A FRESH row has broken out over the brutal murder of a Scottish journalist and four colleagues at the hands of Indonesian troops almost 30 years ago, after an Australian company revealed they want to make a film of the tragedy.
Arena Films is planning to shoot a drama based on the killings of the five Australia-based newsmen, including Renfrewshire-born Malcolm Rennie, at Balibo, East Timor, on the eve of Indonesia’s invasion of the territory in 1975.
The murders sparked outrage at the time, and led to long-running claims that the British and Australian governments sat back and allowed Indonesia to invade the tiny state just months after the end of Portuguese colonial rule. Campaigners have struggled to get the facts about the killings into the public arena, and are still pressing vainly for public inquiries in the UK and Australia.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that relatives of Rennie and Brian Peters, a Bristol-born reporter who also died in Balibo, held a secret meeting with Foreign Office minister Mike O’Brien last week, but left complaining that their fight for a full inquiry had "run into the sand".
And families of the murdered men last night revealed that they are "horrified" at the plans for a film, because it would be based on a controversial book on the tragedy which criticises activists who tried to expose what had happened.
Scotland on Sunday understands that Australian journalist Jill Jolliffe has sold the option on her book Cover-Up to Arena. The company has lined up feted Australian director Robert Connolly and producer John Maynard to bring the dramatic story to the cinema.
Jolliffe was the first journalist to reach the East Timorese capital Dili to report on the deaths of the five journalists, on October 16, 1975. She also had lunch with three of them on the day they left to cover insurgency around East Timor’s border with Indonesian territory in 1975.
Her book was a damning indictment of Indonesia’s claims that it was not responsible for the atrocity and of Australia’s acquiescence in the subsequent invasion. But it also sparked complaints she had been unfair to some of those who had worked behind the scenes for justice over the murders.
"I am horrified by the thought of this [film] because Jolliffe criticised many of her colleagues in it," one source close to the bereaved families told Scotland on Sunday.