What media should and shouldn’t do

YET another cartoon controversy is generating strong passions in Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia has described as ‘tasteless’ a cartoon lampooning President Susilo Yudhoyono that appeared in Australian Press.

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Published: Sat 8 Apr 2006, 11:01 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:56 PM

The cartoon that depicted the Indonesian leader as a dog is said to have come in response to a similar cartoon in Indonesian Press that portrayed Australian Prime Minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer as dingoes.

This is indeed tasteless, as an Indonesian official put it. This is a good example how freedom of speech can be abused by some unscrupulous elements.

While we strongly believe in the freedom of speech and media freedom, one needs to point out that this cherished freedom needs to be used with a certain degree of responsibility. While the media in Indonesia and Australia have a right and need to report and comment on the diplomatic row between the neighbours, it needs to exercise this right with dignity. As the leaders of their countries, both Prime Minister Howard and President Yudhoyono deserve to be treated with a little respect by the media.

This doesn’t mean that the policies and actions of politicians or elected leaders cannot be criticised or questioned. Both Australia and Indonesia are mature democracies. And the media in mature democracies is completely free to question, criticise and comment on government policies and actions.

It is good that both the Australian and Indonesian leaders have opted to ignore the gratuitous caricatures. The diplomatic consequences of the episode could have been far from pleasant. The two neighbouring nations that under Howard and Yudhoyono have managed to boost their relations are trying to minimise the fallout from the recent diplomatic spat over ‘protection visa’ to Papuan asylum seekers.

Indeed, there exists a strong case for better relations between Indonesia and Australia. Being home to the world’s largest Muslim community, Indonesia can help Australia build a much-needed bridge with the Muslim world and reach out to the much of Southeast Asia. Besides, there is a huge community of the Arabs and Muslims in the Down Under country —many of them have been there for several decades.

The much-talked about chasm between the Muslim world and the West —to which Australia belongs despite its geographic location —can only be bridged by way of dialogue and understanding, not through confrontation and media blitz. The media could and should play a positive role in promoting this tolerance and vital understanding between people, between communities and between nations. This is what the Australian and Indonesian media have to do now.

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