I’ve deliberately avoided commenting on the Schapelle Corby case for a variety of reasons. Some in the blogosphere, such as Weezil, have thrown themselves into fighting for her freedom. All well and good for a woman seemingly set for a long prison term in Indonesia. Personally, the case against Corby has always seemed highly questionable, to say the least.

Believing her innocence is one thing, slamming Indonesian justice is another. Last night’s ABC Media Watch revealed a presenter on Sydney’s 2GB Radio, Malcolm T. Elliot, making some utterly unacceptable racist jibes against our northern neighbour. Some “highlights”:

“I believe right now Bambam Yodhoyono is sitting up there and his hands are tied because it’s a legal matter. Wham Bam Thank You Mam Yiddi-yono is going to be called into all of these — well, that’s what he is, isn’t he — have you ever seen them? Whoa, give them a banana and away they go …”

“I have total disrespect for our neighbouring nation my friend. Total disrespect. And then we get this joke of a trial, and it’s nothing more than a joke. An absolute joke the way they sit there. And they do look like the three wise monkeys, I’ll say it. They don’t speak English, they read books, they don’t listen to her. They show us absolutely no respect those judges.”

“What about that little midget woman who was up there, what was her name? Midget. Who was the president? Megawati. Megawati midget, yeah. Goodness.”

The emotion charged proceedings, and foreign surroundings of the Indonesian justice system, has brought up the sadly familiar Australian trait of mocking a foreign culture. If an Indonesian radio presenter made similiar statements about the Australian legal fraternity, rest assured Ray Martin, Channel 9 and the pack of media hounds would be demanding an official apology. But it’s silence when directed elsewhere.

Professor Tim Lindsay, a specialist in Indonesia law and society and Director of the University of Melbourne’s Asian Law Centre, argues that the Indonesian legal system has been woefully misrepresented over the past months. Take this exchange from a recent ABC World Today interview:

ELEANOR HALL: “Is it the case that the Indonesian legal system is based on the presumption of guilt?”

TIM LINDSAY: “No, that is completely false. As a matter of fact it is completely the opposite. The system in Indonesia is the same as the system in Australia, and our Commonwealth system. Article 66 of the Criminal Procedure Code specifically states that the burden of proof to prove guilt in a criminal case lies with the prosecution. In other words, that unless the prosecution can prove guilt, the person is innocent. So the common furphy that is being circulated in Australia in the media at the moment that people in the Indonesian system are presumed guilty until proven innocent is totally false.”

Presenting these facts is no justification for the myriad of failures at the heart of the Corby case, not least of which was the absence of fingerprinting the suspect’s bag of marijuana. My point simply lies in not presenting this case as a prime example of a debauched system up north and a perfect, more fair and equitable arrangement in Australia, one clearly more likely, in the eyes of critic, to return a not-guilty verdict.

On the other hand, many in the Australian media have prejudiced the case beyond belief, making assumptions and claims that would be completely unacceptable if the case was running here. Last weekend’s Australian carried a remarkable headline: “Meet the Corbys – a dad with a drug record, a brother in jail, a former bankrupt who wants 50 per cent of the action.” ABC’s Tony Jones asked Attorney General Phillip Ruddock last night if such behaviour was prejudicial:

RUDDOCK: “Oh, look, I think if it was run in an Australian court, it would be seen as very prejudicial and unhelpful and wouldn’t be run in the media. But you still have to look at these matters in the context of how, right from the beginning, these matters have been addressed by the defence using the media.”

TONY JONES: “Yes, but this is a case of the media apparently making up its mind about a family and putting out a headline which suggests the family essentially have criminal connections, at a time, just a week away from the actual verdict. Now, given the Internet, given satellite broadcasting, given the judges may actually read that headline, could it be prejudicial to the trial in Indonesia?”

RUDDOCK: “Well, I think you made the point right at the beginning that people have been barracking for both sides. It seems to me that’s been part of the barracking that’s occurred on both sides, and I’ve made the point that I consider it very unhelpful.”

Today’s Sydney Telegraph reveals the Australian pastor who baptised Corby behind bars and her snap decision to embrace God. Media organisations are struggling to find new angles only days before the verdict. Nothing surprising there, that’s what journalists should be doing.

Unacceptable is the denigration of a country, its legal system and people simply because one woman may well be innocent. Indonesia has a history of avoiding taking responsibility for past crimes (including those behind the 1999 massacres in East Timor) but this should not be carte blanche to express cultural superiority.

Racism is never far away in the Corby debate.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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