Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Press Day: Who'll pay decent journalism?

I believe press celebrities and media barons are listening President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's speech in Bandung, West Java while I'm writing this piece of 'speech'. I have nothing to congratulate except a question: Who'll pay decent journalism in Indonesia?
Let me take this Press Day opportunity to share little bit of my experience working for Indonesian media.
Well, I survived different press regimes in my only 14 years carreer in journalism. Under Soeharto, I got several legal notices from crony capitalists. "If you play hard, we could be harder. Be nice," one of those cronies once threatened.
I got no such notices during Abdurrahman Wahid. In 2002, I got one legal notice from a respected lawyer of one of the biggest debtors of Indonesia Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA). The next year, I also got one legal notice from a tycoon who has a lot of investment in China and one of biggest debtors at IBRA as well.
My one-year sabatical leave in UC Berkeley was peaceful, no such notices. But few months ago, one of readers of this humble blog sent a complaint letter to my company (which is nothing to do with this blog) and the Press Council. So far, none of those legal notices ended up in court, surprisingly, even though most of them threatened to do so.
Still, I'm not sure of whether I had done something good for the readers or not. I believe, however, press freedom has given Indonesian journalists the chance to deliver good journalism. Competition is stiff and it is good. Indonesian journalism, as elsewhere, has to deal with reality, both as a business and an essential element in the democratic mozaic.
The much-ballyhooed citizens' or community journalism movement also flourished in Indonesia despite its limited potential in delivering good and serious journalism. From my experience, serious journalism such as investigative reporting is labor-intensive and time-consuming and therefore requires large amounts of money and health benefits and pensions.
With 180 newspapers published (jumped from 80 during Soeharto years) with hundreds of thousands copies the most, 60% of them even less than 10 thousands copies with well below average salary (mostly less than US$200 per month, still above the average per capita income though), only few are really economically viable. Even big names such as Tempo, Republika, or Jawa Pos are struggling financially.
Look at the contents. Almost 80% of their contents are all the same stories based on press releases, press statements, sports result, public hearings, court hearings, verdicts, etc. Why they publish different newspapers if the stories are all the same? If money is the problem for good journalism, why don't they merge?
Some publishers are die-hard to defend their ownerships even though they can't pay journalists well or silently approved the stories-for-money practices or simply use their media network for political or business deals.


In recent months, more and more government institutions, including state-owned enterprises which deployed third party to counter public criticism through their paid-up articles under the title of advertorial (guess an abbreviation of advertising and editorial).
State-owned enterprises minister applied that for criticism on poor efficiency of SOEs, PLN on mark-up of power plant projects, and education minister of tuition subsidy. More and more ministers also published ads on their performances as well.
Sometimes, even in the respected publication such as Tempo, we could find a report from journalists (investigative ones) published side-by-side with such advetorials (off course in contrast to the journalist report) on the same issue. So be aware of the reminders at the end of such articles to differentiate which one is a journalism product.
Op-eds have become a huge business involving deals between analysts, experts or observers with businessmen, lawyers, or politicians or government officers in collaboration with media barons or editors. That's why we have to be careful in reading statements appeared in the media.

Tycoons into media
So far, like in other countries, media industry in Indonesia is owned by different types of investors. Kompas daily, for example, is controlled by Jakob Oetama, a highly respected journalist, through Kompas Gramedia Group. Tempo, listed at Jakarta Stock Exchange, is controlled by respected journalists like Goenawan Mohammad, Fikri Jufri, and Bambang Harymurti.
Jawa Pos Network is controlled by Dahlan Iskan, a former Tempo journalist. Media Group (Media Indonesia and MetroTV, among others) is owned by Surya Paloh, the chairman of patron board of Golkar Party. Golkar also owns Suara Karya. Former assembly speaker and minister during Soeharto years, Harmoko, controls Pos Kota Group.
Alwi Hamu, VP Jusuf Kalla's special staff, co-owns Fajar Media Group, the largest media network in eastern part of Indonesia, with Jawa Pos and Kalla family as partners.
My newspaper, Bisnis Indonesia, is owned by several businessmen (Sukamdani Sahid who owns Sahid Hotel chain, Ciputra the property tycoon, the late Eric Samola who also co-found Jawa Pos Group and Tempo, Subronto Laras who is executive at car manufacturer Suzuki, and the staffs who holds the majority shares).
Bakrie Family once owned some newspapers but have been closed down. The family, meanwhile, still controls ANTV. In the last few years, Sjamsul Nursalim acquired several newspapers including Sinar Harapan & Indonesia Shang Bao, while Lippo Group acquired Investor Indonesia (Daily and Magazine) and Suara Pembaruan.
Bimantara under Harry Tanoesoedibjo (an investment banker) also publish Seputar Indonesia and acquired Trust magazine on top of three TV stations (RCTI, TPI, and Global TV). Mahaka Group controls Republika.
We have also retail tycoon Abdul Latief with LaTV and Para Group (property and banking business) at TransTV.


We knew already that Mr Rupert Murdoch acquired 20% shares of ANTV, a network owned by Bakrie Family. Murdoch might also acquire 20% shares in TV7, a network owned by Kompas Gramedia Group. Malaysia's TV3 might soon become the new owner of the ailing LaTV.
We heard also the possible cooperation between Kompas and Murdoch in transforming economic tabloid Kontan into an economic daily that hit the newsstands next month. Lippo Group is reportedly had invited South China Morning Post as partner in Investor Daily and Suara Pembaruan. Mahaka Group, the majority owner of Republika, had also signed alliances with The New York Times and The Strait Times (Singapore).
Beyond The Media
Other critical issue is the influx of media barons into non-media business and use their media network to maneuver. Surya Paloh, the owner of Media Group (Media Indonesia and MetroTV), for example, is venturing in Cepu oil business with Bojonegoro Admnistration. Dahlan Iskan from Jawa Pos Group is also involved in Cepu dispute with his venture with East Java Administration.
Kompas Gramedia Group has been invited by Jakarta Governor to invest in toll road projects.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you like to comment on does it fulfil a role?

I'm not sure about the scope and purpose of the speech by SBy that you mention but I note at around 10pm there's nothing in detik about it.

By the way why do you think you get very few comments on your blogs??

great work you are doing here for us not yet fluent in Indonesian.

February 08, 2006 9:52 PM  
Blogger yosef ardi said...

Actually I planned to publish the article tommorow morning, SBY is scheduled to give the speech in the day is Feb 9...But I am afraid I'll have no time to write, so I decided to publish it earlier...Sorry for the trick...
Most of readers sent comment to my email instead...including those who comment in Indonesian language...
Anyway, thanks for your visit...
On, surprisingly, some journalists simply copy-paste or follow up their stories...But had blocked such copy-paste journalism...

February 09, 2006 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to find good journalism on Indonesia these days, esp with many of the media controlled by moguls. You on the other hand, have the courage and strength to deliver us clear-cut, factual news. I've never put a single comment on your blog, but I've been reading every article you wrote almost daily since mid-last year! A job well done indeed.

February 09, 2006 1:52 AM  
Blogger enda said...

regarding the legal notice to your company because of the content of the blog, i think it is important to have a disclaimer somewhere in your blog to disassociate your postings here from your position as paid journalist.

anyway, i love reading your blog and i think your are doing good, not only to indonesian but to other fellow journalist as well :)

February 09, 2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger yosef ardi said...

Enda, thanks for your advise. I'll put a disclaimer soon.
Thanks for always encourage me, and other fellow bloggers.

February 09, 2006 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yosef please dont stop what you've been doing. Your is the first blog I review every morning, even before i open any of the news sites. As previously mentioned in the comments, I can always depend on your blog to deliver clear-cut and factual news. Keep up the GREAT work! -AS-

February 09, 2006 4:26 PM  

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