The call to boycott Traveloka

I posted this in the Maverick blog today:

 

A snarky comment on the eagerness of the mob to boycott brands at every slight whiff of suspicion

 

Deliberate misunderstandings and righteous piety seems to be the order of the day in Indonesia’s poisoned and acrimonious political settingThe latest flap involves a call to boycott travel site Traveloka and uninstall their mobile app following a walkout by detractors when newly installed Governor Anies Baswedan delivered the keynote speech at Canisius College’s 90th anniversary on November 11.

The walkout was led by well-known composer Ananda Sukarlan who objected Anies’s politicking methods to win the gubernatorial election.  The walkout generated lots of publicity and social media chatter and somewhere out of this mess t someone somewhere gan to spread information that one of Traveloka’s founders, Derianto Kusuma, had walked out on Anies together with Sukarlan. Derianto had been slotted to receive a recognition award from the College.

From there things snowballed an soon a “movement” was formed where its supporters asked other netizens to uninstall the Traveloka app on their mobile phones as a sign of protest against Derianto’s action.

The fact of the matter, however, was that Derianto, as explained by Traveloka in a press release, was unable to attend the event as he was traveling overseas. So he couldn’t have joined the walkout.

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Where would we be placed?

I suppose one should congratulate The Hoffman Agency for opening shop in Indonesia.

They have a curious way of evaluating how they differentiate themselves in this market though, best exemplified by this chart of theirs:

In their reckoning, until they came around clients in Indonesia had to choose between bureaucratic, international-standard agencies or high touch (whatever that means) local-standard agencies.

Unspun supposes that he should take offence because Maverick is not included in their analysis.

But then again, if we are included the top right quadrant in the chart wouldn’t be exclusively occupied by Hoffman then, would it?

Adding a role at The Palm Scribe

Recently I added another role to my LinkedIn account and have since been getting lots of well wishes but also a number of concerned questions on whether I had stopped working at Maverick to become advisor at The Palm Scribe.

So here’s a note of explanation to the concerned and the curious.

Palm Scribe Logo

The first thing to point out is that the new title does not change anything at Maverick.

I continue to work there but because I’ve been fortunate to have found a very capable team who are able to take over much of what I do, I have decided to take Fridays off to reflect and have some me time; as well as to take on more of a mentor and advisory rather than operational role.

At the end of the day, however, this is a people and relationship business and if the clients need me I’m always there for them.

In the meantime, however, I’ve taken on the role as advisor in a platform run under the auspices of Maverick, The Palm Scribe.

What is The Palm Scribe?

In short The Palm Scribe is a platform that supports the development of the Indonesian palm oil industry through constructive journalism.

Like all elevator pitches, that description is meant to pique rather than provide a comprehensive explanation.

So if you’re piqued here’s the reasoning behind The Palm Scribe.

To start with, consider the palm oil industry.

It is complex and controversial because it is the frontline of many opposing issues: Sustainability vs environmental destruction, conversation vs deforestation, development vs conservation, East versus West, developed vs developing countries, palm oil vs soy, people vs big business, NGOs vs planters…

Strong opinions are expressed on all sides but the playing field is a bit uneven as its tilted in favor of the Western/Green advocates. There are several reasons why this is so.

  1. The Western players are more sophisticated in lobbying and communication techniques. They take their communications seriously and are more able to put their side of the story across. Their Asian/African counterparts do not take communications seriously and are usually outflanked.
  2. NGOs are social media savvy. They are hungrier because they have to earn their funding and as a result they are more innovative and creative in using paid, earned, shared and owned media to make themselves known. Many of them also realize that to persuade is to appeal to the emotions first and foremost an they succeed admirably.
  3. The mainstream media is devastated by falling readership and revenue. As a result they have few journalists and resources left to raise the right questions and issues and to ask the right questions of and hold accountable the policymakers, players and NGOs. Reactive journalism, click baiting stories and cut and paste reporting happens more often than we would want them to be.
  4. Most journalists think that palm oil players are slimeballs because they often do not act like they are open, accessible or accountable. Combined with #3, they are disposed to carry any attacks on the palm oil players prominently and tag on their responses (if they get around to issuing one at all in a timely manner) later in the story. By then the damage is done.
  5. The palm oil players themselves are bad communicators. Many of them are owned and run by business people more accustomed to deal making in backrooms than realizing that public opinion can affect their businesses. Others are run by families where bloodlines rather than competencies determine who is the decision maker. The result is that there are almost no oil palm player that can communicate in a persuasive, authentic and credible manner.
  6. Ineffective committees and trade associations. Apart from Malaysia that has quite an active lobbying and communications effort, their Indonesian counterparts are more mired in bureaucracy and pleasing all stakeholders rather than projecting a favorable image for the industry.
  7. Most importantly, however, because of all the elements mentioned above the public discourse on palm oil has gone askew. There is a world shortage of food and in edible oil that will be more acute with time. Of all the oil crops, palm oil is the most efficient oil to help address this shortage. As such you would think that the discourse on palm oil should be on how to make the industry strong, viable and sustainable. Unfortunately, however, most of the conversation and discourse on palm oil is about violations to conservation and sustainability standards (some arbitrarily advanced by this body or that) and the wrongdoings of the players. Something needs to be done about this if palm oil is indeed the crop for the future.

Having helped some palm oil companies manage attacks agains them as well as helping to tell their side of the story when it coms to sustainability issues, one of the things I realized is that many of the palm players are so traumatized by what they perceive is an antagonistic media/NGO environment that they do not know what to do. So many of them opt to keep their heads below the parapet instead. This does not serve them well because every negative story or article gets accumulated in Google and when investors and others want to find out about you, guess where they go to first?

Out of all this the idea of The Palm Scribe was born. Instead of fault-finding journalism we would adopt the principles of Constructive Journalism (a concept I personally poo pooed until I started to research more about it).

We would cover the palm oil industry, raise the issues that ned to be raised, ask the right questions. We would focus on the solutions the companies adopt or put in place in response to allegations of wrong doing. And we would also provide them a “non-editorial” space on our website to showcase their CSR, sustainability and community engagement efforts as well as space of their announcements and press releases.

In going into this we were aware that the success of such a platform rests on its credibility, judged by the quality of it content. As such, we scouted around and was fortunate to be able to enlist the talents of Bhimanto Suwasteyo, a veteran Indonesian journalist who has worked for AFP for years and one of the founding editors of The Jakarta Globe to generate our content. He works with Wicaksono, better known as Ndoro Kakung, who is a very respected name in social media circles, as well as a team that supports the content generation in the platform.

On the question of credibility, some might question whether a platform run by a PR consultancy can be trusted not to spin things. To them I can only say that if they understand what PR truly does they would understand that it is about getting companies and clients to communicate authentically and credibly. You cannot do that if your words are not matched with your actions.

Will The Palm Scribe work? Who knows. We live in an age of disruption where old ways of doing things no longer work and nobody can say with great certainty what does and what does not. We at Maverick think that this is worth a try because if we succeed we could potentially change how companies in controversial industries can communicate.

If you are still interested in The Palm Scribe, write to me at ong[at]maverick.co.id or check out its website.

Alexis: right decision for the wrong reasons

Alexis almost certainly has prostitution as one of its services and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan is right to close it down if morality is his kind of thing.

But shutting it down based on press reports rather than on hard evidence is worrying, as it sets a bad precedence of executive action based on suspicion.

What this means is that in future all the Jakarta government has to do is suspect that you are guilty of a violation to impose sanctions on you.

And the basis of their suspicion? Media reports.

While there are many responsible and professional journalists out there who would document and recheck their facts before going to print, there. are many more still who are slack, naive and easily manipulated or can be bought or intimidated.

This being the case, it is not difficult for anyone to engineer negative stories against any business or party. And given the depleted ranks of journalists because of falling ad revenues it is easy for even implausible stories to be copy pasted onto other publications, amplifying the negativity.

With Anies’ action to deny the renewal of Alexis based on mere press resports rather than, say, an investigation by City Hall officers or the Police, we have entered the dubious territory of Kangaroo Courts.

We’d better hop onto trying to right this wrong before we end up in Anies’s pocket.

Did Jokowi also call for Pribumi privileges?

This is what I wrote in the Maverick blog today

Did Jokowi say the P word as reported by CNN?

These are sensitive times. Since newly installed Jakarta Governor made his Protect Pribumis speech at his inauguration the P word has gained new political impetus.

One thing about the internet is that what is old can be made new again, with a new twist.

Responding to the widespread criticism against their leader, Anies Baswedan’s supporters trotted out CNN Indonesia’s report on 22 June saying that he was not the only Pribumi champion and the cue was actually set by Jokowi.

 

Going beyond the headline and reading the news, however, reveals that Jokowi did not say the P word.

What he actually said was read more here

Pribumis, Bumiputras and the politics of race

Let’s be honest: when the word Pribumi is used, it is code for anti-Chinese. This is the same in Malaysia where the word Bumiputra is used to mean anti-Chinese.

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Lining Anies’s passage to his inauguration: Not enough that you have to be a Pribumi but a Pribumi Muslim. No protection even if you’re a Pribumi.

The parallels do not stop there. The champions of the the racial ideology – Anies Baswedan in the case of the Pribumis and Mahathir Mohamad in the case of Bumiputras – are also shapeshifters. Both are of immigrant stock fashioning themselves as the torch bearers of the indigenous people.

 

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Never too Arab to champion Pribumi rights

 

Mahathir who championed Bumiputraism hailed from Indian Muslims in Kerala in South India.

image
Mahathir’s identity card before the makeover: Never too Indian to champion Bumiputra Rights

Anies is from Arab stock and he is now claiming to champion the rights of pribumis.

Both seek to exploit the politics of race against a community that has proven easy pickings – the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mahathir wrote his The Malay Dilemma in 1970, a year after racial riots tore through Malaysia. The cause of the riots was that the ruling Alliance (forerunner of the Barisan Nasional) for the first time lost its two-third majority in Parliament in the 1969 national elections. It was more a psychological defeat rather than a real one. They were still in power but they had lost the majority ended to amend the constitution. They also lost most of their seats to the DAP, a Chinese-based party.

Tensions rose after the elections and on May 13 1969 a riot broke out in Malaysia. The next year Mahathir came out with his book that essentially said that the Malays were the indigenous people of Malaysia; that they were too  nice and had been taken advantage of; and that affirmative action was needed to balance out the dominance of the Chinese Malaysians in the economy and commerce.

This hate mongering was effective. It propelled young Turks like Mahathir into power and allowed them to oust the Old Guard typified by Tunku Abdul Rahman, who stood for decency and moderation.

The take out from Mahathirism is that race is an easy card to play and it can be devastatingly effective. The Barisan Nasional has been in power ever since and each time it is threatened it trots out the racial card and that is enough to get it though one election after another. Even Najib, tainted as he is by the 1MDB scandal and the murder of Mongolian model Alantuya, remains in power through the Machiavellian use of racism and money politics.

Anies is embarking on the same path. His campaign was racist and he is now fashioning himself as a champion of the Pribumi. That is, as we say in Indonesia #kodekeras for anti-Chinese.

As he and Saracen have demonstrated during the gubernatorial elections, playing the racial card is effective. Ahok is now in jail and Anies-Sandi is sitting in the governor’s chair.

Like the Barisan Natsonal  who will play the race card each time there is anything to threaten their grip on power they will do the same.

What is a threat to Anies-Sandi now is accountability. They made a lot of wild promises to get elected. If they fail to deliver, even the masses that vote them in will begin to turn against them.

They need to distract the attention of the hoi polloi and redirect that energy into something else – and hating the Chinese “colonizers” of Jakarta is as convenient a target as it can get. Similarly what threatens Najib is accountability over 1MBB, so what does he do? All sorts of racial distractions such as the nonsense about Ketuanan Melayu while he quietly hocks the nation to the Chinese Chinese.

So what are the rest of us to do with such an inexorable force as racial politics?

Indonesia can be different from Malaysia where the Bumiputra is synonymous with Malay. In Malaysia the predominant non-Chinese group are the Malays (an artificial construct as most of them are keturunan Orang Jawa, Orang Minang, and even the present Prime Minister Najib is keturunan Orang Bugis – but they are all manipulated to be in one “race” the Melayu or Malay).

Non-Chinese Indonesians are so diverse in ethnicity and religions that nobody can claim to speak for them. And this is where Indonesia’s strength lies – in its diversity. #Notmypribumi seems an appropriate hashtag for anything racial Anies utters from now on.

Indonesians should also b aware of the devastating effects of racial politics. Go to Malaysia and see the harm that Mahathir has done there. People there are so polarized that they eat in different restaurants, make friends mainly only with the same “racial” groups. Each year that passes there is less tolerance and more absurdity – like the Muslim launderette owner in Johor that would accept only Muslim clients to prevent pollution from other races (race and religion are synonymous in Malaysia, thanks again to Mahathir).

The situation is so bad that parents (even Bumiputra ones) tell their children not to stay in Malaysia and to work and live overseas if they can help it.

Indonesia can do better than Malaysia and the time to act is now by refusing to fill into Anies’ scheming. Avoid giving his racial politics much credence by discussing it at length but keep focusing on what he actually does as a Governor against his election promises. At best it would force him carry these promises out – which would be the benefit of everyone. At worst, it would starve his intent to use racial politics of the reaction it needs to create a Malaysianization of Indonesian racial relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do pribumi Indonesians think about their Chinese counterparts?

Not much that is good. That’s what the Singapore-based  ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute found in a survey titled  Chinese Indonesians in the Eyes of the Pribumi Public,

If the survey is accurate it suggests that after decades of living cheek by jowl with the pribumis, they still harbor stereotyped perceptions about the Indonesian Chinese.

Among the most glaring stereotyped are that the Chinese Indonesians tend to be more wealthy than the pribumis. Over 60 percent of respondents in the survey felt this.

Astoundingly almost half of the respondents, 47.6 percent, believe that the Indonesian Chinese  harbor divided loyalties between Indonesia and China.

The survey, which was conducted in May 2016 after the anti-Ahok protests, did not say whether these sentiments were as intense before the demonstrations.

Several questions come to mind from the survey results:

  1. Does this mean that no Chinese Indonesian can ever stand for high office and win, because all the opposition has to do is to fan the racial flames?
  2. Can pribumis be so oblivious of the many, many walthy-off Pribumi officials and  businesspersons that are so visible in everyday Indonesia?
  3. Does it mean that Indonesian Chinese should prepare for a difficult year ahead and until the 2019 presidential elections are over before letting out their breath? Will Indonesia be a racial powder keg all primed?
  4. Should Indonesian Chinese try harder to disabuse their pribumi counterparts of their prejudices? Or are they better off letting things lie than run the risk of stirring things up?
  5. The would the results of a similar survey, if conducted in neighboring Malaysia, show a lower, similar or higher level of prejudice?