Wed, 22 Mar 2000

Change of guard at 'Antara'

Any change of guard at the top levels cannot fail to attract attention, although in essence it must be seen as a natural cycle, at least under normal conditions. I cannot speak for others, but I think present conditions, economic, political or otherwise, are normal in the general sense.

Certainly the sudden replacement (it was not so sudden, politically speaking) this week of the chief of Antara news agency, Parni Hardi, a career journalist turned politician, with Mohammad Sobary, a cultural researcher turned journalist, came as a surprise and an unwelcome shock to the people at Antara themselves. They wanted Parni Hardi replaced by another Antara man and would demonstrate to protest the move, as reported by Elshinta radio.

The news agency has been operating as part of the State Secretariat, with technical guidelines or political directives provided by the information ministry. Without financial assistance, especially during the time of Ismail Saleh, Antara could not have developed into its present reliable national and regional news agency. Its income originally came from state subsidies and subscriptions from clients.

Antara also holds the copyrights for about 12 publications, now of course offered direct online to offices as well. Somehow it has never been a really profitable business, except for the last few years when it operated independently following Soeharto's departure. Yet there has been a marked improvement in the fate of employees and journalists. In cooperation with Reuters, it has now become a financial information center as well.

Who whispered into the President's ear that Antara's boss needed to be replaced with somebody from the general election's winning camp? It is unthinkable that Antara's employees would be willing to stage a protest against the decision. Parni Hardi is a daring and blunt newsman and organizer, only he bet on the wrong horse.

Hopefully, Mohammad Sobary has been told that in dealing with international news agencies, the language used is English and he should brush up on his English skills. And remember, sentences should be composed in a crisp style and even feature articles should not be verbose, but should be business-like. In case he runs into problems, just appoint an assistant.