The Guardian January 29, 2003


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.

Back to index page