Before embarking on my seven-week trip to Indonesia, I had this idea that I would be entering a fast-paced, stress-inducing, metropolitan newsroom where everyone had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth. But boy, was I way off with that prediction.
In reality, Indonesian media and journalism is quite different to Australia’s, and what I found was that the cultural differences were the cause.
Slow and steady
I went on an immersion program with a company called ACICIS. There were 29 journalism students from across Australia in total. We were placed at various news organisations, from print, to online, to broadcast. The commonality between all of our experiences however, was that the pace in which Indonesians worked, gathered news, and edited was incredibly slow.
For example, I would have a call time of 8am, but my colleagues in the same team for the day would arrive at 9am and even then we wouldn’t head off to our location for a while after that. They call this “Indonesian time” because rarely do people ever arrive at the time they’re supposed to.
My Indonesian colleagues would always tell me “waiting is normal here”. And they weren’t kidding. We’d go to our location, perhaps do a few live crosses to the anchor for the program playing at that time, but mostly we would just sit and wait for instruction or for talent to arrive. This waiting would go on for hours and hours on end.
Now it’s important to mention that Indonesians in general don’t move at a fast pace like Australians often do, so their approach to journalism is much the same. It’s also important to note that they have far more journalists employed than we do in Australia which is why they can afford to have a team sit around and wait for a story. The downside, however, is that they are paid abysmally. What I earn in a week as a part time news assistant in Australia, the average full-time journalist earns in a month in Indonesia.
Watchdog v peace keeper
The government restrictions that originated in the Suharto regime have profoundly shaped the Indonesian practice of journalism. It’s brought about an idea of “development journalism” as opposed to “watchdog journalism”. In Australia there’s an emphasis on being the fourth estate – a government watchdog. However, this emphasis isn’t as strong in Indonesia. In saying this, in recent years there has been a crack down on corruption in government, business and the police force.
In 2006 Jacob Utama – the founder of Indonesia’s most widely read daily newspaper, Kompas – said the press “cannot be blunt, we must be considerate, especially about religion and race. These are sensitive issues in this country. I always think of the impact” (Tapsell 2012, p. 229). Stories or opinions that may question religion are sensitive topics. Particularly with the rise of the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) and Ahok (Jakarta’s governor) currently being on trial for blasphemy against the Islamic faith.
Beating around the bush
In general, Aussies can be rather blunt and direct in our communication. Frank and straightforward reporting of controversial issues is valued highly in western countries. However, in Indonesia that style of reporting and communicating is too confrontational. Anyone who knows me personally can testify to the fact that I am incredibly honest and straight to the point. It was something I had to adjust in Indonesia so I didn’t appear rude or culturally insensitive.
Sensitivity. That’s what it comes down to. Arguably something the Australian media often lacks. Perhaps it’s food for thought for our approach to journalism.
All in all experiencing these cultural and journalistic differences was eye-opening to say the least. It’s given me a new found appreciation for how much our Australian journalists can achieve with limited numbers and tighter deadlines. It still amazes me that two nations can be so close geographically but so different culturally. And if I’ve learnt anything during my time as a tourist and as an intern, it’s that having an understanding and a respect for different cultures is of the utmost importance now, more than ever.