quite mature manner and I don't want to do anything to inflame them,"" he said.

Bob Brown, the leader of Australia's left-wing Greens Party, hailed the Seven Network for attempting media coverage of Papua. "I don't know what their motivation is, and we will have to wait to find out about that, but I do know that as far back as in 1979 I was refused a visa to go to Papua to climb a mountain. Nothing has changed and it's very difficult to get in there and let's be frank about this, there is repression of media coverage of what's happening in Papua. And so if people are trying to get some news about Papua and the plight of the Papuan people back to the rest of the world then good on them," he was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.

"It's a resource-rich province and it's got a military presence which cracks down on democracy, cracks down on human rights, cracks down on the cultural life of one to two million Papuans - aided and abetted by the Howard government by the way," he said.

Australian media pundits are enjoying Naomi Robson's latest fiasco. She has been widely criticized this year for: wearing a khaki outfit shortly after Steve 'Crocodile Hunter' Irwin's death, abandoning the scene of a mining accident to attend an awards show, referring to her audience as "stupid", and being romantically linked to a fugitive cocaine dealer.

Cannibalism Victim?
It seems unlikely the Today Tonight crew was in Papua for any hard-hitting political stories or an examination of recent deadly inter-tribal clashes. The program's website shows its latest stories were about "a 15-year-old teenager... showing you do not have to be stick-thin to be beautiful on the catwalk as she enters the world of plus-size modeling", a millionaire offering his fortune to the needy, and tributes to Steve Irwin and late racing driver Peter Brock.

The online edition of Australia's Daily Telegraph reported the Today Tonight crew had intended to locate a young boy named Wawa, who was reportedly to be eaten by cannibals, and take him to safety in nearby village.

“The problem was they were only going to put him in more danger by going in there and disrupting his situation. If so it's a good thing they got detained - it probably has saved him in the end,” the daily quoted an unnamed television source as saying.

Seven Network later admitted the plan and accused the rival Nine Network of sabotaging the story. A source at Nine said the network's 60 Minutes program had considered doing the same story but decided it was too risky and could further endanger the boy.

Prior to the spread of Christianity, cannibalism used to be common in Papua, generally either as a traditional rite of passage or as a form of tribal punishment.
KuKuKaChu: dangerously too sophisticated