Fri, 25 Apr 2003

A must read to understand ever-changing RI landscape

Barry Desker, Singapore

I worked in Jakarta from 1976 to 1980 in the Singapore Embassy and returned as the Ambassador from 1986 to 1993. Between these two sojourns in Jakarta, the establishment of The Jakarta Post in 1982 made a major difference to the diplomatic community in Jakarta.

During my earlier stint in Jakarta, those who spoke and read the Indonesian language had a tremendous advantage over the rest of our diplomatic and expatriate colleagues. By reading Indonesian-language newspapers, we had insights not generally available. Together with other Indonesian-speaking diplomats such as Paul Gardner of the American Embassy and Peter Rodgers of the Australian Embassy, I found that merely by retelling a story from the local newspapers, we would have a ready audience for information on current domestic events or Indonesian views on contemporary international affairs.

However, when I returned to Jakarta in 1986, this advantage had been considerably diminished. The advent of The Jakarta Post provided the first quality English-language newspaper coverage in Indonesia. It contained a focused discussion of key domestic developments, knowledgeable analyses of economic and financial issues as well as a crisp summary of international issues from an Indonesian perspective.

Under the stewardship of Sabam Siagian, the editorial pages provided trenchant commentaries on issues which attracted attention in Indonesia. There were also op-ed articles by articulate Indonesians such as Jusuf Wanandi, Juwono Sudarsono and Mohamad Sadli which gave insight into Indonesian perspectives on critical domestic, regional and international issues.

The translation of extracts of key editorials in the Indonesian-language newspapers also meant that members of the foreign community in Indonesia had a better understanding of public opinion in Jakarta.

Although I left Indonesia in December 1993, I have remained a reader of the Post. I have seen the newspaper grow as it overcame the crisis caused by the decline in readership and advertising revenue immediately following the economic crisis of 1997-98.

In the post-reformasi era, The Jakarta Post has been able to expand beyond the 12-page limit imposed by the Ministry of Information during the first 16 years of its existence. By initiating a Sunday edition, it also provided a window to Indonesia for the expatriate community even on weekends.

The ability to put across Indonesian views, present challenging perspectives and redistribute to an Indonesian audience significant commentaries from the region have made The Jakarta Post a "must read" newspaper for those of us interested in the ever-changing Indonesian landscape.

I wish The Jakarta Post success in its future endeavours.

(The author, a career diplomat, currently chairs the Singapore International Foundation)