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TEDJABAYU: I think radio will play an important role in building the Indonesia more democratic because it will reach listeners from the grass roots level.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the conclusion of our special report, “Crisis in Indonesia.”
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: The rights to publish, to express freely yourself, it’s something you have to fight for, you see. You don’t get this as a present from the government. You have to take risk.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest country. Perhaps more importantly today, it is also the world’s largest Muslim country and it continues to be plagued by separatist violence and political turmoil. Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich was in Jakarta during the days President Wahid was ousted from power. Last week on Common Ground Reese chronicled the delicate transfer of power and outlined the problems facing the country’s new leader, Megawati Sukarno Putri. This week, as our special series “Crisis in Indonesia” continues, Reese turns his attention to censorship and the independent media.
PORTER: For 33 years Indonesia was ruled by right-wing dictator General Suharto, where the state broadcasting network provided the only radio news. Two years ago a group of former dissident journalists formed “Radio 68H,” an independent news agency which airs daily broadcasts throughout the world’s fourth-largest nation. As Reese reports from Jakarta, Radio 68H is providing a real alternative to both the state owned and corporate media.
[sound of a busy office]
ENI MULIA: My name is Eni Mulia. I am working for 68H Radio news agency as an editor. You see, this is our reporters working. Some of them have already come back from the field and now they are making their news for our daily news bulletin.
[sound of someone typing on a computer keyboard]
REESE EHRLICH: [Speaking directly to Eni Mulia] This board here, this is your story, upcoming stories?
MULIA: Uh, we always having our meeting every day, after our news bulletin in the evening. We always planning what are we going to do this day? So this is the agenda, what we are going to make today. Like we do the cover story, the features, and also the mobilizations of the reporters on the street. Yeah, we are almost reached the deadline times so it’s rather….
[sound of someone typing on a computer keyboard]
MULIA: This is our broadcast studio. This studio has connected to the satellite transmission. And from this room, this studio, we broadcast to all over Indonesia, in about 200 cities.
EHRLICH: A young woman sits in the broadcast booth surrounded by the latest digital radio equipment. She places the headphones over her Muslim head scarf and introduces a news segment.
[The reporter speaks in an unknown language]
EHRLICH: Radio 68H is a radio news agency that takes its name from the station’s street address. It produces 2 and one-half hours a day of news and talk show programming, reaching an estimated 20 million listeners. The agency offers an alternative to both the state broadcast network and the corporate owned media because it tries to present balanced and accurate news. Editor Mulia says Indonesian media are concentrated in a few hands.
MULIA: Most of them are owned by same, same group of company or same people. That’s why we need an independent media. Like the biggest TV station in Indonesia is still owned by Suharto’s crony. And that’s why, yes, we still have to fight to do the more independent news.
EHRLICH: Tedjabayu, who helped found Radio 68H, says radio plays a particularly important role in reaching ordinary Indonesians.
TEDJABAYU: Workers in factories, mostly in Java and Sumatra; the poorest workers have their own small radio-cheap, FM, small radio. That is one strategic strength that we know, we are aware it. So, I think radio will play an important role in building the Indonesia more democratic because it will reach listeners from the grass-roots level.
EHRLICH: Indonesia’s ruling elite also understands the importance of radio. That’s why the Suharto dictatorship, which lasted from 1965 to 1998, centralized the news in the hands of the government controlled Radio National Indonesia, or RRI.
FREDDY NDOLU: This is the voice of Indonesia in Jakarta.
EHRLICH: That’s Freddy Ndolu, who anchored news broadcasts on RRI during the Suharto years. He says that before 1998 his network was the sole source of national news for Indonesia’s 800 radio stations.
NDOLU: All the private radio in Indonesia must relay the same news in our, from our newsroom. No criticizing. Not any comments, yeah? If you comments, you comments on the good things. They are to promoting all things. Not criticize Suharto or his children or his people around him.
EHRLICH: Ndolu says that RRI, in turn, parroted the official government releases.
NDOLU: All the information we only get from the Information Department or the military. We broadcast all whatever they, they give us. But and sometimes we also broadcast about the speech of the President, from the beginning up to the end, even if two hours debate, or if it’s a one-hour speech, or 15-minute speech, we must broadcast all. [laughs]
EHRLICH: But after Suharto’s downfall RRI lost its news monopoly and faced government budget cuts. These days it’s trying to reinvent itself as a BBC-style public radio network.
[sound of a busy office in the background with a radio broadcast in the foreground]
EHRLICH: But it won’t be easy. For years the public resented RRI’s role as official propagandist and these days the network faces a shortage of resources. For example, some journalists still pound out their stories on manual typewriters.
[sound of a manual typewriter]
EHRLICH: Ndolu admires the new studios and advanced equipment available to Radio 68H. He also says he’s learned a lot from the fledgling competition.
NDOLU: I like that radio. I many times listen to that radio, too. When I compare it to my broadcast is I’m right or not. And I think they did good things, yeah. And we have to learn with, from each other.
[sound of a busy meeting in the background]
EHRLICH: And Radio 68H seems to be learning very quickly. This day the station is holding a press conference at a trendy Jakarta café.
[sound of a busy meeting in the background]
EHRLICH: Mainstream reporters receive large umbrellas and polo shirts emblazoned with the Radio 68H logo. Station founder Santoso tells the assembled media about the station’s successes.
SANTOSO: [Speaking to the assembled reporters over a public address system or microphone-via an interpreter] It will be a unique system. We will use satellite and the Internet. We will listen to 68H 15 times a day and it will be different in various cities. From Aceh there will be one station; another area there will be another station. It will be different in various cities. There are 220 stations nationally. There’s five or six stations in Jakarta itself that will broadcast. We have a listenership of 1 million, 1.8 million in Jakarta alone.
EHRLICH: Santoso says given the history of censorship and repression of the media, journalists play an important role in promoting democracy in Indonesia.
SANTOSO: [speaking directly to Mr. Ehrlich in English] In our history journalists here always involved in, in development of our society and then we involved in politics and social changes, yeah. So especially during the, the repressive regime of Suharto there’s many political activities that we have done. I think the ideal of the journalism is just to provide information, fact, information, true information, to the people. That is our concern. I think it’s the same with every good journalism in everywhere. But the difference when we have, we are in under the repression, then we are involved in the political to change the situation.
EHRLICH: But it’s not so easy remaining independent in a free market economy.
[sound of someone typing on a computer keyboard]
EHRLICH: Back at the Radio 68H offices, reporters are typing up the next hourly newscast on new computers. For now the news agency is financed by the U.S.-based Media Development Loan Fund and the Asia Foundation, among others. Tedjabayu says Radio 68H will eventually get its income solely from advertising, which could make it vulnerable to political pressure. He hopes the advertisers will make a distinction between the agency’s straightforward news and its talk shows, which reflect a pro-human rights viewpoint.
TEDJABAYU: We are journalists. We have to cover both sides, for instance. But we also have our own programs-for instance the human rights programs, economic and social life programs, for instance-that, that will educate people to think more democratically.
[sound of a busy office]
EHRLICH: This is a very modern looking office. Have you always been in this location?
ENI MULIA: No. When we start two years ago we only have that room. And the beginning of this year we start to get wider and we build….
EHRLICH: You expanded?
ENI MULIA: Yes. We are expanded to this room. And downstairs we have training rooms. There are for the journalists come from all over Indonesia to do the radio training.
EHRLICH: Radio 68H editor Mulia says the station is making good use of its foundation funding to expand coverage in Indonesia, and also train pro-democracy journalists from Malaysia. Mulia says that neighboring country is ruled by a dictatorship that closely controls print and broadcast media.
ENI MULIA: As you know, there are no freedom of the press and we are helping the Malaysians to broadcast their program through our radio stations in the borderline, in Sumatra. And so then people in Malaysia can also hear the balanced news.
EHRLICH: Radio 68H takes full advantage of its geographic position to beam signals from Indonesian stations all the way to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
ENI MULIA: The radio stations along the border of Indonesia and Malaysia, broadcast this program directly to the Malaysian area. So that the people in Malaysia can catch this program.
EHRLICH: Now I understand that it will soon be available in Kuala Lumpur as well.
ENI MULIA: Yeah, yeah. Because if we have more radio stations in the border, along the border then it can reach the Kuala Lumpur area also. It’s a 15 minutes news. It’s about main stories, the headlines news, for today’s news in, what happened in Kuala Lumpur. And spot news from other area, part of Kuala Lumpur. And also they have features or interviews everyday about social, politic, and economic issues.
EHRLICH: Many of the journalists at Radio 68H were active opponents of the old Suharto dictatorship and came to understand the powerful role radio can play in promoting democracy. They hope that Malaysians may soon learn the same lesson. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Jakarta.
[sound of someone typing on a computer keyboard]
[sound of Indonesian music]
MCHUGH: Censorship in Indonesia, next on Common Ground.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: They forget the economic aspect of the banning of the books. Which publishing company in the world can exist after banning and banning and banning again?
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
an english-speaking narrator: On the night of October 13, 1965, when I was picked up by the military, I was at home editing a collection of short stories by President Soekarno, which he had written under a pen name. After I was led from my house that night my military escorts and I were immediately surrounded by a mob of masked men who had gathered outside my house, all of whom were armed with knives or other kinds of blades. At that point, my hands were tied behind my back and the rope that bound my wrists was then looped around my neck. In the early days of the Indonesian Revolution, that kind of knot was a sure sign that the captive was to be killed.
PORTER: That’s the opening section from The Mute’s Soliloquy, by Indonesian author Pramoedya Anata Toer. For 33 years the novelist was a political prisoner in Indonesia, and his books were banned.
MCHUGH: Today, his novels are best sellers around the world. He has even won the prestigious Penn Freedom to Write Award. Even so, the outspoken political author continues to battle censorship in his homeland. Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich concludes his special series “Crisis in Indonesia,” with a visit to Promuthia at his home outside Jakarta.
EHRLICH: In a small town 50 miles north of Jakarta, down a one-lane gravel road, Pramoedya Anata Toer has built a spacious three-story house with a spectacular view of the mountains. It’s a far cry from the thatched roof hut where he lived as a political prisoner. The 76-year-old author can now finally enjoy life.
[sound of someone walking up a gravel path]
EHRLICH: But even today Pramoedya can’t earn a living from book sales in Indonesia. He notes wryly that his relative comfort is due to his popularity among American and Canadian readers.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] That’s money from America! [laughter] From the American royalties.
EHRLICH: Pramoedya’s cushy surroundings, however, haven’t softened his political views. Pramoedya proudly says he’s a leftist, although not a member of the Communist Party as charged by right-wingers. He was arrested in 1965 during the military coup that jailed, tortured, and murdered hundreds of thousands of accused communists. The US supported the coup and US documents later revealed CIA participation in the repression.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] I don’t know why I was picked up. Until the present, I don’t know. There was never a trial. All my documents and my original articles including the copies that I have, that I possess, were burned. And there are no signs to the present that they are going to return or compensate me in whatever form. Everything was confiscated, taken away from me without any court hearing.
EHRLICH: Pramoedya was imprisoned on Buru, an isolated Indonesia island. Initially he wasn’t even allowed pencil and paper. At night he told his fellow prisoners stories about the struggle of Indonesian rebels against Dutch colonialism. Those stories became the basis for his most famous novels, known as the “Buru Quartet.”
TEDJABAYU: My name is Tedjabayu. I was arrested by the Suharto regime for at least 14 years in prison without trial. I was a member of the so-called student movement, which was considered to be leftist at that time.
TEDJABAYU: I spent my productive years, at least 9 years, in Buru Island and I was on the same place with Pramoedya. Pramoedya at nights will tell about the historical backgrounds of some events and tell the stories that then being written by, written by Pramoedya as the four novels of the Buru Island. He told it every night. And then some friends urged him to write down the, his stories. And after the visit of the attorney, a certain attorney general, who gave Pramoedya the freedom to write, he, he gave Pramoedya a typewriter and he started to write his novels. Many of our friends read the manuscript. He always asked for comments from the readers.
EHRLICH: Pramoedya remembers very well distributing drafts of his novels to fellow prisoners.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] Well, they were enthusiastic receiving some readings! [laughter] Because in Buru the only thing that you could read are religious books. [laughter]
EHRLICH: Max told me that, that you said the English Bibles had the best paper for rolling cigarettes.
EHRLICH: Is that true?
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] Yeah! [laughter]
[a clock chimes]
EHRLICH: Pramoedya’s years of imprisonment made him even more famous around the world. His novels were published in over a dozen languages. Silvia Tiwon, who teaches Indonesian studies at the University of California-Berkeley, says he ranks among this century’s great novelists.
SILVIA TIWON: I think what’s most important about Pramoedya’s works is his masterful way of weaving narratives. He’s a master storyteller. He’s able to drag the reader into the story and because he’s such a good manipulator of plots and is so good at getting the reader into the story, he also makes a good teacher. And he teaches about history. He teaches an alternative history, a history that has been buried.
EHRLICH: I asked Pramoedya what novelists he likes the most.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] So it’s as if while reading Steinbeck one is seeing a movie.
TIWON: Pramoedya was at the forefront of a movement, a cultural movement, a literary movement, really, that advocated bringing in the voice of ordinary people.
EHRLICH: Silvia Tiwon.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] That advocated that literature should also deal with the voices of ordinary people, the experiences of ordinary people. And this was seen to be very much against the more elitist idea of culture, art, literature, which wanted to be “universal,” thinking that universals only come from the highly educated elite. If you talk about existentialism then you’re being universal. If you talk about a poor prostitute trying to cure her syphilis with unripe pineapples, then you’re being communist.
EHRLICH: Pramoedya was released from Buru Island in 1979 but was held under house arrest in Jakarta until a popular uprising led to the downfall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998. After that his books, which had been banned for 33 years, became best sellers in Indonesia. These days, Pramoedya remains politically outspoken. He recently sharply criticized the country’s new president, Megawati Sukarno Putri, because she’s unwilling to make a firm break with the policies of the old order, the Suharto dictatorship.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] In the government 50 percent are people from the old order. Megawati is from the old order.
EHRLICH: He also criticizes the US for putting economic investment and military ties ahead of human rights.
PRAMOEDYA: [via a translator] The American government have to change their views toward countries such as ours because they continue to regard us as the source of profit and when foreign investment come in, then immediately these elite groups will become the shepherds of capitalism. They are still meddling. Well, it’s not without meaning that they are continuing to retrain the military.
[sound of someone walking on a gravel path]
EHRLICH: The sun is setting behind Pramoedya’s house. A mountain breeze cools down the hot, humid air as Pramoedya escorts us to the gate and bids us good-bye.
[sound of children playing, a gate opening]
EHRLICH: But the story is far from over. Pramoedya’s uncompromising political commitment keeps him in the headlines. Last spring an anti-Communist Muslim group demanded that book stores stop selling leftist books. Gramedia, one of Indonesia’s largest book store chains, quickly pulled Pramoedya’s books off the shelves. Joesoef [Yusef] Isak is Pramoedya’s main publisher in Indonesia.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK When they, they announce about the removal of this, of the books, of the leftist books, they also explicitly mentioned the books of Pramoedya Anata Toer. Not any other authors. Even the leftist books, they, they, they don’t mention for instance, Lenin or Mao Tse Tung, or any other author. They mentioned only named of Pramoedya. They read the verdict against him like Suharto, general Suharto, when they arrest Promuthia, they arrest me, without any, any kind of process.
EHRLICH: The censorship got a lot of publicity, both domestically and internationally last spring. But no one had written much about it since then. So I decided to visit a Gramedia book store in Jakarta.
[sound of a busy shop]
EHRLICH: [talking to someone in the store] Why don’t we ask where the Pramoedya books, where they’d be? I guess it would be fiction, huh?
EHRLICH: There in the fiction section was a prominent display of eight of Pramoedya’s most famous works.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: Here are three books entitled the Trilogy, that’s published by Hasta Mitra.
EHRLICH: So these are some of his major books?
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: Right.
EHRLICH: Yeah. So if they pulled them off the shelves they’re back on now.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: They’re back on.
EHRLICH: The book store has apparently decided to quietly start selling the books again. That’s an important, if so far unheralded, victory for Pramoedya. But publisher Isak says maintaining free speech and press is a constant struggle in Indonesia.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: We were never, never defeated politically. Never. We-yeah-they, Suharto ban a book, after two, three, four months, maybe a year it was, a year, we publish again with another book. All the newspapers, foreign press, they write about us.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: They know that the banning is a serious violation of human rights. But it is not only a political issue. It’s an economic as well, you see. They forget the economic aspect of the banning of the books. After Suharto’s fall, one year we are empty. I mean we don’t have any cash. Which publishing company in the world can exist after banning and banning and banning again?
EHRLICH: Isak says that Pramoedya plans to keep on publishing his works and seeking the widest possible distribution in Indonesia.
JOESOEF [YUSEF] ISAK: The rights to publish, to express freely yourself, it’s something you have to fight for, you see. You don’t get this as a present from the government. You have to take risk, you see.
EHRLICH: And from all indications Pramoedya Anata Toer is willing to keep taking those risks, regardless of what government is in power. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Jakarta.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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