Nov 18, 2008
Media-savvy ending for Bali bombers
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
JAKARTA - In many crowded neighborhoods of this sprawling city families sat
glued to their television sets late into the night of November 8, watching
updates on the execution of the three men convicted of the 2002 nightclub
bombings on the resort island of Bali which left 202 dead.
Among those drawn to the weekend media spectacle was Saida, who runs a
furniture business in Jakarta. "Many, many people watched TV that Saturday
night to understand what was going on," said the 35-year-old single mother,
who, like many Indonesians, has no second name. "There were five people in our
house. We went to sleep at two."
This was not the first night she and her neighbors had followed this routine,
which ended early on Sunday morning with the execution by firing squad of the
three men on the Nusakambangan island prison. "We kept watching the TV for a
week, day and night, following the programs about these men." Saida added.
Such intense coverage, led by both the broadcast and print media, has generated
a bout of soul-searching in the days after the execution. Sections of the media
are expressing regret at the manner in which stories about the Bali bombers -
Imam Samudra, 38, and the brothers Amrozi Nurhaqim, 47, and Ali Ghufron, 48 -
transformed them into heroes.
"Almost every day for the past month Amrozi and friends received extensive
media coverage normally reserved for celebrities facing marital problems or sex
scandals," commented The Jakarta Post in a Monday editorial entitled "Good
"They have become instant celebrities in their own right. Only in Indonesia can
a convicted terrorist become a media darling," said the newspaper.
Media excesses included interviews and press conferences given by the death-row
trio in a high security prison, stories about their families, and details about
one of the Muslim militants getting married even as he awaited the bullets. It
was an avenue that gave the condemned men a platform to project themselves as
"Originally we had a naive view that if we gave them the space to speak, they
would have used the occasion to express remorse," Endy Bayuni, the chief editor
of the Jakarta Post said in an interview. "But they used the media access this
into a political circus. They openly justified their brutal acts."
Amrozi was dubbed the "smiling assasin" for the fixed grin which appeared on
his face as he combined displays of religious piety with threats of violence
and a total disregard for the bombers' "infidel" victims during a series of
televised court appearances.
Even at the trio's last press conference on October 1, he defiantly threatened:
"If I am executed, later there will be retribution," reported the news agency
Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The coverage has provoked some analysts to raise the issue of ethics in
Indonesia, which has one of the freest and most independent media in Southeast
Asia. "Many of us think it was unethical for the media, especially TV, to
glorify these men," says Dewi Fortuna Anwar, director for programs and research
at the Habibie Center, a respected Indonesian think-tank. "They were able to
get their militant messages out on prime time."
The impact can already be felt among sections of the public, who have began to
say that the three men are martyrs, she said in an interview. "We are proud of
our free media, but the media have a role to play in building ethics. It is not
the government's role to control the media."
But the television stations that fed the national audience with accounts of the
Bali bombers say they were driven by the news value of an event which had taken
on dramatic qualities as the public were kept in suspense about the exact date
of the execution. The executions were postponed many times, often without a
clear explanation by the authorities.
"After the [US president-elect] Barack Obama story in the US, this was the
biggest. There was no way we could avoid such news; we could not turn away from
it," says Rullah Malik, executive producer of Metro TV, a national broadcaster,
which had three reporting teams on the ground covering the story. "We had
several programs covering the three men."
He said the station's policy was to "tell it straight, to show that these men
are criminals but that they also have families and neighborhoods," he said. "We
also wanted to show that their acts are not justified in Islam. It is not jihad
as Islam describes it."
The Bali bombers are the first to be executed under Indonesia's tough 2003
anti-terrorism law. It follows a five-year court case, where the men admitted
to planning and assisting acts of terror unleashed at nightspots popular with
foreign tourists in 2002.
This operation is reported to have been funded by the Jemaah Islamiya, a
network of militant Muslims in a country where the majority adhere to a
moderate and tolerant form of the faith. That version of Islam was on display
in the wake of the media coverage for the bombers, with leading religious
leaders making pronouncements that the condemned trio were anything but
On the island of Bali, which has a rich Hindu tradition, the executions of the
three men who had caused so much pain and suffering with their violent acts,
were received with an air of calmness. "The Balinese believe in karma. They did
not display any strong reaction," says Hira Jhamtani, a resident of the island
and an environmental researcher. "There was a sense of relief, though."
"In fact there was a group that conducted a multi-faith prayer for the victims
of Bali as well as for the souls of the Bali bombers," she said. "To them it
was a tragic episode that is now over."
But even after their deaths public interest in the three killers did not appear
to be sated. Immediately after their executions, TV stations carried live
images of hundreds of people receiving the killers' bodies with chants of
Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and banners proclaiming them as martyrs, reported
The Straits Times. Republika, a widely-read Muslim newspaper, also carried at
least one editorial stating that the executions were cruel and that those who
carried it out would be punished, reported the newspaper.
A website celebrating them as martyrs also crashed on November 11 due to an
overload of visitors after it posted leaked close-up photos of their bodies in
funeral shrouds, reported AFP.
(Inter Press Service