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TV coverage of the Bali bombers turns the terrorists into heroes?
Opinion and Editorial - November 24, 2008
Ali Amin, Yogyakarta
Thanks to intensive TV coverage before and after the executions of the three Bali bombers, terrorists have gotten plenty of airplay. Their ideas and life histories, their followers and supporters as well as their tough attitude toward the death penalty and "strong" religious faith have all been widely covered. This writer considers this frequent coverage to be actually another implicit message that Indonesia is rich in support for such terrorists.
The TV coverage tended to ignore the fact that hundreds of innocent people fell victim to the Bali bombings. The coverage also failed to mention the millions of Indonesian Muslims who feel cheated by the kind of radicalism which Amrozi and friends displayed. Our question: have Indonesian TV broadcasters conveyed images which duly represent the cultural norms and values circulated within a society, one of the media's functions?
As a Muslim I do believe the execution of the three terrorists sends a strong message: Terrorism as conducted by the three Bali bombers is indeed not a form of Islamic behavior. Not only did those three people victimize ordinary civilians but they also damaged the correct understanding of Islam. The terrorists denigrated Islamic values, which we admire and believe in for its peaceful teachings.
Unfortunately, TV broadcasters implicitly altered the orientation of the media reporting and the image of the events surrounding the execution. Instead of emphasizing cultural values decrying the violence or terrorism, television media failed in at least two areas, endangering their function as agents of information for their audience.
Second, due to the scant coverage of the victims' side, unintentionally, TV left out the victims' views of the terrorists. Victims and their families every day look upon a world in peril since the tragic blasts.
Days before the executions all television channels started reporting on all the important issues around the bombers. Every day, every channel devised an update on what was happening to Imam Samudra, Amrozi, and Ali Gufron. They gave us the terrorists' life stories, their ideas and their acceptance of the upcoming execution by firing squad. The media often put the bombers' family members before the cameras, those who objected to the execution.
We remember how Umi, Imam Samudra's mother, raised her hand and called out Allahu Akbar to strengthen her spirit for the sake of her son. We were shaken when some people brazenly shouted out "Revenge!" for the terrorists during Amrozi's and Ali Gufron's funeral. Looking at the reports I wonder, are those people supporting Amrozi the victims?
On Friday and Saturday (Nov. 7,8), our television screens were filled with images of religious leaders and government officers coming to visit the bombers' homes. In Tenggulun, Amrozi's and Gufron's home village, Trans TV, TV one, TPI, SCTV gave wide coverage to a banner someone had erected saying "Welcome home, mujahideens" . Meanwhile in Serang, where Samudra's family resides, his portrait was on display and picked up by the media circus.
Sunday, a few hours after the terrorists' bodies were brought to their hometowns, all channels highlighted post-execution events including the chronology of the execution and the funerary events. Television cameras captured the poignant mourning moment of the funerals, honing in on the families' sadness about the execution.
In another remarkable instance, most TB broadcasters draped their post-execution reports in a "mourning" atmosphere by dressing the reporters in funeral attire and letting them report with emotional overtones. I myself felt shaken instead by the images of people who dared to scream for revenge. Some channels even narrated their stories over soundtracks of funeral music dubbed in by their producers. They used music associated with "normal" mourning moments for lovely people at church.
Repeatedly screening the jihadists' view on the jihad of Samudra and friends did not help disseminate the peaceful teachings of Islam at all. Instead it gave a very strong impression of the hard-liners' view of Islam and the negative image of Islam in Indonesia.
Reporting the execution on TV is not just about presenting the image of three bombers and the surrounding issues. Likewise, it is not just about reporting on the bombers' family who objected to the execution and the three spots where supporting jihadists from different cities gathered to pay their last respects to the terrorists' family.
As soon as the media reported about the terrorists and their smiling acceptance of their punishment, they presented ideas about how strong these people were, and how voiceless moderate Muslims are in this country. Some people indeed believe they have to struggle against the West, but what a television newscast could have done to give new insights into peaceful Islam, instead of giving free advertising to the shouts of Samudra, Amrozi, and Gufron that America is Satan, and the threatening, "my followers will take revenge for my execution".
Supporters of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and the bombers' said they consider Samudra, Amrozi and Ali Gufron to be mujahideen, martyrs of God. In other words, they believe the bombers who killed hundreds of innocent people will be rewarded and blessed by God. TV reports have repeatedly shown a group who supported the terrorists indirectly saying it is halal to kill ordinary people for God's sake.
Indonesian media, especially Indonesian television, failed to portray comprehensive issues surrounding the death penalty. The television failed to represent the cultural norms and values in our society and failed to transmit and strengthen these values within the society.
By repeatedly giving more space to the images and events surrounding the bombers, their families and supporters than to the bombing victims and the witnesses of that tragedy, television broadcasters have ignored the trust about the victims and the Balinese who suffered more than the executed bombers.
The writer is academic coordinator of the Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University. He can be reached at www.crcs.ugm. ac.id
Ali AminCenter for Religious and Cross Cultural StudiesGadjah Mada UniversityYogyakarta Indonesia Phone fax: +62-274-544976www.crcs.ugm. ac.id