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.

Some questions about #SayaPancasila

The hallmark of a good campaign is that it spurs public discourse on a particular subject. In this sense, the #SayaPancasila campaign can be said to be successful, if the preponderance of the hashtag and profile pictures bering the message on social media are concerned.

Effective public discourse, however, exists when there are differences of opinion and when the participants abide by rules of rhetorical fair play. So here goes Unspun‘s contribution to the public discourse on the#SayaPancasila campaign.

Three questions spring to mind from all the #SayaIndonesia and #SayaPancasila profile photos being used on Facebook Instagram and other social media channels:

  1. Are atheists allowed to proclaim #SayaPancasila? Pancasila requires the belief God, in whatever form she exists. Arising from this should there be a discussion on which is more appropriate for Indonesia today – a concept from 1945 repurposed to knit together Indonesia in 2017; or would Embracing Diversity be a more appropriate idea to campaign on?
  2. When people these days declare #SayaPancasila can it be taken as their full subscription to the five principles formulated by Sukarno in 1945 as an instrument to rally people round Indonesian Nationalism? Or is it more a talisman to signal their rejection of the more extreme and intolerant elements of Indonesia today, i.e. Rizieq and the FPI as well as other assorted hardliners? There is a difference here: one is an embrace of something, another is a rejection of another thing.
  3. Are all these declarations of #SayaPancasila on the internet missing the target? One of the things the internet is notorious for is to create bubbles where like-minded people reinforce their own ideas and convictions. How many of these #SayaPancila proclamations are actually seen by the real targets? These are the 50+ percent who voted for Anies, the thousands of easter-clad protesters who came out on 212 and other demonstrations, that part of Indonesia who get their information more from mosques and grassroots institutions than the social media. There is also the question of whether seeing such #SayaPancasila declarations would persuade them to change their minds or reinforce their believes so that they dig down even deeper in the embrace of hardline attitudes and beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that any effort to claw Indonesia back from the clutches of the hardliners is something good for this country and society. But will it be effective? Or wilt be a distraction when resources could have been channeled elsewhere for greater effect?

So where do people stand on these three questions?

 

 

 

So who’s behind #NoWitchHuntKarHut?

Update August 28: One of the buzzers involved in the campaign has admitted to being asked to Tweet, the client remains a mystery, and he has apologised for taking on the assignment here.  Unspun thinks it takes a big man to admit that they were wrong and to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps the Netizens should cut him some slack from now on.

Since my post some netizens have named the alleged digital agency and one of them have come up with a shitlist of all the buzzers involved. The company or alliance financing the campaign remains a mystery (at least to Unspun).

The original post:

The hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut (KarHut stands for Kebakaran Hutan or Forest Fire) began life on Twitter ostensibly on August 20, three days ago, by a buzzer. It sat there innocuously until this morning, when it seemingly caused a civil war among the Twitterati of Indonesia.

What was it about and why did it cause such a furore?

burning-13As far as can be pieced together the hashtag was a campaign initiated by a digital agency based in Jakarta. It gathered and paid some buzzers to use the hastag and get through the message that large corporations have been unfairly singled out when apportioning blame for forest fires. The unfairness resulted from the fact that smaller corporations were just as guilty for starting forest fires.

All sorts of buzzers were recruited, even those who normally would be more comfortable with lifestyle and consumer consumption than environment and public affairs. They were apparently told by the digital agency that the campaign was also an Indonesian reaction against Singapore that has been trying to assert pressure on Indonesia. Naively some of the buzzers swallowed that story, hook, line and sinker.

So when the buzzers got to work, a civil war, not unlike that in  Marvel comic that many of them are fond of,  broke out between them and the other buzzers who smelt something fishy about their fellow-buzzers suddenly taking up the cause of Big Palm Oil. Not being wall flowers, they spoke, or rather tweeted their minds, and soon there seemed to be a groundswell of sentiment against their fellow buzzers that had apparently sold out to land grubbing, environment-destroying, cynical large corporations.

The war  got so bad that one prominent buzzer was reported to have closed his account because of all the criticisms he was receiving.

Being curious about such things and having a suspicious mind Unspun thought that the usual large corporation suspects were behind the move so he checked with friends he had in their woodwork. They told him that they were flummoxed as anyone as to who was behind the campaign as they weren’t. These are friends, not the organisations, talking so Unspun tended to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So if it is not the usual suspects who could it be? Who was sophisticated enough to engineer a campaign ostensibly on behalf of the large corporations but in reality aimed to discredit them? And who else would have the kind of money to pay the digital agency to run the campaign and pay the buzzers? And why that peculiar hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut? It is a clumsily long hashtag. The use of the “no withch hunt” idiom suggests a Western mind or one brought up on western education (or an agency whose strategy is led by a Westerner).

One source, who corroborated on the identity of the agency, said he heard that an alliance of companies (that was not part of the usual suspects) was behind the funding of the campaign. But there was no more information. This deepens the mystery. Are there other players out there out there trying to discredit the established Big Boys? Who would gain from such a move, if true? Are we about to see a round of musical chairs in the Palm Oil industry? What is going on?

The incredible silence and welcome to China’s effrontery to Malaysia

Something incredible, unprecedented and potentially dangerous happened in Malaysia last Friday that most Malaysians do not seem to have paid much notice to.

In fact many of the Malaysian Chinese actually welcomed it, fed up as they were by Malay hooligans trying to stir up Malay supremacist and anti-Chinese sentiments in Malaysia.

Photo from Free Malaysia Today: “He was there to assure Chinese traders that they will be safe tomorrow and that the police were watching over them in the event there was trouble.”

The incident took place in Petaling Street, an enclave of Chinese traders and shopkeepers right smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, that has become the symbol of Chinese presence in Malaysia ever since the Red Shirt Rally on September 16.

Before we go on, a bit of context for those that don’t follow Malaysian political developments closely. The Malaysian Prime Minister is in trouble, not least because of his own stupidity. Already unpopular, he was caught with a smoking gun – US$700 million deposited in his personal account.

His refusal to explain how a large sum come to be in his account, apart from it being from a mysterious Middle East donor, has added to the attacks on him and his government. Adding on the pressure was a huge rally of about 500,000 people that was organised by Bersih, originally an elections watchdog grouping on August 29.

Besieged, Najib or his followers retaliated with a Red Shirt Rally on September 16. The Red Shirts ostensibly were rallying to protect “Malay dignity” and the disrespect the Chinese (the predominant ethnic group in the Bearish rally) have shown to the Malays and their leader, Najib. During their rally a group of the Red Shirts attempted to enter Petaling Street but they were stopped by Malaysia’s Federal Reserve Unit, a specialist division of the police that deals with crowd control.

They were left licking their wounds but threatened to stage a comeback on September 26 where the Red Shirts would enter Petaling Street to stage a protest and demand better conditions for Malay traders so they can also do business there. That was the ostensible reason but in the meantime the organiser Jamal Yunos threatened violence and was, rightly arrested by the police on September 25, a day before the planned rally.

In the meantime, though, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Hui Kang made a bizarre visit to the traders at Petaling Street on the evening of September 26 where he calmed the nerves of the traders by saying, as reported by Free Malaysia Today:

PETALING JAYA: China’s Ambassador to Malaysia has stated his firm belief that all Malaysians, save a handful, already enjoyed racial harmony and appealed to those bent on causing trouble tomorrow, to kindly refrain from doing so.

At a press conference, after distributing mooncakes to those present, Huang Hui Kang said, “I believe that 99 per cent of the Chinese and Malays live harmoniously and only a small number of them want to cause trouble tomorrow.

“We told businesspeople here that they can open as usual tomorrow if they want but if they feel unsafe, the choice is theirs to close instead.”

He also said that the traders at Petaling Street only wanted to carry out their business in peace and that for those who chose to open tomorrow, the police would be on standby to offer security in the event there was trouble.

“So far, about 50 per cent of traders, which equals to around 600 in number, are still fearful of opening tomorrow. However we will keep abreast of the news and act accordingly,” he said.

If you look at the social media feeds, his actions have been lauded and praised. The Chinese welcomed his comments and visit as a show of solidarity and brotherhood. Some even gave the impression that they would welcome China being their benefactor.

Others, including Chinese and Malay leaders in the Government and Opposition have been strangely silent. Only Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry, Wisma Putra, seems to be concerned by this development and has leaked the news that they will be summoning the Chinese Ambassador  for a discussion.

Where foreign relations go this is an incredible development on some levels.

On one level you have China blatantly meddling in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. The ambassador was making statements more appropriate for a Malaysian Minister than an envoy. Who begs the question of whether his message and gesture was sanctioned by China’s government. If it had been we should all shudder as you ask what China has to gain by stoking the racial fire. If it had not, was the Ambassador totally out of line and why has he not been recalled yet? The Chinese Embassy’s explanation sounds as credible as Mao doing a hip hop song. 

On another level, the Malaysian Chinese are making a grave mistake by accepting the Ambassador’s words and deeds as a sign of solidarity and empathy. The ancestors of the malaysian Chinese have been migrating out of China for at least the last couple of centuries – and for good reason, China is not a place that they would want to live in because of the socio, political and economic hardships. IN the intervening years, whole generation of Malaysian Chinese have grown up in a different political and social environment. The last thing they would want is China dictating their politics and social norms. China’s interest is not necessarily the same as those of the Malaysian Chinese and they should never forget that. Yet no prominent Chinese leader has come forward to denounce the Ambassador’s blatant assault to Malaysia’s sovereignty. And why? Because what’s popular now among the Chinese is anything slamming Najib and Umno. They won’t do the right but popular thing. 

 

On the third level is the response of the government. Has it become so weak that Wisma Putra has to leak stories to the media that it was summoning the Ambassador to chastise him? His offence has very clearly broken diplomatic protocols. Will this weakness lead to even bolder moves by China? The only criticism so far has come from the Government mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia and Umno Youth but no officials?

 

Uncouth Harley riders, police lackeys and one brave cyclist in Jogjakarta

Who among us who have the sense not to buy a big bike in Indonesia  do not resent the Harley Davidson riders?

They ride with seeming impunity on the roads we have a share in, polluting the environment with their throaty machines, violating our right of way with their convoys, brazenly violating the law with their illegal sirens and look extremely smug because the police they hire push the rest of us aside to make room for them.

One of the photos of the Jogja confrontation going viral on social media
One of the photos of the Jogja confrontation going viral on social media

So it is with great satisfaction that we see a brave citizen and cyclist in Jogjakarta taking on the Harley riders and their lackeys, the traffic police. Photos and videos of the incident has gone viral on social media. The videoclip below is long but worth looking at:

This video is enough to make any Harly Davidson rider with any sense of dignity hang up their leathers for good. How can grown, educated men behave in such a way?

Ah, the harley Davidson riders would say, but those are the bad riders who give us a bad name. We are the responsible ones who don’t do things like that. Tell that to the rest of us when we have seen you do something like that cyclist in Jogja. Of all people,if you really care for The Ride then you should be at the forefront of doing something like this.

Otherwise take your unnecessarily expensive leather jackets, the macho T-shirts you have to such your stomach in to look halfway decent, and your ridiculous bandana hiding your thinning pate up your exhaust pipes.

Where the police are concerned, they are so corrupt and obsequetious they are not worth getting angry over. You wonder what the police chiefs make of this incident. They’d probably be raging, but for the wrong reasons because either they or their mates are probably in the Harley convoy.  Shame. Shame. Shame.

 

 

 

Ahok: Last man standing and Indonesia’s best hope for change?

Living in Indonesia these days feels as if someone has pulled the plug, and all the common sense and integrity that we expect even of our most revered political hopes are draining quickly out of the country.

The Outsider Jokowi, whom many of us had hoped would be a catalyst for change against a corrupted and ossified elite, now seems a shadow of his former self after his indecisiveness over the KPK-Police issue. Some people are hoping against hope that his dithering was actually some master chess move to get rid of Budi Gunawan who is widely to have been foisted on him by PDIP matriarch Megawati. This seems a long shot, however, and suggests that the hopes had watched too much Black Adder and the antics of the scheming Baldrick in their formative years.

Recently we have also seen the disintegration of Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan. Once lauded for his fantastic performance to get the country’s rail transport to run on time – no mean feat considering how bad it was – Jonan his been on crash and burn mode since the Air Asia disaster. he berated Air Asia for the failings of the aviation authorities, then he banned several routes for no good reason, then shot his mouth off on civil aviation investigations into the crash. He also issued a bizarre ruling that airlines would not be able to sell tickets at airports. And when it came to Lion Air the Minister who is known to roar at his subordinates his disapproval, squeaked like a mouse and got the state-owned Angkasapura to bail out the private airline as it did not have enough funds to compensate passengers stranded for hours because of its delayed flights.

And Surabaya Mayor Risma, once considered part of a new wave of local leaders able to effect change in Indonesia, has recently gone off the rails with her crackdown on young lovers and the sale of condoms on Valentine’s day. Why she is encouraging backroom abortions and the spread of HIV with this morally-infused crackdown is anyone’s guess.

The KPK, once the hope of Indonesians to clean up corruption is now a shadow of its former self as the new head hints at going soft on the real issues. Sure, it has been weakened by its fight with the police over Budi Gunawan and the police and the judiciary are responsible for wounding it, but let’s not forget that some of the KPK’s wounds are also self-inflicted.

Begining with Antasari some of the KPK’s leaders like Abraham Samad fail to recognise that in this high profile job whee you are up against a lot of bad guys, they must be more virtuous than Caesar’s Wife if they are to maintain the integrity and authority of that office. Alas they had feet of clay and exposed the Achilles Heel for its opponents to take pot shots at.

Which bring us to Ahok, the Governor of Jakarta. He is now being threatened with ouster from his post by the City Councillors. They want him out because he’s refuse to confirm to their version of the City budget that, as we are learning more every day, contains irregularities that suggest corruption.

Ahok seems vulnerable because he does not even have a party to back him up, the’s a Chinese in the traditionally non-Chinese dominated arena of politics and he’s a Christian in Islamic majority Indonesia.

None of this seems to have fazed him, however, as he continues not only to defy the Councillors but to do so in a confrontational manner. Granted, Ahok can be abrasive and he may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his bravery and Devil-may-care attitude may be the thing that Indonesia needs now.

Unspun would argue that Ahok, more than Jokowi or any other politician deserves the support of the public. If there are enough of us who are willing to take to the streets to frighten the hell out of the councillors then they will back down and a strong message will be sent to all politicians that the People, not them, are in charge.

if Ahok, with the support of the people, can prevail over the corrupt city councillors and their parties, there stands Indonesia’s best chance of knocking down the other bowling pins of corruption and elitist politics. A victory for Ahok could prove a decisive and fatal blow to the old forces.

There have been some demonstrations in support of Ahok, notably yesterday’s gathering at Bundaren HI during car free day. There is also a petition being signed by tens of thousands at change.org.

But that is not enough. Shame is not a language that the politicians and councillors understand. Neither is logic. The only language they understand is force. Force can be manifested either peacefully or violently. There is no need to resort to violence in Indonesia under the present circumstances.

So what should be done? Occupying the City Council to deny the councillors access or, better still, if they are inside, denying them exit would be tremendously effective. Half jokingly a friend yesterday suggested that the artistes and others who were so effective at the Salam Dua Jari Concert should organize another event calling it #BringtheHouseDown.

Nothing short of something like this would force the councillors to back down. The problem, however, is whether Indonesians, especially Jakartans, have been gentrified by social media to the point of ineffectiveness. Do they possess the same spirit as the protesters in 1997-98 who brought about the Reformasi, or are they faux democracy supporters armed with social media accounts. A bit like harley Davidson riders pretending to be road warriors?

It is too easy these days to “do something” for a cause by liking it on FB, Tweeting a #, or signing up for a cause in change.org that results in — nothing but a lot of noise ricocheting about in cyberspace with no tangible real effects.

So what is it going to be? Waking on the Internet or taking to the streets?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blogger, the Crowd, and the Prime Minister

One of the early promises of the Net was its ability to democratise, to level the playing field.

Then the Net became ubiquitious, Facebook and others let the barbarians and trolls in to play and many of us got disenchanted with it.

So it is particularly heartening then to read about the power of the Net to level the playing field between Singapore blogger Roy Ngerng in the David corner and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Goliath corner.

Roy had been asking questions about how the Singapore Government has been using, or abusing, its funds. Lee didn’t like the criticism so he sued Roy.

The legal suit has been the Big Stick that governments and the rick can wield against pesky reporters and writers, who are usually not that well off financially. I remember many years ago in Malaysia when a tycoon took out a suit against one of the big names in journalism M.G.G. Pillay for something he wrote.

M.G.G. spiritedly tried to fight it but the pressure of having to pay something beyond what he could make if he lost the suit took its toll. I think it broke him to a certain extent.

But now, thanks to the Net, we have crowd funding, like what Roy has resorted to. The implications of his action, and his initial success at raising up to S$50,000 with little effort, has huge political implications.

It now means that writers and bloggers need no longer be that afraid of the crippling legal suit, especially if they are writing something critical about a government, institution or individual that is not publicly popular.

Sue me? I’ll crowd fund my law suit. let’s see you in court. Libel laws are still important, as with the principle of the right of the aggrieved party to sue for libel, but in this instance at least the scales of Justice have been tipped to be more even.

Published: 2 June 2014 | Updated: 3 June 2014 3:56 AM

A Singaporean blogger sued for damages by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) said Monday he had successfully raised fees for his legal defence in just four days through crowdfunding.

Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, a government health worker who posts comments on social issues, said 1,104 people had so far contributed more than Sg$72,000 (RM184,900), exceeding his target of Sg$70,000 (RM179,700) when he launched the campaign Friday.

Ngerng published the transaction history of his bank account on his crowdfunding platform. Many of the donors registered comments criticising Lee and opposing the use of libel suits to silence government critics.

Singapore officials have long used defamation suits against printed publications to defend their reputations.

Ngerng was the first online critic brought to court by a Singaporean leader.

“Donations were mostly of small denominations, and ranged from one cent to two thousand dollars,” Ngerng, 33, told AFP.

“It reflects the people’s frustrations with the current situation,” added Ngerng, author of a blog called ‘The Heart Truths’..[continued…]