One step forward for Post, one step back for Globe?

Happy New Year everyone as we knuckle down to brace our or embrace 2009. Therse are interesting times indeed. Unspun was out vacationing in Vietnam and Malaysia and came back to Jakarta last week to recuperate and to save up for the next vacation.

While Unspun was away, however, there’s been a couple of interesting developments in the English-language Press that needs to be taken notice of or unspunned, whichever is your preference.

The first is the Jakarta Post‘s signal that change is in the air. It’s stamping its masthead and running ads that change will be coming and counting down the days to its revamp as first reported in Unspun on December 15. This is welcome news as the Post certainly needs to tart up and improve its content (not to mention its terrible, terrible headlines – anybody noticed the “toothless” references in the lead stories for Pages 8 and 9, which are facing pages today?)) considering how the Jakata Globe seems to be the better looking paper today.

But while the Post takes a (hopefully) bold step forward, the Jakarta Globe seems to have taken a step back, maybe many steps back, depending on how you look at it. You have to wonder whether all the adults and professional editors were off on vacation or suffering from unspeakable hangovers to let through the story below on “poor, old Billy Sindoro” through:

Sindoro Spends Christmas in Detention

For Billy Sindoro, Christmas has always been a time for his family and his church.

This year, however, the former executive of Internet and cable-television company PT First Media Tbk spent the holiday at the West Jakarta Police detention facility.

Investigators from the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, arrested Sindoro, along with Muhammad Iqbal of the Business Competition Supervisory Commission, or KPPU, in September and accused him of attempting to bribe Iqbal.

“This Christmas is exceptionally hard for me,” Sindoro told the Jakarta Globe in a meeting room at the detention facility on Christmas night.

“My wife and kids,” he said. “I have two kids, they both study abroad. Christmas is the time they come home. It has always been the day we all look forward to. It’s different now, how can I describe it?”

He said that looking at his children when they come to visit left him “shaken.”

His eyes wandered around the room, gazing at the dirty ceiling covered with dust and cobwebs, the rundown walls peppered with cracks and leaks, at the policemen standing by across the room and other detainees peering through the window.

“Chaos, that’s what I felt when I first got here, my heart was in chaos. I did not understand what was going on,” he said.

He said that he was first put in a tiny cell with a dozen other inmates, some of whom were hardened criminals and drug addicts.

“I thought to myself, what did I do to deserve this? I have done nothing wrong,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion.

However, Sindoro said that he has since found peace by entrusting everything to God.

“God must have a plan for me. He wouldn’t give me a burden that I could not bear,” he said.

Later in the evening, Sindoro’s wife, children and in-laws attended a Christmas celebration at the station. They declined to comment.

Sindoro is accused of giving Iqbal Rp 500 million ($45,500) to influence a KPPU ruling on a monopoly case involving PT Direct Vision, an associate company of First Media.

Iqbal was on the KPPU panel hearing complaints against Direct Vision and three other companies — pan-regional cable TV company Astro All Asia Network, Astro’s content arm, All Asia Multimedia Networks, and ESPN Star Sports. The complaints centered on an alleged monopoly over the broadcast rights for last season’s English Premier League football matches.

On Aug. 29, the KPPU cleared Direct Vision and Astro of wrongdoing and found All Asia and ESPN guilty of monopolistic practices. The commission also ruled that Astro, then in a dispute with Direct Vision over a joint venture, must continue to provide content to Direct Vision.

Prosecutors allege that bribe money was paid to Iqbal to get the article on content provision inserted in the commission’s decision.

Sindoro’s lawyer, Humprey Djemat, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday that it was Iqbal who informed Sindoro, at that point no longer a First Media executive, about Astro’s decision to shift the provision of content from Direct Vision to Aora TV.

“Even though he had retired from First Media, DV was his baby,” Humprey said. “He was there before it even started. So he agreed to discuss the matter with Iqbal. Iqbal said there should be an article that prevented the move and Billy agreed to draft it.”

Humprey said the case was a misunderstanding.

“You see, Billy often forgets things, he is well known for that,” he said, adding that the Rp 500 million had been intended for DV’s lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea, and somehow was given to the wrong recipient.

First Media, Direct Vision and the Jakarta Globe are associate companies of the Lippo Group.

Unspun wept like a third rate Taiwanese melodarama actress when he read this story, which lays it thicker than any other Christmas soap he’s seen or heard.

Those who care and are keen observers of the media scene will want to ask these questions:

  1. Why is Billy Sindoro more newsworthy than others indicted for corruption (imagine Humphrey Bogart: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”)
  2. Who assigned the reporter to write this piece?
  3. Did James or any of his henchmen inspire this assignment?
  4. When Billy told the reporter: “I thought to myself, what did I do to deserve this? I have done nothing wrong,” did said reporter ask him, “Perhaps it’s because you bribed a KPPU member?”
  5. When Billy’s lawyer, Humprey Djemat, said that Billy often forgets things is he then admitting that Billy did indeed pass over the black bag containing Rp 500 million to the KPPU’s Iqbal? If he said this then he’s demolishing one of this own lines of defence, which is that there’s no evidence that Billy passed over the money to Iqbal, since there i no videoclip of the actual handover itself.
  6. Is the Globe venturing into New Journalism ala Tom Wolfe now with prosaic descriptions like: “His eyes wandered around the room, gazing at the dirty ceiling covered with dust and cobwebs, the rundown walls peppered with cracks and leaks, at the policemen standing by across the room and other detainees peering through the window…” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who advised budding writers to “kill your own darlings” must be turning over in his grave.

The interesting question is whether this is a professional decision to run this story as it is, at which case a discussion on the professionalism might be in order, or was this a case of diving intervention from On High, at which case it opens up a whole new discussion all together.

Coincidentally Mediacare carried this story and other stories about Billy, and one strange casting aspersions on Mohd. Iqbal.

Ah, its good to be back in Indonesia. There’s never a dull moment.

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