Gen. Suharto, he dead. A penny for the Old Guy. And yes, a penny too for the Canadian leaders who aided and abetted the Indonesian dictators massacres and torture. A penny for Clark, Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien. They refused to condemn Suhartos police state, preferring instead to sell him Canadian military equipment and to subsidize billions of dollars worth of Canadian investments in Indonesian mines and forests. And heres another penny for the Canadian media, which for decades ignored Suhartos brutal ways. In its obit last week, the Globe and Mail reported that in 1975, Gen. Suharto came shopping for locomotives, aircraft, cement and fertilizer plants and pulp-and-paper equipment. Ottawa obligingly sent him home with a $200 million line of credit. The Globe now tells us that four months later, when Indonesia invaded the nearby island of East Timor, Canada kept quiet. We abstained when the United Nations passed a resolution calling for Indonesia to withdraw. Canadian aid and trade continued to flow as Indonesia massacred East Timorese. In all, more than 200,000 died during the 24-year occupation. Others endured torture, rape, forced relocation, sterilization and mass starvation. None of that stopped Jean Chretien from inviting Suharto to a business summit in Vancouver in 1997, during which the Mounties pepper-sprayed demonstrators so the dictator wouldnt have to see them.
Canadian complicity in the East Timorese genocide is documented in Elaine Brieres award-winning 1996 film Bitter Paradise: The Sell-out of East Timor. I first heard of Briere a few years earlier, in 1991, when I was producer of Media File, a CBC radio show that cast a critical eye on the performance of mainstream journalism. We decided to ask our listeners which stories they felt the media were ignoring and Briere wrote in about East Timor. She pointed out the Canadian media rarely reported on Indonesias brutal occupation, even though her group, the East Timor Alert Network, had been trying to call attention to it. To my horror, she was especially critical of the CBC program As It Happens, (AIH). Aw, hell, I said. We just cant go there. I had already weathered an internal CBC shit storm over our reporting on CBC Morningsides pro-Israeli bias and now we were being urged to piss inside the tent once again. On the other hand, we had little to lose. CBC management had already announced that Media File would go off the air within months. Kim Kierans, now the director of the Kings J-School, pressed ahead with the story. Briere includes part of it in her film---a clip of Media File host Jim Nunn quizzing AIH senior producer George Jamieson about the programs failure to cover East Timor. Jamieson kept saying that AIH producers felt the story wouldnt hold listeners attention. Well, you cover frog jumping and spitting contests, Nunn said, why not the dramatic story of invasion, occupation, mass murder and torture? Again Jamieson replied that listeners wouldnt relate to the Timor story.
Id say the real reason for the lack of coverage is that when it comes to international politics, the Canadian media rarely stray from the official government line. When Canadian politicians talked glowingly about trade with Indonesia, but said nothing about Suhartos massacre of up to a million suspected Indonesian communists and separatists, the media preferred to look the other way. Oh yes, the odd report occasionally appeared, but no sustained coverage. And since the likes of Trudeau, Clark, Mulroney and Chretien were making nice with Suharto, the Canadian media saw no need to raise awkward questions about Indonesias other massacres in East Timor. As Noam Chomsky explains in Brieres documentary, the mainstream media shy away from reporting how power really works because theyre part of the power structure themselves.
As for AIH, the program devoted about 10 minutes to Suhartos death last week, but made no mention of Canadian complicity in his crimes.