Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Senior journalists cool on Mega's address

Rita A. Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Senior journalists listened to President Megawati Soekarnoputri's address on National Press Day with cool heads as she retorted in response to criticisms about herself and her administration.

H. Rosihan Anwar, popularly known as a third-generation journalist, played down the President's address as unremarkable.

"The President's speech was ordinary....nothing very specific. I listened to her speech without any enthusiasm," he said when asked to comment on the President's speech during the celebration of National Press Day held in Denpasar on Sunday.

In her address, Megawati hit out at the press again, saying the press should be professional and conscientious in exercising press freedom.

Previously, the President also accused certain media of trying to create political instability by criticizing her administration's policies.

Mohammad Jaffar Assegaf, former chief editor of Media Indonesia, regretted Megawati's failure to develop a better relationship with the press, saying she did not realize that she was the leader of a large nation.

"Of course, Megawati delivered her speech in her usual responding to harsh criticisms from the press. But, I actually expected that Megawati, as the head of the nation, would act in a low-profile way, which would implicitly express her willingness to listen to the media, opinions and to see how far the problems faced by the people were revealed in the media.

"Megawati, in her capacity as President, did not act accordingly, she acted as if she was not the leader of the people. She did not even greet the audience... She did not inherit the charm, the charisma of her own father (Indonesia's first president Soekarno).

"I clearly remember how Soekarno stopped by and greeted the crowds and chatted with the cheering people. Megawati never said hello to her audience... Look at American President George W. Bush. He is so warm towards the audience. We need a communicative leader, especially in this time of crisis," he said.

Surya Paloh, owner of Metro TV station, criticized Megawati's speech as a reflection of her inability to connect with the press.

"Through her speech, it seems that Megawati is not yet able to effectively communicate with the press community. But, at least she is trying to understand the press's concerns and problems."

Sabam Siagian, former chief editor of The Jakarta Post, appreciated the President's straightforwardness and said, "I was proud to listen to the speech delivered by the chairman of the Indonesian Press Association (during the ceremony). On the other hand, President Megawati was also straightforward. She is fighting back (against media criticism)."

He said further that the event should be followed up by specific meetings between the President and several people of the press to discuss any problems the nation was facing.

"I am glad to hear these speeches. But if they only stopped here, it would be very ineffective, especially in heading towards the coming General Election in 2004. Campaigns will start in the near future, Megawati could separate her role as the president and the party leader (she is the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, PDI Perjuangan). Until the end of 2003, she must speak to the people as the head of the nation. Starting in 2004, she can start talk as the PDI Perjuangan leader," he added.

Atmakusumah Astraatmaja, chairman of the Indonesian Press Council, called on Megawati to clarify all the faults of the press that led her to be emotional in dealing with the press.

"For me, Megawati is not expressive. But, it is common for whoever is in power to be too sensitive over media coverage which focus on contentious issues such as demonstrations," he said.