Indonesia: Movie ban puts freedom of speech in question

The Indonesian Censorship Board (LSF) has banned Balibo, a film about a group of Australians who were murdered during the 1975 Indonesian military invasion of East Timor. The ban ultimately stops the movie from being screened last weekend by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) — association of Indonesia-based foreign media newsmen, and therefore will not be screened at this year's annual Jakarta International Film Festival (Jiffest).

Some officials, including the military, cheered the decision taken by the censorship agency saying that the movie would open up an old wound and could jeapordize the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia.

The international press criticized the ban and questioned Indonesia's freedom of expression. However, when the Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik asked to comment about the ban, he told a local newpaper – The Jakarta Globe – that the ban is “for the country’s interest, the security and welfare of the people in the future” adding that the movie is banned mainly because it is packed with political content.

Jogjakarta blogger Rawins wonders why the government doesn't train the people to think critically:

Kenapa masyarakat kita tak dibelajari untuk berpikir dewasa dengan main cekal semacam itu. Padahal dengan pencekalan itu, masyarakat justru malah penasaran dan mendongkrak popularitas film tersebut.

Why aren't we taught to think maturely instead of censoring just like that. The truth is that with the censor, the people would be more curious and the popularity of the movie will increase.

Rob Baiton who blogs at The RAB Experience, said that the ban doesn't come to him as a surprise:

It was hardly surprising that the Indonesian Censorship Board (Lembaga Sensor Film / LSF) slapped a ban on the film Balibo. The film tells the story of five journalists killed in Balibo while covering the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. It also tells that story from the perspective of Roger East (who was ultimately murdered on the docks of Dili) and Jose Ramos Horta.

Patrick Guntensperger, a professional writer/analyst based in Jakarta, reviewed the movie on his blog.

In the first place, controversy aside, the movie is a terrific one. It is an exciting, authentic depiction of high drama and adventure; the fact that it is a true story only adds to its fascination. And the director and producers stand behind their version of the events. This is not a movie that “was inspired by actual events” or “based on a true story”. The title sequence states unequivocally that “this is a true story”.

In conclusion Patrick said that, above all reasons, the movie should be watched as a movie:

There is little point really in recounting much more of the plot of the story; suffice it to say that the Indonesian government has one story and pretty much everyone who has investigated the incidents has another, utterly different one. This is a movie. And it is a very good movie. Watch it as a movie. And if it interests you enough, do your own research into the historicity of the script.

Indonesian Independent Journalists Association (AJI Indonesia) said that the movie is highly educative and should not be banned.

It launched a Press Release [id] on its website, saying:

Keputusan LSF tersebut bertentangan dengan prinsip kebebasan berekspresi, kebebasan berapresiasi dan tidak menghormati hak masyarakat untuk tahu.Menurut Pihak LSF pelarangan film tersebut akan “membuka luka lama” konflik Indonesia dengan Australia dan Timor Leste. Alasan tersebut terkesan berlebihan.


AJI Indonesia menduga, pelarangan film tersebut sangat politis karena film tersebut mengungkap pelanggaran HAM oleh tentara Indonesia berupa pembantaian lima jurnalis asing di Balibo, Timor Leste pada 1975. Pelarangan film tersebut terkesan untuk menutup-nutupi keterlibatan sejumlah perwira Indonesia dalam pembantaian jurnalis itu.

The decision of the censorship board is against the principle of freedom of expression, freedom of appreciation, and failed to honor the right of the people to know. According to the censorship board the film will only “open an old wound” of conflict between Indonesia and Australia and Timor Leste. We see the excuse as overreacting.


AJI Indonesia presumes that the ban of the film is politically motivated because the film reveals human rights violations by the Indonesian army when the five foreign journalists in Balibo, Timor Leste were slain in 1975. The ban of the film suggests a cover up of the involvement of some Indonesian officers who slayed the journalists.

AJI demands the censorship board to revoke the ban:

AJI Indonesia meminta agar pelarangan film “Balibo Five” dicabut. Pemutaran film ini penting untuk memberikan informasi kepada publik Indonesia mengenai peristiwa tersebut dari sudut pandang lain dari apa yang disampaikan pemerintah Indonesia selama ini.

[…] Film tersebut juga menjadi peringatan bahwa pembunuhan terhadap jurnalis harus diusut tuntas, pelakunya harus diadili.

AJI Indonesia asks that the ban on the movie about the Balibo Five to be revoked. The screening is important to share the information to the public about the event from a different point of view from one delivered by the government all these years.

[…] The film should be a rememberance that crimes of murdering journalists need to be solved, and the crime doers should be tried.

Despite the ban, AJI screened the movie last Thursday in Jakarta. The free public screening was attended by hundreds of journalists and students.

Brett McGuire on his blog Spruiked firmly believes that the government shouldn't ban the movie:

Should the government ban the movie? Probably not. Sure, it opens old wounds, but this helps the healing process. Most Indonesians know very little about East Timor. Thirty years later and most still believe the New Order fairytale that the East Timorese invited Indonesia to take over from the Portuguese.

Should the government ban the movie? Banning movies seems a little heavy handed. It's something that we expect religious leaders to do, not democratically elected governments. Still, this government seems to have forgotten that the New Order ended 10 years ago.

AJI Indonesia presumes that the ban of the film is politically motivated because the film reveals human rights violations by the Indonesian army by the slain of five foreign journalist in Balibo, Timor Leste in 1975. The ban of the film suggests a cover up of the involvement of some Indonesian officers who slayed the journalists.

Balibo is a name of a small town in Timor Leste, how the East Timor formally called itself after the 1999 referendum which marked its independence from the Republic of Indonesia, situated at the west side of the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara.


  • Thanks for this post. I hope blogger Rawins is right and more people see it due to the ban. As another commented, it is simply a good movie experience.


  • […] tra le truppe indonesiane e quelle rivoluzionarie del Fretlin [in]. I media internazionali hanno criticato la censura governativa [in] e molti blogger indonesiani si chiedono se nel Paese esista davvero la libertà […]

  • The ban on the film is symbolic and not unexpected given its contents. The government knows that the people who want to watch it will seek it out on DVD anyway. And even without the ban, the cinemas would have chosen not to show it anyway. What’s far more concerning in terms of “free speech” is the new IT law which was used against a woman who complained about a hospital in an email. She has endured a lengthy trial and even spent some time in jail. Under this law, it is basically illegal to say “bad things” in an email or indeed in any electronic communication about a company or person. Unbelievable – but that’s how bad things have got.

  • Steph

    I believe this act of censorship is outrageous. It resembles the censorship of international broadcasts on both telivision and radio stations through Indonesia in 2006 as ordered by the government. Although showing this film may “open the wound” it is unfair to deprive the Indonesian citizens of the truth, or at least of another side to the story. I don’t think anyone involved in the story should be punished or tried for their criminal actions, but I do believe the story should be heard. Therefore, i do not agree with this movie ban and I think it should be reversed.

  • Ellie

    Although the government had logical reasons to ban this film, doing such was a mistake. I agree entirely that this movie should not be accepted a complete fact. The producers of “Balibo” certainly did plenty of research before making this movie, but at the end of the day, their job is to entertain the audience. The facts may be compromised in order to achieve a better film. I believe that this movie was taken too seriously by the government. the banning this movie was undeniably an act of censorship, and showed a side of the government that should be avoided.

  • Anna

    Learning about Indonesia in school, we were told that it is completely free and secular, a role model, proof that Islam and democracy can peacefully coexist. However, after reading this , I wonder if this government really has the best interest of the people in mind, or if they are doing this to “protect” their citizens. This kind of censorship is a fine line to walk. It would be easy to take this further and further until the people view censorship as a normal part of their lives.

  • Bernadette

    The ban on Balibo violates the constitutional rights of Indonesians. The constitution grants, in chapter ten, the right of freedom of expression, and laws formally promise freedom of speech. While this movie is controversial, and may draw attention to past conflicts, the makers of the movie have a right to display their views, and then citizens of Indonesia have a right to listen to these views. Furthermore, censoring this movie may set a dangerous precedent of allowing the government to limit the information that the public has access to. It is especially alarming in light of the current censorship issues that have recently arisen in China and Australia. It is my opinion that freedom of speech and expression must be protected, and that Indonesians should be allowed to, if they choose, watch Balibo.

  • Stephanie

    Every country releases movies that are based on a real life events. Yes, people will always question whether or not it is alright to reintroduce such events to the public. Movies have been released showing such events as the Holocaust, the Vietnam war and events in Rwanda. All of these topics could be considered as much worse. Maybe, showing a movie depicting such a horrific time will aid in history not repeating itself. As AJI says above, it is important for the public to be open to a different point of view on the subject than the one that the government has shared. I think revoking the ban is in everyone’s best interest.

  • Vishwa

    I believe that the Indonesian government needs to lift its ban on the playing of the movie Bilbo. According to a Times article I recently read, many people came out of the movie angry with the government of Indonesdia and Australia for the failure of bringing about justice. Though this may sound bad, this is exactly what needed to happen. Due to the people’s passion on the subject matter, the government would face more pressure in resolving the issue. However, the ban may also have its positive effects, as it created more publicity for the movie, only increasing the awareness of the movie and the subject which the movie portrays. Hopefully, one day justice will be served or the Indonesian government will apologize for its mistakes.

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