Thursday, November 6, 2014

Don’t Trust Wikipedia on Indonesia

Time to demilitarize the Wiki Bahasa version

With the great hope for Indonesian democracy, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, taking office last month, pro-democracy groups in the country are buzzing. They are asking that he tend to unresolved injustices like grievances in remote Papua, reconciliation for the bloody 1965 “anti-communist” purges and the abductions of political activists in 1997-1998.

I have a simpler request, and it goes for Indonesian NGOs and pressure groups also. Bring balance to the Indonesian version of Wikipedia. While it may not always be the most accurate or objective source of information, Wikipedia is certainly a popular source of information. Indeed, the Bahasa version of Wikipedia is approaching one million articles. So the Indonesian public is not well served if articles about certain retired generals and political groups are presented in a one-sided manner in Indonesian.

For example, when it talks about former general AM Hendropriyono, who was a transition team advisor to Jokowi, Wikipedia Bahasa verges on propaganda. So, too, when it talks about East Timor and the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Wikipedia’s Indonesian version tells Bahasa Indonesia speakers that, during his early days as a special forces commander, Hendropriyono “not only paid attention to the welfare of his soldiers, but also to their discipline.“ In 1991, Hendropriyono “wisely and methodically moved coffee farmers from a protected forest” in two sub-districts of Lampung province. It also vaguely notes an incident in Lampung in 1989, when Hendropriyono “succeeded in eliminating potential radicalism that was growing in the Talangsari area” (“berhasil mengeliminasi potensi radikalisme yang tumbuh di kawasan Talangsari”). The entry doesn’t mention accusations that at least 27 farmers were killed by Hendropriyono’s soldiers during this incident.

Nor does the article mention Hendropriyono’s suspected involvement in the murder of activist Munir, who died on board a Garuda Indonesia airliner in 2004 after being poisoned. Or his suspected funding of pro-Indonesian militias who murdered over 1000 civilians in East Timor in 1999.  The only hint of his controversial past is a revision on Aug. 20, 2014 that says vaguely: “Hendropriyono is said to have been connected to a number of human rights violations.”

Sutiyoso, a former governor of Jakarta, gets similarly flattering treatment. The article mentions that Sutiyoso became governor for two periods (1997-2002, 2002-2007). It praises his efforts to reduce traffic congestion but avoids mention of Sutiyoso’s questionable progress in addressing overcrowding, poor drainage, crime and many other problems.

In fact, after 10 years with Sutiyoso as Jakarta governor, the city was ranked one of the least liveable in the world. The Mercer rankings for 2008 had Jakarta at 146 for liveability, slightly behind Bangalore and Mumbai, which ranked 140 and 142, respectively, and far behind Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, ranked 75 and 109 respectively. When Munir and other leading social activists criticised Sutiyoso’s handling of floods in Jakarta in 2002, they were physically assaulted by hired thugs.

A section about Sutiyoso’s “coffee mornings” with community leaders might suggest he was a popular democrat. The article doesn’t mention that he was hand-picked by Suharto for his first term as governor and appointed indirectly by members of parliament for his second term. Sutiyoso, also a former general, was the last Jakarta governor to reach office without a direct election.  

It also doesn’t mention that he was governor when hired thugs attacked an opposition political party’s headquarters in 1997, or that Sutiyoso is suspected of being involved in various corruption cases. One suspicious case was the alleged bribery of senior Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) official Roy Janis and Taufik Kiemas, the husband of PDI-P chair and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, in 2000. (PDI-P is also Jokowi’s party, although he only became active in 2005 when he became mayor of the East Java city of Solo.)

Later, Sutiyoso’s own deputy recommended he be investigated for corruption over land titles.  While presenting Sutiyoso as popular, the article omitted to mention that Sutiyoso has, since 2010, been the chairperson of a political party, PKPI, which received less than 1% of the vote in the 2014 national legislative elections.

Sutiyoso did well to serve as governor of Jakarta for a decade without being prosecuted for corruption, but the article might have been more balanced if it had mentioned some of the many queries that have been voiced against him.

In contrast, in covering more prominent Indonesian military figures, like Suharto, Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto, Wiki-Bahasa is balanced. The English version of Wikipedia is far less detailed in its information about Hendropriyono and Sutiyoso, but also less glowing in its praise.

In the cases of Sutiyoso and Hendropriyono, the history tab of each Wikipedia page reveals there was much minor editing this year, and many different editors seem to have been involved. However there has been very little debate over substantive issues, such as whether specific events or accusations are included, or whether particular terminology is too strong.

Besides being used as an apparent vehicle for certain retired Indonesian generals, the Bahasa version of Wikipedia also contains more general propaganda. It still tells Indonesians that their country invaded East Timor on Dec. 7, 1975, following a request from a Timorese political faction in November of that year. In fact, numerous Indonesian military personnel, including Sutiyoso himself, have admitted they were fighting in East Timor at least a month before the November 28 plea for help arrived. Wiki-Bahasa further explains that, “The population wanted to integrate with Indonesia because they had the same culture as their brothers in West Timor.”

No wonder many Indonesians were confused in 1999 when 79.6 percent of voters in East Timor rejected integration with Indonesia! A related Wikipedia article on Timor Leste, the young country’s formal name, refers to fighting in 1976-1980 and 1999 as an internal conflict among Timorese.

The English version of Wikipedia is more balanced (or arguably too critical, from an Indonesian military point of view) about what it terms the Indonesian “occupation” rather than “integration” of East Timor.

The Bahasa version of Wikipedia similarly offers a distorted view of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Indonesians are told OPM “rejects economic development and modernity.” The same opening paragraph explains that OPM received funds from terrorist groups in Libya and China. The second paragraph notes that the organisation is traitorous. Indonesians would come away from this article with a very limited understanding of OPM or the enduring troubles in the restive province. In contrast, the English Wikipedia description of OPM, and even a separate Bahasa Wikipedia article on conflict in Papua in general, are far more balanced.

This article does not judge whether Hendropriyono or other former generals are worthy of wielding influence under Jokowi. Nor does it judge whether separatist movements are right or wrong. But as democracy develops in Indonesia, Indonesians are seeking balanced information on political affairs. Perhaps the Bahasa version of Wikipedia, as it grows, will see increasing debate between the lingering Suharto-era “black and white” versions of history and the newer, more realistic “shades of grey” view of history.

Warren Doull (a pseudonym) has lived and worked extensively in Indonesia and Timor Leste, including for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2002.


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