For a newspaper columnist, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week in the emotionally charged world of television news.
Each of my interviewers was incredibly thorough, preparing and framing questions, discussing with producers and calming guests all at the same time. Each interview was a unique scenario.
While many outsiders tend to see media outlets as vessels that are ready to spring on the ill-prepared and foolhardy, I’ve always viewed it — especially in Indonesia — as an intensely competitive, individualistic environment. In short: You generalize at your peril.
Najwa Shihab, the host of the Metro TV current events program “Mata Najwa,” is delightful and extremely gracious. Rosianna Silalahi, formerly of SCTV, has a razor-sharp mind acutely honed toward politics.
Her new production, the “Rossy Show” on Global TV, is not for the evasive.
Meanwhile, TVOne’s Tina Talisa is indefatigable — buttonholing Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan for an interview upon meeting him.
I should add that she was also in the middle of interviewing three other guests on Indonesia-Malaysia bilateral relations.
So, Indonesian journalists are obviously as diverse as the rest of the country. They can also be pretty demanding. While they strive to put you at ease, the expectations for guests are high.
Indeed, in the background, you can sometimes see the producers and assistants shaking their heads when someone misses the point or pontificates.
Having completed four separate sessions on Indonesian television in the past few days, I have to confess that the experience was as challenging as it was enjoyable.
The reason behind my sudden exposure to the world of TV news began on Aug. 13 when three Indonesian fisheries officers were detained by Malaysian police. I had initially expected the matter to be settled amicably.
However, the timing was very unfortunate, just days before Independence Day celebrations on the 17th.
Understandably, Indonesia’s media went into overdrive and the issue quickly developed its own momentum.
In the ensuing controversy, the public became increasingly incensed at what was perceived to be a series of deliberate slights.
The first was the perceived “barter” transaction — that the Indonesian officers had been released in exchange for seven Malaysian fishermen who were detained earlier.
Subsequently, it was alleged that the Indonesian officials had been poorly treated while being detained.
In the following weeks, certain Malaysian politicians unfortunately chose to adopt aggressive tones just as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seemed to step back from taking stern action.
At the same time, Malaysians were disturbed when demonstrators threw human excrement at their country’s embassy in Jakarta and by the apparent belligerence of Indonesia’s media.
Amid this highly volatile environment — and because Malaysians were in short supply — I made my halting and ungrammatical appearances on national TV.
In the past I’ve tended to see these bilateral problems as the preserve of politicians and diplomats. However, this time around, I felt I had to add my voice to the debate.
At the same time, friends in Jakarta-based media were desperately looking for a Malaysian — any Malaysian — who could provide an alternative perspective.
So what did I learn? Well, for starters, TV, especially live TV, is about human emotions. Yes, you must be clear in what you say, but the way you say it and the reactions from your fellow guests as well as the all-important interviewer are critical.
Second, you have to remain calm, however provocative or heated the discussion might get. Equanimity is critical.
Third, when you are in someone else’s country you have to pick your words very carefully — all the more so since you’ve still got to return back to Kuala Lumpur at some stage and Malaysians, especially the government, are less tolerant of critical views in the media.
Sadly, back in Kuala Lumpur we’re still in an era similar to Suharto’s New Order — with no reformasi on the horizon.
Which brings me to the last point: namely that the vastly different political cultures of our two countries make a swift resolution of outstanding bilateral issues difficult if not impossible.
In Indonesia, media are mirrors of the nation’s complexity. In Malaysia, control and regimentation mean we often forgo our diversity in the quest for discipline. Still, one must hope that cooler heads will continue to prevail.
Karim Raslan is a columnist who divides his time between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Source: The Jakarta Globe
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