My gate’s keeper

While gearing up to be slack for the holidays, Unspun, unfortunately, had to translate an article in Kompas for a client. The article was written by a senior journalist and was about how the current financial turmoil meant that clients can no longer automatically trust well-established brands in the financial sector.

It is a fair enough thesis but in translating it Unspun was reminded once again of his perception that there is something very troubling about the state of journalism in Indonesia. Here was a “think piece” by a senior journalist of the country’s premier newspaper and it was full of flaws in logic, endless sentences in passive voice and incorrect “facts”

A case in point was this paragraph from the story:

It is not only customers that have suffered but Germany has blamed the US for causing the global financial crisis. America allowed greed to thrive by allowing companies to make large profits without controls in the financial market. This allowed the practice of cheating to arise.

Cheating? There is a lot of greed and poor corporate governance behind the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other US financial institutions, but cheating? Unless the writer is living in a parallel universe from Unspun there is no mention of cheating being the cause of this financial turmoil.

At first Unspun thought that it was because of his imprecise grip of the Indonesian language but checking with other Indonesians verified that it was the Indonesian copy. The troubing thing was that this was not the first or even fifth time that Unspun‘s encountered this problem with the local reports. It would seem that most of the local copy contain such flaws.

Which leads ones to wonder:

1. How did such copy get through the copy editors and editors? Several possibilities suggest themselves. The first is that nobody int he paper give a damn about quality information and writing. The second is that the writer is of such standing that nobody dares to mess around with his copy, even though they see huge gaps in it. The third, and more troubling, possibility is that nobody sees anything wrong with the article. Which is the answer? Unspun does not know.

2. What does this do to/say about the Indonesian consumer of such news? Most Indonesian I speak with do not seem to be particularly bothered about bad reporting. When Unspun, in a fit of frustration, discussed the quality of news reports with them and pointed out the flaws they just shrugged it off with “but they always write like this”. Which is really scary. There is a saying that people deserve the politicians they get. What did the Indonesians do to deserve such media? What are the long term effects of a people being subjected to constant exposure to such bad reporting?

12 thoughts on “My gate’s keeper

Add yours

  1. 1. The answer(to my opinion) is mentality (of everybody from all aspects and view)
    2. Culturally becoming ‘bad thinker’.

    I am frustrated too….


  2. Unspun…

    Is short selling or sub-prime loans a form of cheating? Cheating seems to be an odd choice of word.

    Anyways, on your first point. I would go with a combination of options one and two. In the sense that no one gives enough of a damn to speak up and say something at that particular publisher.

    On the second, nothing and a skewed reality of the world in which one lives.

    Just my thoughts…


  3. @Dian: If only this was an isolated story..but read the Kompas habitually and you will find that this is a regular occurrence. So while it may apply to this particular article, editors and writers on holiday mood does not wash when you try to comprehend the larger picture.

    @Rob: I too am inclined to think that the journos these days don’t give a damn but it does not jive with my image of Indonesian journalists being the heirs of activists and freedom fighters who opposed the Dutch and the Suharto regime.

    On the second point: Culturally bad thinking that results in a skewered reality of the world? A scary thought if this applies generally to the whole nation.


  4. Dear Unspun,
    I think those journos need to re-attend journalistic class no matter how senior journalist or editor they are. I hope that particular journo or the editor read this piece to make them realize that they should have not entertained any idea that today’s readers are ignorant who will gallop whole-heartedly whatever stories they write and fail to spot ‘flaws’ in them. This kind of mistake for Kompas, the so-called Indonesian premiere newspaper a, is hilarious.


  5. I think all answers are legitimate, but most likely it’s either nobody sees what’s wrong with it or he is such a senior journalist nobody dares to say anything.

    btw, could you please change the link to my blog to my new one as I have moved to my own domain since several months now. the new link is


  6. If the writer is wrong, he is wrong. Facts are facts. While reading Unspun’s account of the journalist’s article, I was suddenly alert when I came to the word “cheating”. I have been very critical of the way the US regulatory bodies have handled the loans, leading to the sub-prime problem but cheating? I have never thought of this…


  7. @unspun, I read Kompas 2 times a week only as I am not living in Indonesia. I read many other news/mags from outside Indo.I do not read any Indo news daily anymore as I feel my soul get a sudden attack of impoverishment (it doesn’t matter which news/mags).I rather keep my self healthy.

    Long time ago, I think it might be a problem of ‘articulation’ or vocabulary or just plainly ‘knowledge’. But now, I think it is mentality and cultural problem.


    In other country mis-use of a words like ‘cheating’ or ‘lie’ or other similar on public media could lead you to legal problem.

    I am just a frustrated reader/consumer… 😦


  8. When saying “cheating”, I think the journalist wants to point out that financial institutions who sold subprime mortgage securities actually cheated on their customers because they sold “junks” but had AAA ratings labeled on the products.

    Whoever the journalist is, he/she does not understand that investment contains risk. The higher the return you get from the investment you make, the higher the risk is. You can’t blame those financial institutions and accuse them for cheating, because investors were supposed to be aware from the start that they were investing in securities of higher risk.

    However, I learn from international websites, that many Americans share the same belief. So what begins as a misunderstanding of the issue turns into “socialization” of the wrong idea because the public read it.

    I can’t say I could blame those journalists right away because after all they lack of the required education in economics/finance/investment. Just check on their background education and you’ll get what I’m saying. It’s the responsibility of editors to ensure that their journalists get additional education they need. For us, the readers, we should be more critical to what journalists write because it is not always the fact/truth they write. Opinions get tangled here and there when they write, so use your head when reading.


  9. Totally agreeing with you, i think the local news coverage is bordering on negligence. Media ppl really should understand what they’re talking about before trying to talk about it.

    I was watching TV One coverage (and Metro TV), even in talkshow formats, they’re obsessed about a ‘crisis’ with an obvious lack of understanding of wats happening. The persistent comparison to 1997 crisis is silly at best and dangerous at worst.


  10. I think the failure of Lehman’s corporate governance was evinced in back in the summer of 2008 when the top execs viewed the market rather than the stockholders as “demanding that we hold ourselves accountable,” according to Skip McGee. I’ve just finished a blog post arging that while self-accountability is a laudable goal, we can’t (or shouldn’t) rely on it. In fact, “holding ourselves accountable” suggests the absence of accountability through corporate governance.


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