Landing in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost and international airport a couple of days just before Chinese New Year is depressing.
There are perfunctory signboards and decorations to mark the Lunar new year but there is nothing festive about it. There is no longer the annoying raucous Chinese New Year music that used to annoy me but now I miss.
The upbeat tunes full of drum beats, cymbal clashes and effusive lyrics wishing prosperity, luck and whatnot are no longer played over the public address system and even in shops and restaurants.
It’s as if Chinese New Year has to sneak into Malaysia, afraid of making any noise lest it annoy the Ketuanan of this land.
So a muted silence prevails and, combined with the under-air-conditioned halls in the low-cost and international airports give the visitor the nuances of a joyless country. (I landed at the low-cost airport from busy, vibrant Chiang Mai and then went to the international airport to wait for someone to arrive)
Was it so long ago when Malaysians would be so proud because everyone celebrated everyone else’s festive days? Or have I been reimagining my past life in Malaysia?
A battle royale is raging on Twitter between established online media houses including kompas.com, kumparan.com and professional buzzer @Kurawa and so far there have been threats of legal suits, applying the Draconian UU ITE and others.
The story unfolded on January 5 when Rudy Valinka, aka @kurawa, tweeted an accusation against Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan for media placement carrying the messages that he was GoodBener (rally good, a play on Gubener) to become President. Kurawa said it must have cost a few hundred million rupiahs, an unnecessary expense that could have been used to alleviate the plight of flood victims.
He then followed up with screen grabs of how several media outlets seem to have similar headlines and quotes.
Here’s one from Kumparan.com
This one from detik.com
And this one from Kompas.com
Then @Kurawa started saying he was disappointed by kompas.com for receiving a media placement from Anies, as he thought that Kompas.com was really objective.
@Kurawa also attacked other media, including Jawa Post. The editor replied to him on Twitter saying that their reporter had not ”complied with proper procedures” when uploading this story and they were therefore removing their story.
Kompas fought back, saying that their journalist wrote the original story and others had copied their content. Kumparan also disagreed to allegations. From there, as with the way of social media, things all got heated up and murky because everyone started weighing in.
There was talk of lawsuits, the use of the UU ITE, going to the press council and other remedies. As usual, everyone had strong opinions.
What lessons can the rest of us get from this incident? Here’s Unspun’s list:
1. Kurawa may or may not have jumped to a premature conclusion that the publications all had been bought over by Anies to report the incident. The media, however, still needs to look at themselves and how they report the news
2. What’s obvious is that there was a lot of cut-and-paste and story/photo sharing on the level of the reporters. How This managed to evade the scrutiny of the editors is the real story here. And even if they had, surely a good editor would look at the competitors’ stories the next day and call in the reporters for the cut-and-paste stories?
3. The established media’s standards have been dropping for a long time and they are not functioning as a vigilant Forth Estate should. Issues and incidents arise and just as fast sink into obscurity and neglect. There is no follow-through of stories to their end. Hard questions are not asked.
4. The established media houses should realize that the only way they can recover from this tailspin of diminishing advertising revenues is to boost their credibility. It is only with good, hard reporting that they can stand any chance of staying alive, let alone return to profitability. The Guardian is a good example where good journalism pays.
In a time in Indonesia when all the three estates of the country – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary – have shown themselves to be dysfunctional, it is more important now than ever for the Press – the Fourth Estate – to provide the checks and balances that would ensure that Indonesia remain a vibrant democracy.
One can only hope that this incident forces everyone involved to do some introspection of their rights and obligations to Indonesian society, and then go ahead to discharge them.
A BMW jumped the curb and ploughed into Apotik Senopati at about 4am today. The driver was apparently a 19-year old student. A video post by @TMCPoldaMetro showed what looked like the driver showed a young man wearing a black cap whose breath, said police, smelled of alcohol.
This was the second car to crash into Apotik Senopati since October. Then a Nissan Livina driven by a female student crashed into the pharmacy at 3.30am, killing a security guard who was sitting at the front of the pharmacy. Police said the driver was inexperienced and hit the gas instead of the brake pedal when she had to negotiate the steep turn.
So the authorities later today came up with a typical Indonesian solution, the put up barriers about a meter high around the turn. It’s a typical Indonesian solution because it does not seem to have occurred to the powers that be that the problem is not the turning but lots of other things that might involve, horrors! – enforcement of the law.
The law, if enforced properly, wants as a punitive measure to would be offenders. If unenforced, it breeds a sense of impunity, inviting anyone with the means to do what they like and flout the law.
There is no evidence that the law was enforced in the first case involving the Livina. Either the police did not press charges against the woman driving it or the media did not pursue the story to its conclusion. This has given rise to rumors that the case was hushed up because the female driver was apparently the daughter of someone with connections and means. Some people said the father was a member of the DPR.
It remains to be seen what the police will do to the driver of this morning’s BMW. If it does not press charges (and announce it since @TMCPoldaMetro has a penchant for tweeting the news out) then it will look like another case of a rich boy getting away with it because Daddy has the connections and the mollah to buy him out of trouble. It will send a signal to other rich kids that they can get drunk and drive and cause harm to property or people and be able to get away with it.
Silence on the development of this case would also be a bad testimony for the Press that seems to get shallower and flightier where their attention span to stories are concerned.
The two crashes also bring to light how lacking Jakarta has been on educating party goers to the dangers of driving under influence of alcohol or other substances. Even in neighboring Malaysia, drunk driving laws are enforced often and on the mass media you can see or hear admonitions not to drink and drive.
The problem is becoming acute in the Senopati area where many night clubs have sprung up along Jalan Gunawarman and Jalan Senopati.
There is nothing wrong with entertainment establishments but when they do not check for proof of adulthood before serving drinks this can be a problem. These establishments are also become int a pest to the residents of the area who now must brave the unnecessary traffic jams so that the establishment owners can turn a profit.
There is no proper parking areas so the cars are parked and valet-ed at the side of these streets. Why can’t the government do the right thing by either banning these entertainment spots (how many of them have licenses to operate) or to provide parking facilities so that the roads are not blocked by the party goers. The government can easily afford acquiring land and building multi-storey parking lots merely by taxing the establishments.
But all this – the enforcement drink driving laws, the education against drink driving and the proper zoning of commercial properties and provision of parking lots — is being overlooked. Why? The only plausible explanation is indifference. Indifference by the police, indifference by the courts, indifference by the City Government.
Rather than do something to make the situation better all they do is erect higher barriers. The pharmacy may be better protected but the next time the drunk driver could be the one facing fatality.
Schadenfreude or, in English, epicaricacy, is mostly a guilty pleasure. That’s because it is the joy you feel at the misfortune of others.
In the case of now-sacked Garuda President Director Ari Askhara, however, schadenfreude is a legitimate and just pleasure.
Here was a man who lived a life of impunity, seemingly protected by the former State-owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno when he signed off on questionable audits of the airline’s books. (And what has Rini to say about her elevation of Ari from Garuda CFO to President Director?)
A man who brazenly sought to smuggle a stripped down Harley Davidson and several Brampton folding bicycles on the ferry flight of the A330-900 Neo from Toulouse to Jakarta, a journey he celebrated after the plane landed by riding with his Moge (motto gede = large motorbikes) cronies on onto the tarmac in an event sponsored by BMW.
And when caught red handed, he either instructed or conspired with his Corporate Secretary and spokesman Ikhsan Rosan, to lie to the media. It wasn’t even a credulous lie. Ikhsan said two employees had loaded the Harley and Bramptons onto the plane. Like employees can afford those toys for the rich.
The pity, however, was that the Indonesian media swallowed those implausible excuses whole, and regurgitated it to their readers. There was no sharp questioning of who the employees were if any, what did Ari and the directors know and when did they know it, and how could employees even afford those toys and ever hope to get away with it if they had indeed been guilty.
Then, after Ari was sacked by current State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir, news began to emerge of his alleged mistress, a Garuda stewardess who was apparently present in the ferry flight, of her plastic surgery and how she influenced his decision to shift the Jakarta-Amsterdam flight to Bali-Amsterdam instead.
A video of his megalomaniac Soekarno-like motorcade during what appeared to be an Independence Day paraded also emerged.
Throughout all this Ari, apart from trying to dodge reporters, has said nothing. No remorse, no regret, no apology.
This whole episode gives rise to several disturbing questions about the elite in Jakarta and the amount of rot in the state-owned enterprise fiefdoms that exists till this very day.
What kind of self-image and environment that people like Ari live in? How do they perceive themselves? Are they so drunk on the Kool Aid that they do not know how people despise them for their ostentatiousness, of which the Harley Davidson is the most prominent emblem of entitlement.
Since Suharto days the Harley Davidson has been a symbol of thee elite. Importing the bikes then was illegal so the only way they could be brought in was if you had “backing” – New Order speak for connections. Those who rode the Harleys were, apart from Suharto himself, military generals, police chiefs, obsequious but rich businessman and the Brahmins of the government, like heads of state-owned enterprises.
Their rides used to be escorted by the police, none of them noticing how incompatible that was to Harley’s born to be wild spirit.
Two decades on things, have changed little. It is now legal to import Harleys but probably most of the Harleys on Indonesian roads are brought in illegally and then issued with doctored road permits. There are more rich and entitled people so there are more riders but essentially it is a new generation of the same old elite.
The police escorts are still there. The elite still show off, with those loud machines as the rest of us are stuck in traffic jams. Some of these idiots also sport police look-alike designs, sirens and lights. All illegal and telegraphing a what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it attitude to the rest of us.
Do these people even realize how much contempt they attract from the rest of the population? (and here’s an idea for Finance Minister Sri Mulyani who has to increase revenue from taxes – why not have the taxman go after all the Moge riders – you’ll find that most of them have false papers because they brought their bikes in illegally and not paying any taxes).
The consoling thought about Ari’s downfall is that Erick Thohir has had the courage to lop off the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the Brahmins in the State-Owned Enterprises must be quaking in their shoes right now. They should, but are they?
Hard to tell. Would love to see a journalist do a story on whether the elite are capable of self-reflection and awareness of the environment around them. Unspun has a sneaking suspicion that many of them are incapable of this, making them unable to self-correct and change their ways.
One can hope that Erick Thohir and the Government will continue their purge of such entitled and corrupt Brahmin. Then the rest of use would be treated to an endless flow of Schadenfreude.
There is something amiss in the Government’s handling of the demonstrations that have taken place in at least nine cities over the past week.
It is at best, half-hearted and amateurish; at worst, grist for a conspiracy theorist’s mill.
Contrast this week’s handling of protests with that of how it handled the protests surrounding the riots of May 21 and 22, after Prabowo refused to accept the results of the Election Commission’s decision that Jokowi had won the presidential elections.
The police acted with discipline, determination and restraint.
And it was communicative, calling press conferences and briefing the media often on developments and messages the government wanted the citizens to know. Police Chief Tito Karnavian was also highly visible in press conferences, giving the public an assurance that things were being handled properly and everything was under control.
Jokowi too was visible, giving press briefings and appearing confident that everything was under control.
Unspun remembers conversations with Jakarta old timers marveling about how professional the Indonesian Police Force could be if it wanted to.
Then the student demonstrations began last Wednesday and the Police suddenly looked amateurish again in their handling of protestors. Time and again the police had to apologize for its mistakes and videos of police brutality began cropping up.
It had to apologize for a policeman running into a mosque with shoes on to apprehend a protestor. It had to backtrack after accusing Jakarta City ambulances of carrying rocks, petrol for Molotov cocktails and fireworks to supply rioters. It shot teargas into Atma Jaya University, a zone set aside for first aid to injured protestors.
In its communications Police seemed to play a defensive game, otherwise issuing admonitions that fell on deaf ears.
And all this wall, what realty stood out was the absence of leadership. Tito gave a press conference somewhere but he said nothing substantial. He then virtually disappeared from the public eye.
On the Government’s side the deafening silence from Jokowi is astounding. That left the way open for the relics of his government, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto and Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko to fill in the vacuum with their tone-deaf hectoring and defensive statements. Many wondered why the Presidential Chief of Staff, who should concern himself with the internal running of the presidential office, was acting as government spokesperson.
In the vacuum of information that they have created, all sorts of conspiracy theories have begun to surface.
Some say that Jokowi has his hands full trying to balance the demands of the parties in the new Cabinet. Others say that the police ineptness is part of a conspiracy to weaken him. Still others hint of dark forces at play orchestrating paid rioters to create mayhem.
Nobody really knows what’s happening and whether the government will get a handle on things, and that’s the problem.
Indonesia is at an important juncture. After over two decades of Reformasi, corruption and sense of entitlement among the elite have made a strong comeback. The swift and cavalier passage of the Bills to the KPK law and Criminal Code was a manifestation of this comeback and its contempt for the other sectors of Indonesian society.
Through the passage of the Bills Parliament has shown that it cannot be trusted to act in the public’s interest. The Judiciary Has along ago been discounted as an institution that can protect their rights. And now the Executive, helmed by Jokowi, is also showing signs of tentativeness, indecision and compliance to the demands of conservatives.
What that means for most people is that Indonesia is approaching a failed state. This sounds dramatic but how do you describe a nation when none of the branches of government can be relied on to act as a check and balance of the other branches?
This is why the students are right in refusing to meet with Jokowi unless it is in an open forum where he can be held accountable. And they are right to continue the pressure through further protests until the message gets through that the Executive and the Legislature is accountable to the people.
Early this Police stopped 5 Jakarta City (DKI) ambulances on Jalan Gatot Subroto.
In at least one they found rocks and petrol. They suspected that the ambulances were being used to supply rocks for throwing at police and fireworks, said Kumparan. Other news outlets said there was also petrol for making Molotov cocktails.
The ambulances were impounded and police released a video of the interception on their twitter feed.
In the video, a policeman was heard saying that they were carrying rocks and fireworks.
The Twitter posts have been taken down.
Later today Polda Metro Jaya spokesman Argo Yuwono said that there was a misunderstanding. The ambulance (or ambulances – it is not clear) were not, as the Police initially suspected, ferrying rocks and Fireworks to rioters.
There was a misunderstanding, he said. He went on to clarify that the rocks and Fireworks got into one of the ambulances because a rioter had been cornered by police and he sought to hide in the ambulance that happened to be nearby.
Ergo, it was a random act by a single rioter.
This raises several questions:
1. How did the rioter get into the ambulance int he first place?
2. Rocks, especially when packed in a a cardboard box (seed for Aqua bottled) must be heavy. He was so strong he could run to evade the police and jump into the ambulance?
3. Ambulances have drivers and attendants. Were they oblivious to a super-strong rioter loaded with rocks and fireworks jumping onto the back of their ambulance?
Communications, or lack of, is digging the government into a bigger hole than it is in because of issues surrounding the amends to the KPK and criminal Code laws, Papua, forest fires and the president’s family.
With public sentiment at best skeptical at worst critical of the government, communications can make the difference between people’s perception of the government as open, responsive and accountable – which would make it easier to quell tempers and protests – or as arrogant, tone deaf and defensive – which would only serve to escalate tempers and intolerance.
The latest misfire came from Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaymaniyah commenting on the protests yesterday in which tens of thousands of students took to the streets in many cities through Indonesia to protest the amendments to the Criminal Code and other laws.
“Those who like to demo should become a minister,” he was quoted as saying by katadata.com. “Then they’ll know what its like to be a minister,; he said, adding “Enak Aja”, an Indonesian term that roughly translates into “you don’t know shit, so shut up.”
Obviously he hasn’t heard of the saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Nobody forced him to become a minister, he accepted the job and is now bellyaching about how people don’t understand the difficulties of b ring a minister when confronting demonstrators?
Then there was Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Wiranto who told the press yesterday that the student protests were no longer relevant because the House of Representatives had heeded president Jokowi’s call to postpone the passage of the criminal Code and other controversial laws.
Again, this was a display of the lack of perhaps thee most vital skill in communications: listening. If he had listened to what the protesters had to say, he would have realized that what they were effectively saying was that they wanted amendments to these laws cancelled, not put aside like some unholy zombie to rise again when the public is distracted elsewhere.
Listening would also inform him that the subtext of the protesters is that they can no longer trust the Legislative and Executive branches of government to do the right thing by them and the nation. The Legislature because they could originate amendments that seek to rob its citizens of the right to choose their own lifestyles, their freedom of speech and action. The Executive for being too weak to veto such atrocious amendments and then, belatedly, tried to band aid things with some Palau my about protecting the KPK’s rights, and a request to remove the article about insulting the President.
Furiously digging the same hole was the President’s Chief of Staff, who was who was quoted by CNN as saying that the student protesters should understand that the Executive and Legislature had decided to discuss further the legal amendments and that the President now had many important things such as Papu and forest forest to occupy his time.
If one were vulgar one would interpret his quote as effectively saying” We already threw you bone by postponing the passage of the amendments, so fuck off and leave us alone. We have more important tasks than to cater to your sods.”
All this does not help.
Neither has the Legislature. The Leader of the House of Representatives Bambang Soesatyo was at his misogynistic best when during a meeting with the press in which a woman reporter asked several questions, he unctuously and patronisingly asked her “ada pertanyataan lagi, sayang?” This is equivalent in English to “any more questions, Honey?”
The reporter fell silent, probably from outrage. The men laughed and Bambang sought to make it up to her by saying “its OK because we are all family. I know you all….(illegible) you all young.” Think creepy uncle.
The public perception is that the legislature is definitely out of touch with the people’s aspirations. On top of that they are all entitled and voracious money grabbers who are uneducated, unsophisticated and unfettered by scruples and morals.
If the Executive is not careful and quickly acquire some communications skills and advice, it will be lumped in together with the Legislature. Then it will be too late. It will be like the Hong Kong Government being tone deaf and committing a series of mistakes and inflaming the Hong Kongers to the extent that confrontation rather than accommodation becomes the norm.
As things stand it is still not too late for the Jokowi Government. The President still has a lot of social capital from his past performance but that is depleting fast at this rate unless he does something about his cabinet’s communications. He needs to seek professional help soon or end up looking like Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam – reviled, untrusted and ineffectual.