by Andreas Harsono
newspapers demonstrated unusual courage
Wednesday by defying government pressures and self-censorship to publish
news of student protests and calls that President Suharto to step down
Several relatively-independent newspapers, such as the English-language Jakarta Post and the Kompas daily, printed headlines about Suharto's Tuesday statement, during which he said that he is to step down after implementing a reform package.
But the newspapers also published interviews with leading opposition figures like former cabinet member Emil Salim, who said that Suharto should step down first and leave the reforms to other people.
"Harmoko: House Leaders Want Suharto to Step Down," cried the headline of the Surabaya-based Surya newspaper, citing a statement by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Harmoko, who had Tuesday asked Suharto to step down. Like many Indonesians, Harmoko uses only one name.
The Kompas daily headline quoted Suharto as saying, "Saya Ini Kapok Jadi President" which translates as, "I Have Learned a Lesson of Becoming a President." But the Javanese word of "kapok" added the nuance that Suharto had felt guilty when in office.
journalists also started to fight against self-censorship of
their stations by their editors and owners. "I told my boss that the
regime is soon to be over. I dare enough to fight Suharto. Why shouldn't I
fight you?" said a radio journalist whose propietor is media tycoon Peter
Gontha, a close associate to one of Suharto's sons.
An insider in the RCTI channel, the biggest private television here, who is also under Gontha's supervision, said that the channel's star presenters had threathened to resign if the television station decides to drop their daring coverage.
But the SCTV, also owned by Gontha, still refused to broadcast images that show banners and protestors yelling at or criticizing Suharto. Two of the station's news producers, Sumita Tobing and Don Bosco, lost their jobs after running an interview with a former cabinet member.
Private radio stations earlier rejected a government proposal to establish a joint "Radio Pool" as the government had done on the private television channels. Private radios like Sonora FM, Elshinta FM and Trijaya FM broadcasted the student protest live on air.
Information Minister Alwi Dahlan, however, refused to comment on allegations that his office had put pressure on the private channels, saying that he had never asked the stations to set up the pool.
The state-owned TVRI, however, still repeatedly played a pre-recorded video of military preparation for a crackdown on the students if the protesters insisted on their planned march. A text moving on the bottom of the screen asked the public to stay away from the protest.
"The armed forces is prepared to defend the constitution, the country and the people," said another crawl line, suggesting to the public that the students are threathening to divide the unity of Indonesia.
coverage was even more remarkable, considering that just days before,
Indonesian radios and television broadcasters played a
crucial role in informing the public about the riots hitting
Jakarta until they suddenly laid down their coverage under an apparent
The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesia's five private television networks, which last week offered live broadcasts of the riots and also a heated parliamentary hearing with students, unexpectedly established a "TV Pool" and covered the riots with the old-styled monologue.
The so-called TV Pool monopolized news production and carefully followed the official government line.
Radio Sonora, the darling of the Jakartans during last week's riots because of its extensive riot coverage, also stopped their call-in telephone reporting. Like other radio stations, on Tuesday it aired only RRI news reports.
The English-language newspaper cynically said, "Indonesia looked a lot safer" on the television screen after the state-controlled TVRI had been decided to lead the news coverage.
But it was not immediately clear whether the censorship was set up by the government or the proprietors of the electronic media, who are often politically well-connected.
Unlike the print media barons, Indonesian electronic media are mostly owned and controlled by businessmen connected to the Suhartos. Three of Indonesia's five private channels are controlled by the eldest daughter, the middle son and the daughter-in-law of President Suharto.
The network -- RCTI, SCTV, TPI, Indosiar and AN-teve -- won accolades from the public for their bold and up-to-date coverage of the student protests and riots in Jakarta and the aftermath of the shooting of students in a private university here.
The stations ran constant updates on the hour at almost every hour. With more time allocated, they were often ahead of CNN, which had set up a much bigger team in Jakarta led by its Hongkong correspondent Mike Chinoy.
Indosiar even broadcast dramatic images of the student killings, which obviously prompted public anger against the police. Police officers are now rarely seen on the Jakarta streets for fear of public revenge.
At one point
the television even broadcast live an incident in
which human rights lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution made fun of and asked
House speaker Harmoko to wear a blackarm band which symbolized the
pro-reform movement in Indonesia.
Harmoko, a former cabinet minister and the chairman of Suharto's Golkar ruling party, initially refused to wear the band. But Nasution suddenly approached him and put the band on his arm. Harmoko was seen shocked and speechless in front of thousands of unfriendly students who flocked into the parliament building.
Harmoko previously tried to use his hectoring style of speech while lecturing the protesters, much as though he was giving a lecture in front of the ruling Golkar party cadres. But Nasution, a veteran lawyer who used to head the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, immediately intervened and confronted Harmoko with difficult questions.
Poet W.S. Rendra was also shown on television rhetorically reading one of his most famous poems, which declared that the government and the students are on opposing sides and they are at the point of no return.
Most editors declined to comment on their new approach to news-gathering. Some said diplomatically that the limited coverage is merely a cost-cutting method. Dedy Pristiwanto, the news editor of Indosiar, a channel which is owned by Chinese tycoon Liem Sioe Liong, said it is only a temporary arrangement until the political situation settles.
"Each private network has contributed three staff members to work in the pool. News products is controlled by the TVRI," said Pristiwanto.
Rioters torched Liem's home as the billionaire, a close friend of Suharto's for half a century, fled to Singapore.
Chris Kelana of RCTI also refused to offer details, saying that his television will still cover the student protests, looting and rioting, but also gave air time to the "pool" coverage.
But Goenawan Mohamad, the former chief editor of the banned TEMPO magazine, said that "pockets of resistance" among journalists in radio and television media are still very strong, and that it is only matter of time before their bold coverage will emerge again.
Suharto himself warned the press prior to his departure to Cairo earlier this month, saying that the media had helped instigated the public unrest.
Print media, however, demonstrated better resistance to the pressure. The widely-respected Jakarta Post is also the most daring newspaper. Students also set up their own Xerox-copy dailies, whose coverage ranging from street rallies to interviews with leading intellectuals on reform.
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia's only independent journalist union, strongly protested the recent series of violent and indiscriminate attacks by security forces against journalists.
It said more than 10 journalists suffered serious injuries and were even hospitalized after being beaten or shot by the military. In some cases, the military even called journalists "traitors" and encouraged the beatings.
Sayuti, a photographer for the Jakarta-based newspaper Media Indonesia, was shot in the chest when photographing security forces shooting into a crowd in the Tanah Abang area in Jakarta. He was hospitalized but cannot remember the shooter.
Tutang Muchtar, a photographer for the Jakarta news weekly Sinar, was beaten by eight soldiers when covering a student demonstration at a campus in Jakarta. Although he showed his press card, he was beaten until he bled and his camera was seized.
Albion Monitor May 20, 1998 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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