My taxi was stuck in an immobile line of rush hour traffic for half an hour, just a kilometre from my destination. Even though it was raining, I had enough, got out and threaded my way on foot to the Dutch Embassy's Cultural Centre, Erasmus Huis.
I didn't bother to snarl at the police who were solely responsible for my delay – ada polis, ada macet – because I had more important things on my mind: I was going to meet Desi Anwar.
There can be few in Indonesia who haven't seen her on TV. Back in 1990, she was a news presenter and reporter on Seputar Indonesia, broadcast by RCTI, the country's first 'independent' private TV station. As an alternative to the Suharto government's TVRI, the programme was a breath of fresh air as it gave voice to the rakyat, regular folk, as long as they didn't criticise the Cendana clan or talk about sex and religion.
She is now the senior anchor on Metro TV, the first 'news' channel, owned by Suryo Paloh, the media mogul who recently lost out to Indonesia's most despised politico-businessman Abdurizal Bakrie in the race to become the boss of Golkar, Suharto's former power base. I've been a fan of Metro since the aftermath of the Aceh Tsunami five years ago. (Type 'Metro TV' in the search box to the right.)
But what really brought me out from Jakartass Towers was that the subject of her lecture, sponsored by the Indonesian Heritage Society, was "The Rise of Indonesian Netizens'. As Jakartass, one of the pioneers of this 'new media', I instinctively 'knew' that Desi and I were kindred spirits. But are we?
In her overview of Indonesia's media of the past 20 years, she gave us loads of statistics. To summarise, radio and the print media are in decline, whilst TV remains the medium of choice for most Indonesians, with 11 national and some 70 local TV stations. The mainstream media, with its cross-ownership and vested interests, are after a limited pool of advertising, so are "highly competitive, low brow, sensationalist and have poor journalistic standards."
The internet is on an upward curve in terms of the number of subscribers, yet percentage-wise, "approaching 15% of the population", this is only just above the upward curve of population growth. And nigh on 50% of we 'netizens' are in the greater Jakarta area, with other concentrations in major cities such as Surabaya, Yogya and in Bali.
(Although she did say that internet cafes – warnets – are extremely popular, she did not explain that this is because of the appalling state of Indonesia's telecommunications infrastructure and extremely high cost to subscribers. The country still ranks bottom in terms of internet provision. In other words, apart from 'social networking', we bloggers are an élite group.)
Although Desi pointed out that it was TV that got SBY elected in Indonesia's first and second direct Presidential elections through debates and adverts placed by political parties, the latter a major source of income for TV stations, she then went on to praise "virtual networks" for their power to create 'instant' news.
Twitter is now "the place for breaking news", even though the Minister of Communication and Information, Simpering Twitterfool, "is spamming us with constant tweets" and has notions of issuing a regulation to control content so that we are sopan (polite). (Interestingly, netizens have support from the mainstream media and opposition is growing from political parties and the Constitutional Court.)
I found myself thinking that Desi was overlooking the banality of much of what is put online. Granted that she acknowledged the fact that Indonesian citizens have only had a short while to come to grips with their new found freedom to express opinions, all due, as she so rightly said, to President Habibie, Suharto's successor, who unexpectedly proved to have a mind of his own and a rare approachability.
By and large, as I regularly comment, there is a lack of depth, of analysis of issues, and of social awareness and empathy in the content provided by Indonesia's netizens. There have been emotional reactions, such as the Facebook campaign in support of Prita Mulyasari, but where is the Blogging For Society advocated at Pesta Blogger in 2008? I can think of few societal issues, rather than support of individuals, taken up by netizens.
The first was probably Indonesian Help set up by Enda Nasution in the wake of the Aceh Tsunami, to which I contributed at the request of overseas readers of Jakartass.
In October 2008, the Department of Education released the names, addresses and other details of every school student in Indonesia – online. Twitterers spread the news first, with 148 characters, but few of us offered reasoned arguments, rather than emotional outbursts. The mainstream media was strangely silent.
My most recent post, about the Balikpapan Bay bridge project, was written at the request of Czech academics, again because, as serious as the issue is, it had only attracted local interest.
Other major issues, such as the Lapindo mudflow refugees and naming and shaming the mastermind(s) behind the assassination of Munir, the human rights activist, and the student killings in 1998 … and the list goes on … remain on the backburner.
As I said to Desi afterwards, and as she knows well having studied at
London Sussex University, in British English twits are insubstantial idiots. Tweeting and Facebooking are tools to promote self identity and have yet to prove of value in enhancing democratic values which we can all share.
Desi, if you read this, please note that 20 years ago there were few telephone landlines in Indonesia, let alone cell phones. These didn't arrive until about 10 years ago.
Also, I thought that it was the Garuda emblem which was copied by Armani, rather than the Pancasila per se . That there were similarities is 'unfortunate', but there is little new in this world.
Whatever, overall, I thought your lecture was really interesting.
Do keep in touch.