Wed, 13 Jul 2005

'Antara' news agency gets new chief

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

After serving as chief of state Antara news agency for the past five years, sociologist Mohamad Sobary was replaced on Tuesday by Asro Kamal Rokan, former chief editor of Republika daily.

The reason for the replacement was unclear. State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who swore in Asro, only said that five years was long enough to hold the position.

He was reluctant to disclose why the government had picked Asro.

"We proposed two names, both of them from print media, and the President opted for Asro," Yusril said after the swearing-in ceremony at Antara office in Central Jakarta.

Yusril said in his speech that Antara faced huge challenges ahead, both internally and externally.

"But I believe the agency can meet the challenges. I also hope that Antara can build a sharper, wider and more effective network with foreign news agencies, so that Antara can get across the state's interests," he said.

Established in 1937, Antara has developed as a key information provider to the public given its extensive network across the country.

As it is officially under the State Secretariat, its content is often regarded as biased toward the government.

In a bid to reform the agency, former president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000 replaced former chief Parni Hadi with Sobary, which resulted in Parni filing a lawsuit against Abdurrahman that was later dropped.

Sobary said the news agency had been dogged with a lack of professionalism, too much red tape and business misfortune.

"It's been difficult to push for discipline, to create a good corporate culture and organize the employees. The business has also been neglected for so long that it will be difficult to revive it, let alone compete with others," said the astute social observer.

The challenges ahead, Sobary said, included becoming more competitive business-wise and building credibility, as well as managing the employees.

Antara editor Suryati, who has been with the agency for over a decade, said that Sobary had done a good job in structuring the office and making the organization more efficient.

"But in terms of welfare, as well as news content, no significant progress has been made," she said.

Asro, meanwhile, said he was aware of the huge task ahead, and vowed to make the news agency more competitive while maintaining its independence.

"It has potential, it should be a lot better than it is today," Asro said.