Sun, 01 Oct 2000

Indonesian political talkshows get hotter

By Agni Amorita

JAKARTA (JP): In a country like Indonesia where the credo "silence is gold" is still prevalent, with Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri as its faithful follower, having an open, spontaneous and dynamic talk show used to be a rare luxury. People talked behind your back instead of discussing the real problems comprehensively. There was even a cynical expression debat kusir (debate of the coachmen) directed towards those who embarked on heated discussion. In a still feudalistic society, horsecart drivers are considered uneducated people who debate without any supporting arguments. For about three decades, people have been deprived of their freedom of speech in almost all public mediums. Including local television.

The only talkshow allowed to be shown was in the form of a boring guided conversation which was very predictable and mostly silly. That was why people reacted positively when Ishadi SK, who was then chairman of state television TVRI Yogyakarta, introduced his spontaneous and modern teen talkshow Tanah Merdeka (Land of Liberty) in the 1980s. Due to the huge support from its viewers, Tanah Merdeka was soon being aired nationally from Yogyakarta. But Ishadi was left alone because nobody else had dared to create such an impressive and smart program. In 1994 Wimar Witoelar came out with his phenomenal program Perspektif (The Perspective), on SCTV.

It was in December 1993 when Wimar Witoelar, known as the President Director of management consulting company PT Intermatrix, talked to Djoko B. Soemantri, one of SCTV's principals. He said SCTV would be seen as an Indonesian CNN if it had its own Larry King Live. "And who will be its host?" Djoko asked. Wimar volunteered himself. "Half joking and half dreaming," Wimar recalled that moment in his book Perspektif Bersama Wimar Witoelar (Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 1995). Then the dream came true. The show was a big hit because it introduced a new approach to Indonesian audiences; it was friendly, spontaneous, smart and never treated the viewers as if they were too uneducated to receive such a comprehensive show. Interview transcripts from the show were printed in newspapers and later in the book mentioned previously and an audio version was also broadcasted on various radio stations.

From the very beginning, Wimar has been receiving letters of support from his viewers. His appreciation towards the viewers and their letters is another cause for his success. People would always remember the moment in one of Perspektif's early episodes when Wimar Witoelar sat at his modest desk, without his famous tailored suit. Before starting the show he said to the viewers, "Thanks for your letters, and now I am doing one of those things that was suggested. I will no longer be wearing a suit in order to get closer to the viewers and establish a more friendly situation."

With a variety of guests, from now Coordinating Minister of Economics Rizal Ramli to feminist Julia Suryakusuma, Wimar gave his audience a very important new perspective. And the result was amazing. Wimar -- thanks to that letter -- is now more often seen in his checkered shirt and almost never wears his forgotten tailored suit. And he has gained a loyal audience. They followed his talkshow when it was banned by the Soeharto regime and had to be changed to an audio program. Then Wimar launched numerous live shows in separate places all over the archipelago. Perspektif was given a new name, Perspektif Baru (A New Perspective), and was then aired by Indosiar for two years, having just ended recently.

"The reception was quite good," explained Gufroni Sakaril, Public Relations Manager of Indosiar. "Of course the talkshow has less viewers than the family programs such as the local soap operas but the show is very segmented and has potential, so it is not difficult to get ads," he added.

Following the success, Indosiar decided to broaden its political talkshow program with three other weekly programs namely Saksi (Witness), Gardu (Post) with Yogyakarta's artist Emha Ainun Nadjib as its host and Dinamika (Dynamics) which discusses newspaper headlines, hosted by a young scholar from the Bandung Institute of Technology, Fajrul Rochmad.

"Since the reform era, there is a high demand for political talkshows," explained Gufroni, whose station also airs infotainment talkshows such as Talk Life and Kiss.

The same opinion is stated by Budi Dharmawan, PR Manager of SCTV whose station is famous for its frequent unscheduled talkshows. "The political turmoil lately has led some Indonesian viewers to show more concern about our social political issues," Budi said. "We used to believe that talkshows had a limited audience because public debate is not a familiar thing here."

To attract the viewers, SCTV also produces fully entertaining talkshows such as Dunia Bintang (The World of Stars) and Ngobras (Ngobrol Bareng Indra Safera- Chatting With Indra Safera).

ANTeve also has more serious talkshows hosted by Ekky Syachrudin for the weekly program and a monthly version hosted by former minister Fahmy Idris. The latest is Siasat (Tactics) by Hermawan Kertajaya.

Discussing economics with various Indonesian business personalities, Hermawan successfully combines the art of talkshow with lessons in management. It has to be admitted that Siasat is one of the best interactive talkshows around. Unfortunately, its promotion and the program's packaging is still in a poor condition.

RCTI as the first state-owned TV station still airs its Aneka Dialog (Various Dialogs) talkshow every Monday evening. TPI can not be ignored because it has the Jaya Suprana Show, which has conducted exclusive interviews with the palace members. Jaya has appeared five times with the first family as its guests since the day President Wahid was elected. TPI also has its reform-spirited talkshows: Pro & Contra hosted by Tiurmaida Tampubolon and Partai-Partai (The Parties) with Harris Jauhari.

With so many hard topics on serious talkshows, some shows seems to have gone in another direction. Last month, TPI introduced Midnight Affair, a talkshow about love lives with a paranormal as host. RCTI also launched Angin Malam (The Night Breeze) which airs every Saturday night.