TV programs worth watching
Sun February 2 — Sat February 8
Near the end of September, 1965, the Indonesian military, with US and British backing, was preparing for a coup against President Sukarno whose influence among the non-aligned countries and relationship with the Indonesian Communist Party — PKI — was just too much for Washington in particular. The PKI attempted to arrest the military brass leading a coup attempt, hoping thereby to persuade a reluctant Sukarno to act against the military before it was too late. It all went wrong, and the arrested Generals ended up dead. Other army leaders like Suharto took advantage of the convenient deaths to accuse the PKI of attempting a coup!. The Army launched a savage attack on the "plotters", massacring 500,000 people in a fortnight. Sukarno was duly ousted and replaced by the pro-US Suharto. CIA involvement in the coup has never been confirmed but in Shadowplay: Indonesia's Year Of Living Dangerously (SBS 8.30pm, Sunday) communiquis from American, British and Australian diplomats reveal their readiness to back the army against the PKI. This included complicity in the propaganda war waged by the Indonesian army (disinformation we would call it today). The US ambassador in 1965 writes, "What happened is still obscure but we can help shape events to our advantage . spread the story of PKI guilt, treachery and brutality." The US Government also provided financial assistance and detailed lists of PKI leaders to the army. In instructions to Radio Australia on media coverage the Australian ambassador directed, "Do not suggest that the army is acting alone against the PKI — I can live with this even if we must be a bit dishonest for a while." And, reminding us that controlling news began long before the Gulf War, reports from journalists on the ground in Indonesia were suppressed or reinterpreted as describing a civil war instead of a one-sided massacre. The program, an SBS Independent production directed by Chris Hilton, interviews Colonel Abdul Latief, the only surviving member of the Communists' anti-coup 30th September Movement within the military. He reaffirms that the rebel soldiers never intended to kill the generals but to bring them before Sukarno — to face charges of plotting a coup. Even now, more than 30 years later, efforts to rehabilitate some of those murdered by the military and buried in mass graves provoke violent resistance. Nevertheless, Indonesian, American and Australian diplomats and journalists are amongst those who provide powerful testimonies on the hidden history of this era which continues to reverberate in Indonesian politics today. The grandeur that was Ancient Egypt was built on — and by — slave labour. Varying forms of forced labour ensured sufficient production of staple goods and food to enable large numbers of the populace to be diverted into designing, constructing and decorating palaces, public buildings and, of course, royal tombs. It sustained an army that brought in great wealth and tribute, as well as more slaves, and allowed the privileged (and the priestly) to develop art and culture, learning and science. In studying this period, however, it is the few who sat at the top of this hierarchy who are remembered, while the masses who created their wealth and power are nameless ciphers. SBS begins repeating this week its sumptuous three-part series, Egypt's Golden Empire (SBS 7.30pm Tuesdays). The series begins around 1580BCE (as we say these days — BC is no longer acceptable in hip historical circles), with the struggle of the King of Thebes to prevent Egypt from going completely down the drain and being split up. He was so successful that over the next 300 years Egypt again became a mighty empire, despite its ruling class being rent by vicious family squabbles and religious upheavals. For armchair Egyptologists this is a must. For the rest of you, the series did win the Special Jury Prize at the San Francisco Film Festival. So take a peek. If you were wondering where all those Al Qaeda soldiers who were infesting Afghanistan according to President Bush went when the US forces overran their "mountain hideouts", The Cutting Edge: In Search Of Al Qaeda (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) claims to have the answer. It seems they simply went over the mountains to Pakistan, into "tribal areas" where conveniently the Pakistani army claims not to be able to go. Martin Smith, a producer for the US Public Broadcasting Service's Frontline program, claims al Qaida is gaining ground, and support. I find PBS very often acts as a discrete mouthpiece for the US Government amongst "thinking Americans". After travelling to the Middle East, Pakistan and Europe, Smith reports: "We discovered that Al Qaeda is more than an army of terrorists. "It's an idea about how to hurt the West. And it's an idea that is taking hold with more and more people in countries as disparate as the United Kingdom and Yemen." Half of Al Qaeda's foot soldiers are allegedly from Yemen. Smith goes to Yemen and "finds that Yemen, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, has been sending young boys to fight the jihad since the early 1980s" . But that was the jihad against the Soviet Union, the jihad the US instigated and funded and armed, a fact Smith seems to have forgotten. He has also forgotten that South Yemen at least was for a time pursuing a socialist course of development, a process that was derailed in bloodshed by the same combination of US and British-backed feudals and fundamentalist clerics that was also used in Afghanistan. Welcher And Welcher (ABC 8.30pm Thursdays) is a new sitcom about husband and wife lawyers. The husband is played by Shaun Micallef. It's an OK entertainment, let down by its writing. The publicity for the program gives us a clue: Micallef's character is "a pompous, accident-prone fool and a terrible lawyer to boot". That does not leave much room for character development, and confronts the viewer with the puzzling question, why would his smart, principled, clever, sympathetic lawyer wife (played by Robyn Butler) ever have married this berk? I actually counted the laughs in the first episode, and you should not be able to do that. I have not seen any of the new series of Silent Witness (ABC 9.30pm Fridays), but on past experience of this series it should be well worth a look.