Leica ad draws heat in China for a photo shot by a Nikon

The advertisement below is dramatic to say the least. It depicts how journalists risk their lives to bring us the images that will change the world.

One of the most iconic images in the world is one shot in Tiananmen  Square on June 4 1989 when a lone man carrying shopping bags stopped a column of tanks by standing in their way. It came to stand for the students defiance against an authoritarian regime and was dubbed the Tank Man.

tank man

Leica released an advertisement last week telling a story of what it must have been like for the journalist who took the photograph. All powerful stuff and expertly shot and quickly drew the ire of the Chinese Government and other Chinese.

The Tiananmen Incident remains till today one of the most sensitive issues in Chinese society. The Govenment has banned all mention of the incident. Other Chinese, however, have hailed the ad as something that needs to be said. Still other point out that by airing the ad, Leica is jeopardizing Huawei in a sensitive time, because Huawei uses Leica lenses in its handphones.

Leica has since disowned the ad, saying that it was unsanctioned by Leica and it was the fault of the agency that produced it for loading it onto the net. Yeah.

The political fallout is one thing but what strikes Unspun as ridiculous is that the journalist depicted were almost certainly using Nikons than Leicas. There were actually four journalists that managed to snap photos of the tank man.

Three of them told The New York Times that they were using Nikons. The fourth did not say but there is no evidence he used a Leica.

So you decide whether the Leica ad was a good ad that spoke truth to power, an ad where poetic licence was more important than facts, or a needless provocation of the Chinese Government and some of the Chinese?


Jakarta’s most respected journalists?

Who are the most respected journalists in Jakarta?

Unspun supposes that the answer depends on who you ask. It’s always a bit of of a risk that you’d be accused of hyperbole or favoritism, or causing others to feel hurt when you use superlatives, but the Brits have shown their resolve with a clear pronouncement of who they think are the most respected.

They are Karishma Veswani from the BBC, Helen Brown from ABC, Bhimanto Suwasto from The jakarta Globe and Joe Cochrane from the International Herald Tribune.

Whether you agree with the Brits, the session should be an interesting one.


Accountability reporting

Journalists, especially foreign ones are funny creatures. Often you can hear them decry the low level of English being used in their local host countries. Redundancies are one of the biggest sins. Yet when these journalists are forced into roles of responsibility beyond their usual journalistic duties they seem to revert, like all of us into bureaucrat-ese.

So it is with some amusement that Unspun read the agenda for the Annual General Meeting of the august Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club:


1. An accountability report by JFCC President Joe Cochrane.

2. An accountability report by Treasurer Zubaidah NH, which shall include the previous year’s financial accounts.

3. Executive Committee proposals.

4. Member proposals.

5. The election of the new Executive Committee for 2013.

6. Any other business.

Any member who wishes to submit a proposal may do so provided it is submitted at least one week prior to the meeting.

“Any other business” is a discussion forum of ideas not submitted in formal proposals. No vote may be taken on these items.

“Accountability report”? What is a report, theoretically, if not an exercise in accountability? Would not a mere “report” suffice? Would attaching an “accountable” in front of the report help spin things to make them seem more accountable, open and transparent? Or make them seem like they doth protesth too much?
Hmmm. Unspun is probably splitting hairs and being pedantic, but these are foreign journalists who are supposed to be setting a good example for the rest of us in using the International Language (until Chinese replaces it a few years down the line).



Did The Jakarta Globe’s editorial go gaga over Lady Gaga?

Indonesia’s Twitterverse and the Liberal-minded are aghast.

In today’s editorial (below) The Jakarta Globe, seen by some as being until lately a progressive force in Indonesia, seemingly condoned the decision to nix Lady Gaga’s controversial would-be concert in Indonesia.

The editorial begins by saying that the organizers made the right decision to cancel Lady Gaga’s show because of security concerns. Fair enough. It then says the paper does not condone violence or threats to forward an agenda. Good point.

Then it gets interesting: “It is not about how she dresses, which is needlessly provocative, but about what she sings and the lyrics of her songs. It is about the lack of morality in what she represents. Youth will typically be rebellious and anti-establishment.

This is puzzling. Lady Gaga sings a lot of shit that typically appeal to youth. Rebellious, anti-establishment, aimed to shock. The same type of music that horrified the morals of the parent generation in the time of the Sex Pistols and Marilyn Manson. Go a bit further back and Elvis Presley, with his obscene gyrations, was considered a devil spawn by the Establishment then.

So if you take Lady Gaga in a historical perspective, she is as dangerous – or not – as the Sex Pistols, Marilyn Manson and Elvis in leading our youth to Hell and damnation. Surprisingly, may of these youth are in positions of responsibility and frowning on lady Gaga these days.

The Globe editorial then becomes a bit confusing: “But it is also important that we inculcate in them the proper Indonesian values that will put them in good standing when they enter into adulthood. Given the divisiveness and the controversy created, the decision to cancel Lady Gaga’s show was the correct one.”

Why canceling Lady Gaga’s show was the correct one when it comes to putting these youth on the correct path of Proper Indonesian Values is never quite explained.

And finally, the very interesting denoument which is actually composed of two half formed thoughts 1: “We must all show maturity and understanding about the cultural sensitivities in our communities.” and 2: “We must accept that Indonesian society is different and that we cannot be expected to be as liberal as other societies” juxtaposed to give the illusion of proper reasoning.

Thought #1 is a truism. Nobody can argue against the fact that we all should show maturity and understanding about the cultural sensitivities in our communities. You can make that argument even in America, homeland of Lady Gaga and no one can disagree with you on this.

Thought #2 is a combination of a truism: “We must accept that Indonesian society is different” and a fallacious conclusion “we cannot be expected to be as liberal as other societies.”

Which societies are we talking about. Saudi Arabia, Puritan America, The Mormons, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, China? It would be helpful if The Globe were to elaborate on that. (And let’s not have the tired argument that you have only so many words to write an editorial. A journalistic rule is also that if a story or opinion is that important you should be creative and find space for it).

This editorial has, naturally, stirred up controversy and criticism in Indonesia’s Twitterverse, the current cool hangout for Indonesia’s chattering classes and liberal sentiment. One of them is a string of criticisms against The Globe by @AubreyBelford, the Asia Correspondent for http://www.theglobalmail.org.

But enough of what Unspun, Aubrey and The Globe says. What do readers really think? (and if you’re not satisfied with the poll, you can always leave a comment)

Editorial: Gaga Concert is Too Hot For Indonesia | The Jakarta Globe

The saga over Lady Gaga’s concert is finally over now that the pop star decided to cancel her Jakarta show. The reason was security concerns and, given the public controversy, it was definitely the right decision. Certainly her large fan base in Indonesia will be disappointed. It is also unfortunate that the concert was called off due to security concerns. The country’s police had assured both fans and organizers that it would be possible for the show to proceed. There are larger issues at play, though. Indonesia is a vibrant, diverse democracy and as such the authorities had to take into consideration all voices. It is their job to ensure that all segments of society have their voices heard. We do not condone the use of violence and threats to allegedly push an agenda. We do not condone breaking the law and damaging property just to make a point, as some groups have allegedly done recently. Such behavior is unwelcome in a democratic, civilized society. There are, however, many justifiable reasons for opposing acts like Lady Gaga, such as the messages these supposed artists project. It is not about how she dresses, which is needlessly provocative, but about what she sings and the lyrics of her songs. It is about the lack of morality in what she represents. Youth will typically be rebellious and anti-establishment. But it is also important that we inculcate in them the proper Indonesian values that will put them in good standing when they enter into adulthood. Given the divisiveness and the controversy created, the decision to cancel Lady Gaga’s show was the correct one. We must all show maturity and understanding about the cultural sensitivities in our communities. We must accept that Indonesian society is different and that we cannot be expected to be as liberal as other societies.

Wisdom of Whores Takes Tea with the Dead

Unspun’s past life was as a journalist in a newspaper too incredible to be true, The Asia Times. It was a menagerie of strange characters from an editor who spoke like he was high all the time as speakers taller than him blasted Wagnerian music out of his office, to his deputy who had been an advisor of Lyndon LaRouche,  to ex CIA, Mossad and KGB spooks pretending to be journalists and other assorted drunks, poseurs and yes, a few legit and good journalists.

One of the the journalists, and a damn good one, was this plucky woman by the name of Elizabeth Pisani. We met in Bangkok just as the paper was starting back in 1997 and became fast friends for life. I guess it was the feeling of solidarity as we seemed to be the only legit, and productive journalists there. Then, she had been a journalist for Reuters in Jakarta for several years and at Asia Times she covered Vietnam while Unspun covered Indonesia, inheriting some of Elizabeth’s friends and contacts whom she generously introduced.

When the Asia Times went South after the Asian Economic Crisis, Unspun, then already in Jakarta sought refuge in The Dark Side (Public Relations to the uninitiated) and lost track of Elizabeth.

Until she surfaced in Jakarta, this time in her other life as an epidemologist working in the field of AIDS and HIV infection. Her stint here resulted in a wonderful and controversial book, The Wisdom of Whores. Elizabeth then disappeared into the lecture and training circuit and each time I heard from her she was in some exotic location. The last I heard from her, I think was when she was kneed deep in floods in some South American country doing god-knows-what.

Now she’s popped up in Jakarta again and after a brief catch-up at Anomali in Senopati she’s vanished again, this time to Bali and on to the more remote places of Indonesia. The reason: Taking Some Tea with the Dead. That’s the title of her new book on Indonesia which will be a culmination of all the traveling that she’ll be doing for the next few months. But while she travels, Elizabeth will also be keeping a blog, Portrait Indonesia, of her journeys and the adventures she encounters in Indonesia.



She writes wonderfully and eloquently, and has a wry eye out for the unusual so it should be lots of fun. So check out her blog and you might ant to let her know in English or Indonesian (her Indonesian – and Bahasa Gaul at that – is way better than Unspun’s) some of the more unusual and interesting people or places she could visit in her travels. I believe she’s heading for Sumba as her first port of call after Bali.

Here’s what she has to say about Portrait Indonesia

In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. On this site she will share photos and occasional musings from her journey, which, if all goes well, will cover some 10,000 kilometers.

The journey will form the backbone of a book (and a multimedia BookPlus), which will include also reflections on her earlier incarnations in Indonesia. The first of these was as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ten years later she was back in the very different guise of epidemiologist, helping the Ministry of Health better understand Indonesia’s HIV epidemic. That work contributed to her first book, The Wisdom of Whores, published in 2008.

The new book, with the provisional title “Taking Tea with the Dead”, will deal less with sex and drugs, and more with the other enchanting and sometimes maddening foibles of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation. We hope it will give you a taste of this beautiful, chaotic and unfathomable land.

Sent from the back of a cab in a Jakarta traffic jam


The Fox dismissal from Reuters laid bare, pubic hair and all

Was Reuters right in dismissing its Indonesian bureau chief David Fox for making off-color jokes about pubic hair and women or have they gone overboard on the PC Bandwagon?

There have been some rather oblique reports about the dismissal (here and here) but they, as Pisani in the posting below says, have been pussyfooting around the issue. So here’s her understanding and opinions about Reuters, David Fox and the Dismissal-That-Should-Not-Be Spoken-Of.

Brave New Reuters? Apparently not

Regular readers know that I have little time for the uber-correctness that tries to wipe sex out of our daily loves and lives. But I am more outraged than usual at the price paid by journalist David Fox, one of the best conflict correspondents in the business, for an off-colour remark made in what he thought was a private chat. Reuters new bosses fired him, with no right of appeal.

I used to be proud to have worked for Reuters. It was an organisation of clever, brave people dedicated to reporting the truth in often difficult situations. I continue to be proud to have spent 10 years living with David Fox. His determination to give a voice to the men, women and children who are the pawns in conflicts not of their own making definitely took a toll on our marriage. I learned to recognise the lock-down mood that followed yet another assignment in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Iraq, Albania, Afghanistan. I laughed at the sick jokes that go with the daily reporting of incomprehensible grimness. As anyone who has worked as a surgeon, doctor, cop, undertaker or soldier knows (and as comments on Reuters’ imperious behaviour reflect) gallows humour helps you cope with shitty situations. I work on a sexually transmitted infection that has killed 30 million people; I can do a tasteless joke or two of my own. But along with the wisecracks came top quality journalism. I never failed to be moved by the stories David filed for an employer increasingly short of brave people who could be dropped in to a disaster area with equipment charged, functional, and ready to file. Read his coverage of the refugee crisis in Zaire and try not to weep.

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It is an interesting intellectual exercise to think how Reuters would treat the story if it involved another business or organization. They would have demanded that all sides speak up so that the truth can be revealed. Yet in this instance Reuters have been tight lipped. Amazing how proponents of openness and transparency clamp up when the shoe is in the other foot.

For the record Unspun’s acquired what apears to be the actual exchange between Fox and Marshall than earned Fox the sack and Marshall a reprimand.

2:47:42 AM Asia_top_story_2 Andrew Marshall thomsonreuters.com:
So how is the radiation situation mate? Has your hair been falling out?

2:50:16 AM Asia_top_story_2 David Fox thomsonreuters.com:
Lets hope it affects all those cute jap girls who do have a strange tendency to grow their pubes …

Bear in mind that Fox apparently offered to apologize to all in Reuters’ chat room who were aparty to the exchange (see MP Nunan posting in the Huffington Post ). So did Reuters go overboard in being PC or were  they right in sacking Fox?

The “whatever” that was going on at Reuters

Unspun had a whiff that there was something happening at Reuters recently (see here). The news is now out  in Greenslade and The Baron (here and here).

The composite picture from all these reports is rather confusing as,there is not enough information to see how the punishment fitted the “crime. Unspun’s been told, however, that the actual conversation on the chat room involved Japanese women, not the best thing to talk about at anytime and certainly not in a chat room just after the Japan earthquake.

Opens up the whole issue of what’s acceptable newsroom banter these days, especially if you’re in a public chat room.

So you call yourself a journalist, young (wo)man?

To those journalists who have been there and done it, usually with typewriters when they began, the journalists of today seem a strange breed. They may seem urbane, overeducated and over self-appreciated although in their perception of their selves they may look like the Masters of the New Universe.

So its refreshing to look forward to old Asia and Indonesia hand John McBeth’s book Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia that will be launched in Indonesia on March 8. John is one of those journalists that tell it like it is, so the book’s bound to be interesting, whether you agree or disagree with him. Unspun’s given a foretaste of what’s to come ( see When men were men, journos were reporters and we all had more hair)  but below is an excerpt from John’s book in The Asia Sentinel:

A Veteran Journalist’s View of Today’s World

Written by John McBeth


And it isn’t encouraging

This is an excerpt from Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia (Talisman Publishers, hardback, 384 pp., S$42) by John McBeth, who among other things spent a quarter-century as



the longest-serving correspondent for the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. McBeth looks with trepidation at how standards have fallen in today’s world of journalism. The book is available in local bookshops.…While this book may necessarily be a memoir, I would like to think it is more a reflection of the lives of a generation of journalists who came to Asia on a wing and a prayer – and in my case by ship – and stayed on as fascinated witnesses to a region going through historic political and economic change. We all have a story to tell. We have also had a lot of great times that will never be repeated.

Most foreign journalists who come to Asia today already work for the wire services or established publications, even if some are a shadow of what they once were. They are often married, sometimes with kids. They have houses, cars, offices and assistants as part of the package. They are here today and gone tomorrow, ticking off another box on their rise up the promotional ladder.

It is that which sets them apart from those of us who have lived the story and made Asia our home. In many cases, it happened more by accident than design. The quarter century I spent on the Far Eastern Economic Review, longer than any other correspondent, only reinforced that process because of the opportunities it presented to plumb the depths of each and every story.

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