"I look forward to bearing witness to the evolution of a democratic society which can afford to stop looking inwards."Jakartass 19th October 2005
Indonesians above the poverty line are beginning to examine their role in society and it all started with the downfall of Suharto. Perhaps the first evidence, apart from the hitherto-banned demonstrations, was President Habibie's decision to free the press
from government restrictions.In the 12 months following Suharto?s resignation, the government granted 718 new media licences, a leap from the 289 issued in the 53 years since the country?s independence. And ... in November 1999, the government abolished the all-powerful Department of Information (known as Deppen).
For decades, this fixture of government exerted tight control over the media and forbade coverage of any subject that stoked sentiments of ethnicity, religion, race or belief?a justifiable policy in a nation made up of numerous ethnic and religious groups. But that rule was gradually stretched to cover anything that annoyed the government.
Rules regarding ownership have been loosened so that foreign companies can now own a limited stake in Indonesian media companies. We recently heard that Rupert Murdoch's Hong Kong based Star TV is buying a 20% stake in ANTV
, headed by Anin Bakrie, son of the the chief Economy Minister. More opium for the masses, and hardly a step forward in press freedom, yet an indication that the government is not afraid of the media.
However, it is inclined to ensure that no more than 20% is foreign-owned
Minister of Communications and Information Sofyan Djalil told The Jakarta Post
recently that, "We will check the ownership of local TV stations to ensure that foreign ownership does not exceed 20 percent at the stations ... this is to guarantee our media is not influenced by foreigners.
However, the ownership and performance of the mass media is not a true indicator of a society's freedom of expression. What is more vital is the ability of its citizens to express themselves.
One of the first groups here to do so were young women writers
.Over the past few years a steady stream of young writers have been charting the changes in Indonesian society. It all got going in 1998, the same year as the downfall of former President Suharto. In that turbulent social and political climate, Ayu Utami's challenge to tradition in the best-seller Saman proved that young women had something to say, and that there were plenty of people who wanted to listen.
In the West it's known as chick-lit; here, it's 'sastra wangi', or 'fragrant literature'. Don't be fooled by the flowery description though. Chick-lit Indonesian style is urban, contemporary, and quite capable of raising a few eyebrows.
Certain elements of Indonesia's fairly conservative society may not approve, but Nurzain Hae, a literary critic, said it was the willingness of the "sastra wangi" writers to tackle such themes
(as sex and homosexuality) that has won them their fans.
It may help sell the books, but it does little to reveal their literary merits. The books may not be classics, according to literary critic Nurzain Hae, but they serve an important role.
"The way they write actually needs more editing," he said, "because they're still learning their writing techniques. But the good thing about 'sastra wangi' is that it makes people want to read again. Interest in reading is racing right now."
That can only be good and the urge to write and be read is burgeoning as can be witnessed by the growth in Indonesia's blogosphere. Reformasi
coincided with the early days of the internet and a freedom of expression not predetermined by geopolitical borders.
There are now an estimated 10,000 bloggers here in Indonesia. No-one knows the true number; we have to rely on blogging tools such as Technorati
for our estimates. One blogger who has is Priyadi
, who recently published his list of the top 100 blogs written in Indonesian or about Indonesia.
There are inevitably a few chronicling personal minutae as well as a couple which seemingly have no connection with Indonesia whatsoever. However, there are many good reads listed here, including a few online friends such as Enda Nasution
at no. 2, The Swanker
at no.60, Isman
at no. 83 and Indcoup
at no. 86.
And where is Jakartass, I hear you cry? Actually, this blog isn't listed, even though my researches on Technorati
show a ranking of 60,007 with 110 links from 32 sites. This equals the 88th position on Priyadi's list.
OK, few of us blog in order to win popularity contests
but we all write in order to be read. With over 100 readers a day, I won't commit hara kiri
. Instead, I'll just swallow my pride
and keep on blogging.