We own the media. We are the power.

I did not find anything wrong with one of Indonesia’s leading news channels, TvOne, attempting to augment the seraphic side of Aburizal Bakrie. There’s no problem with Mr.Bakrie commanding the editorial board to polish his sexagenarian, triangular-shaped – rather than to say diamond-shaped, as most face-reading experts would accede to – face. There’s even nothing wrong  the TV station was asked to invite experts who prompted advice, indirectly, on how he would win the 2014 presidential election, the time the consensus-making ex-general currently in the ascendancy, President SBY, will have to step down.

I couldn’t understand why, but each time this TV station has intimation with ‘Bakrie’s’ name tagged in, I would always – and I can’t stand to – start smiling. When one of his sons got married with a pin-up,chic actress, the channel had its own William-and-Kate-alike red-letter day. When his mother passed out – it’s ordinary that someone bemoan her pullout from this profane world – it was repeatedly labelled ‘breaking news’, while other channels were actually airing either talk shows, tearjerking no-begin-no-end soap operas, or recidivously-screened out-of-date Hollywood films. Lastly, when Bakrie single-handedly appointed himself as the sole presidential nominee from the long-deposed Golkar party, the party where he served the main chairman (its raj-like cathedra overcast after Soeharto was ousted in 1998 by pro-reform students), while political analysts had repeatedly warned that Golkar’s popularity would even drain severely had he done so.

Firstly, I sympathize (but feel free to question my compliance) regarding to his mother’s dropping-a-cue. But, one thing that questioned me was this: is it a must that the procession be nationally televised, particularly when his reputation is divided into half ‘popular’ and half ‘notorious’, in which the latter tends to outstrip the former? Secondly, given that probably half the Indonesians dislike him, what made him remain so undaunted that he monopolized the nomination process? Is he overtly ambitious for the 2014 seat? Should I answer ‘must be’ or ‘could have been’?  Thirdly, it doesn’t matter if TvOne converts themselves into a publicity team for Bakrie’s fair name (like paying tribute to achiever-molding schools), but please be reminded of some scandals he had himself committed. As of the date this article is posted to my Facebook account (and my WordPress blog), one of his defunct energy companies, PT Minarak Lapindo Jaya, is in arrears approximately worth 900 billion rupiah (note: the 2006 Lapindo disaster, in which hot mud continuously flows out from the drilling fields in Sidoarjo, East Java, until now. Rumor has it that the company’s operating procedures and methods have been exceedingly breakneck, that even most of the energy companies refuse to invest there). At the same time, PT Bakrie Life, a bankrupt insurance company, owes its ex-customers more or less 270 billion rupiah, and it has been unpaid for 3 years. A conspiracy theory is postulated that Bakrie has actually aided Gayus Tambunan’s get-away (note: Gayus is an ex-tax officer currently sentenced for crimes of tax evasion worth more than 70 billion rupiah), had secretly met Gayus in Bali (something he dismissed as a ‘political intrigue’), and that Gayus had amassed 28 billion rupiah from three of Bakrie’s East Kalimantan-based coal mining giants: PT Bumi Resources Tbk., PT.Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), and PT.Arutmin.

 

As far as I know, if you visit Tv One’s website, and search ‘lapindo’ as the keyword, I bet you only attain 24 search results. What if you type ‘bakrie life’ instead? As though a fairy tale, the result is entirely null and void. But what if I type ‘bakrie’ instead? Multiply 18 with 24 search results obtained after typing ‘lapindo’. (in case your math is not good enough, here is the answer: 432)

(One more information: whenever you type ‘Hari Suwandi’ – one of Lapindo’s victims who expresses his dudgeon after garnering no compensation at all by walking non-stop from his hometown to Jakarta on foot to meet President and Bakrie – in the website, you still get quite many search results, but inconsequentially, the references link you to airplane accidents, instead, because many dead pilots reported were named, unfortunately, ‘Suwandi’.)

This makes me wonder. Bakrie has been repeatedly ‘commended’ (by his TV’s newscasters) for his attempts in improving Indonesian education system (he even set up a private university based on his surname) by visiting schools and giving motivational speeches to his students. But has he ever visited perished schools in Sidoarjo? Has he ever asked – and even contemplated – how their living condition looks like?

 

Ah, I just remember. Bakrie’s one is not only the epitome representing the concept of ‘concentration of media ownership’ – the situation where a conglomerate is able to control multiple mass media companies, particularly those of major, either national or worldwide, influence – but also ‘media bias’, when the truth is adjusted to what . But the second example, later, is not that linked to the latter, as I can say.

If TvOne behaves obfuscatorily regarding its boss’ misdeeds, Metro TV does it in reverse: it almost does attempt to subconsciously castigate him – and his political party – everytime cases linked to their names are exposed (like the recent corruption of Koran production in Ministry of Religious Affairs involving a Golkar politician, and a bribery scandal entangling a regent in Central Sulawesi, who also acts as Golkar’s cadre). Or is Surya Paloh, the channel’s founder and owner, trying to avenge him, after the fiasco he faced of not getting elected as Golkar’s main chairman?

I dare not imply that too far, but given quite intensive publicity campaigns, in which news broadcasters often cover his newly-formed party (originally he ‘only’ intended to make it a ‘non-political, civil organization’), Nasional Demokrat’s, abbreviated as Nasdem, events, there is some indication that both individuals are entering the political arena. But, still, both news channels have the similar agenda. They inform the public about government’s wrongdoings. That’s a necessary element of transparency throughout the age of democracy, but just sometimes, as I opine, both channels concentrate themselves too often on bad news rather than good news, as though we were presented with an endless array of politically themed soap operas. 2 years prior, both channels competed en masse in covering the 6.7-trillion-rupiah Bank Century scandal, and intensively tagged ‘Sri Mulyani’ and ‘Boediono’, which ended up with Sri’s resignation as Finance Minister. Last year, public was day-and-night brainwashed regarding Nazaruddin’s globe-trotting runaway period, his SEA Games’ housing project, and largely thanks to the perpetuating cover-up reports by the mass media, particularly both news channels, Partai Demokrat (where Nazaruddin used to serve as the main treasurer) has had its popularity severely jeopardized, with more cadres getting suspected of dozens of corruption scandals scattered in a mecca of projects nationwide. This year, it’s getting even more tense. Having been faced with out-Heroding-Herod anarchism misconducted by the university students during fuel hike protests and per-hourly updated, public’s attention is again headed to the Hambalang Sports City project (originally worth 125 billion rupiah, the costs all of a sudden soared until more than 2.5 trillion, with many key figures of the party suspected of the involvement in the so-called ‘megascandal’). As though unfinished, our minds are again directed to the realm of corruption in the supposedly ‘cleanliest and most sacrosanct’ ministry of all’. And another episode is yet to be aired.

 

“Guys, who do you think are more handsome? The bearded guy beside me or this bony old man?”

 

Ah, how difficult it seems to realize the ‘friction’. Everybody sees the content in it. But I also see intention. It is not merely a competition. It’s a duel, undeniably. Conglomerates need ‘hidden voices’ to transmit the messages that they are – subconsciously, in the mind’s public – reliable.

This helps to explain why most of the time billionaires, just like Bakrie and Paloh, have always been interested in acquiring, say the least, a bit of the mass media industry. Even an infinitesimal, disproportionately small portion is worth enough doing: once you have the mass media in your hands, you have had an invisible, gargantuan ‘mouth’ to control people’s minds. You can let them sympathize on matters you are actually not supposed to. You make people end up oblivious on your misdeeds. And, lastly, but not entirely, it is the most formidable piece of paraphernalia to bring you closer to the ascendance of power, thanks to the ‘indirect’ support of the viewers. Perhaps that’s why Warren Buffett had no regrets when he purchased The Washington Post Group – the owner of three of America’s largest TV stations, ABC, NBC, and CBS – a chain of more than 30 subsidiaries engaged in publishing, magazine, newspaper, radio, and broadcasting sectors. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – a full-fledged battalion of 500 companies – has tens of millions of staunch daily viewers in both United States and United Kingdom, despite the fact he’s an Australian. Even rumor has it that his Fox Channel (as it circulates around the American society, and has been a public secret) serves as the ‘mouthpiece’ of GOP, a party very well-revered by Wall Street, corporate giants, oil & gas pundits, warmongering generals, and fundamentalist, conservative Christians.

Very recently, Gina Rinehart, Australia’s first mining queen, and also currently the world’s richest woman (whose wealth surpasses 30 billion US$, and some experts have even projected her assets may have soared until exceedingly 100 billion US$ in no more than 5 years), has recently acquired Fairfax Group (and sold a few million after protests from Fairfax’s journalists), Australia’s largest media conglomeration to date after News Corp., while at the same time, there were rising concerns about her corporation’s environmental records. What’s more, she refuses to sign the group’s charter of editorial independence and demands that the group alter its understanding of ‘global warming’ as something ‘naturally occurring, not man-made’. What does that indicate? Or more precisely, what else can’t be indicated more, when all she has is that she owns the media, and she is the power?

 

“Fairfax, I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse!”

Still, it won’t ever be a sin when you either crack upon or suppress someone’s mistakes. At least, to my own context.

*********

Want some more factoids? Here they are:

  1. It is Carlos Slim Helu’s right to acquire 6.4% of The New York Times’ shares in NYSE in 2008. That’s why seldom media outlets expose his monopoly on telecommunication industry in Mexico (OECD even lambasts Mexico for circumscribing the most expensive phone credits in the world.)
  2. Like a duplicate of Tv One-Golkar’s harmonious relationship, Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa, has long had (and still has) cordial relationship with the long-deposed PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), a political party known to have been dictators’ (and major oligarchs’) powerhouse for more than half a century, until its dominance ended in 2000.
  3. Newspapers in Hong Kong are so afraid of exposing the ‘bad news’ of Li Ka-shing, the region’s richest tycoon. According to Joe Studwell, as taken from his book ‘Asian Godfathers’, he would order his companies cease advertising on these newspapers once they’re caught sneaking into his ‘darker side’.

 

Learn more about the flaws of media here.

Empire state of commotion

Source: antarafoto.com

Widespread protests opposing the planned fuel price hike – from Rp 4500 to Rp 6000 a litre – have plagued a plethora of major cities and towns throughout Indonesia within a few weeks. Almost every hour, quotidian, we could witness on television reports on how these ‘people’s fighters’, day and night, in a perpetual motion involved in endless brawls against policemen. Personally, I pitied the most those policemen – albeit I even never have an acquaintance who’s in this job – who had to resist much pain of being stoned by those mobster-behaving nation’s next labelled ‘intellects’, something which has been the consequence of being the caretakers of national safety. And the civilians, inobliviously, who were not able to proceed their work as a by-product of the demonstrators smashing things into smithereens. And, more miserably, 3 policemen and 3 journalists were badly injured in an acid attack by unknown provocators. Some red-plate vehicles (indicating that these belong to state employees) were prey to their bursting wrath. But, above those all, the bulk of their actions – claiming to be inspired by the 1998 en masse demonstrations which successfully brought Soeharto’s power to the end of his tethers – no longer attracted sympathy from majority of the citizens. Rather than feel ‘represented’, they instead concluded to have been much ‘hampered’ by the manners these university students expressed their opinions.

Our school was even vacanted for 2 days – fearing the students’ safety – on both Tuesday and Saturday last week because of what they did. Many of us – as seen from their tweets – seemed to kill time while monitoring the current situation taking place in major cities across Indonesia. But, often, no matter how wrought-up the commotion was between the protestors and the security forces – such as Flintstone-era stone wars, jostling-turned-wrestling duels, or water-cannon attractions, we were often interrupted with still-water-run-deep interviews between news broadcasters and ‘seemingly-expertise’ economists, happy-talk politicians who seemed to fully support what the ‘intellects’ did, even if it’s wrong in pursuance of most of the society, and little-known leaders of student leagues claiming to be ‘the most staunchful opponents’ of government’s policies they considered to be all neo-liberal and bring no benefits for proletariats, who possess no ‘a-fault-confessed-is-half-redressed’ conventional wisdom, who all the time turned A to Z whenever audiences, through interactive phone calls, frequently denounced their methods. Endlessly waiting for the hourly headline news to know the latest condition, particularly about the lumping protests in our hometown, I instead found myself so time-wasting listening to their dialogues. And more repugnant is, to know the open encouragement by some parliamentarians that ‘university students are always victimized, while the policemen are way too repressive’. They said so as though the citizens were kindergarten students.

Among all the big cities in Indonesia, Medan was the first in terms of having huge numbers of civilians involved in mass rallies as protests against fuel price hike. On 26th March, what the coordinators had warned against authorities in the government days prior that they would bring in more than 15 thousand labors, university students, farmers, fishermen, and cadgers seemed to have come true. Rumors spread up rapidly through Blackberry Messenger that riots, in no time, would possibly be the follow-up after the mass protests. One broadcast message warned that the protesters were actually targeting Chinese-owned businesses, having a 1998 tragedy rehearsed in more horrifying scale than ever. Another one, exaggeratingly as it sounds, claimed that the sender had heard from secret insiders that as many as 800 thousand masses, all around North Sumatera, would turn the entire Medan, until Berastagi, into oceans of fire and maelstrom, with numerous names of streets being mentioned (for even more information, it also included Hillpark in Bandar Baru). 800 thousand? I asked myself, will all these so-called ’800,000’ show up, having themselves grilled under the scalding sun with little-paid wherewithal, while insofar, most of the jobs they hold in are still in very safe condition, far from the threats of being laid-off by their bosses?

But, as far as my Blackberry has ever received such peculiar messages, there was one that seemingly provoked my mind not to worry, but more to gaggle, instead. The mastermind behind the broadcast message must be some sorts of nosy bratz who simply favor in playing truants, warning us that schools in Medan and Jakarta will be occupied by protesters. Only Medan and Jakarta, while all the protesters were actually aiming for legislative offices, traffic roundabouts in city centers, and places of vital interest (Pertamina offices, highways, industrial zones, or airports (airports? What’s the connection?))? If it were so, why wouldn’t the protesters just simply blockade all the schools nationwide? Why only Medan and Jakarta? Isn’t that showing off inequality?

Nevertheless, the school’s staff immediately informed us to go back home as far as 12.40 pm, with the exception that teachers, particularly those having schedules until 3 pm or more, would have to stay. That message was delivered almost in tandem with the beginning of the obtestation, situated exactly in front of the office of North Sumatera’s representative body, as broadcast in my Twitter feed (I opened my Blackberry under-the-table at that time, violation of a school rule). Supposed to end at 2.50 pm, all of the students were instead told to leave after the school bell rang at the destined time. Hundreds of parents rushed in to classes to find their children and take them back. Furthermore, the first and second junior high school students even called it a day, knowing that their schedule usually starts at 12.50 pm.

Public relations division of our city’s metropolitan police force had previously advised that businesses, schools, and all daily activities in Medan go on as usual, and be not affected by any broadcast messages or SMS they referred to as ‘unclear’. But what actually happened was a total reversal. Thousands of businesses were closed, roads and streets were mostly vacant, and some schools caught on to the same way. Meanwhile, most of the red-plate vehicles, and oil-tanks dared not to circle around the city, fearing of disfiguration efforts by some of the anarchists. So were some of the gas tanks here.

The climax was when all the masses took a walk from the representative body’s offices into Polonia airport. Trying to blockade the entire territories, what happened next was stone war: protesters dismantled one by one all the barbed fences both the police and army had set up as anticipation. Police fired tear gas and enormous streams of water against the protesters. Worse, a Petronas gas station only a stone’s throw away from Polonia almost became prey to the angry masses. And that’s what the TV stations reported. However, on the next day, whether it’s true or false, as written in newspapers, it was said that the crowds had successfully looted away countless stuff from the minimarket and KFC restaurant inside the gas station. It remained blurred which report was correct and which was falsified, but for sure, this had highlighted the ultimately rough-and-tumble side of our ‘next leaders’. The next day, the airport was heavily guarded by 1500 troops within the radius of 150 meters, with not even a single protester allowed to get in.

ANDRI GINTING/SUMUT POS-

Source: Sumut Pos

27th March was another one of the last days in March we really feared of. Some leaders of little-known student bodies threatened to bring 2.5 million citizens into the streets, to boycott the entire economic activities over the country, and even to occupy Presidential Palace and House of Representatives, and to force SBY-Boediono to step down. Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDIP), the most outspoken opposition party, bandwagoned exactly what they did, by threatening the government to dispatch 1 million of its cadres across all the main roads in all the country’s main cities. In total, it’s 3.5 million.

But a few days later, it was found out that ‘only’ no more than 80 thousand people – nationwide –did really take to the streets. Yet, no matter how ‘underachieved’ the demonstrations were, still they looked terrifying to the civilians. There was stone war going on in Jakarta, while another one took place in Makassar, where the students out-Heroded Herod by throwing down the gauntlets not only on police, but also ordinary citizens (and Makassar had the highest frequencies of such occurrences), while some others also came off in cities such as Bandung, Surabaya, Medan (it was a luck that demonstration lasted peacefully here on that day, after governor of North Sumatera ‘promised’ to bring such disputes to the state level), and more than 120 regencies/cities largely overlooked by the mass media.

On the same day, fearing of our safety, most of us decided not to crucify our lives for education’s sake. The school unofficially called it ‘a day’. In our class, only 1 student was present. In our neighboring class, only 2 came. Many of the classes were totally vacant, while Science classes were a bit more thickset than those in the Social stream, with some of the classes still having 10 and 20 students each, in between. But, above those all, given the compensation by the school that our absence would not affect our overall scores, I noticed that some of the students merely considered it a ‘blessing in disguise’. Ah, never mind about that.

ANTARAFOTO

Source: Viva News

In the long run, the most determining date was 31st March, in which it was decided in the plenary session whether the government would increase fuel prices or not. There has been intense disputation between government and House of Representatives for more than one week, from day to night and night to day (sometimes the debate went on until more than 2 am), about the scale of subsidies supposedly distributed if the fuel prices are to go up. PDIP, Hanura, and Gerindra remained hard-headedly in their position, totally opposed to government’s policy they believed would make the poor even poorer. Partai Demokrat insisted that more than three-quarters of the total subsidies, reportedly this year costs our national expenditure more than 150 trillion rupiah, instead go to the upper-class elites, those able to obtain cars. Golkar and PKS turned out to be confusing societies. Firstly held to the consensus by Setgab (a multi-party coalition secretariat consisted of Demokrat, Golkar, PAN, PKB, PPP, and PKS) that fuel prices – no matter how the situation is – must be raised by a-third on 1st April, they instead made a surprising U-turn, totally countervailing the government’s proposal, one day before the plenary session took place.

Exactly on the same day House of Representatives held the session, mass demonstrations again took place, but this time, they turned out to be even more brutal than have been previously imagined. Previously on Thursday, there was intense brawl occurring in Jakarta. One police post was set ablaze, some police cars were smashed and set fire, and many policemen were wounded in the incident. However, what really sent us down the shivers was the rumor that as many as 8 university students had been shot with bullets, real bullets, by the riot police. If that were to happen, as my parents and some others worried, another 1998 tragedy would be inevitable to avoid. (note: one day after 4 Trisakti students were shot dead during a demonstration against fuel price hike, mass lootings and murders took place almost everywhere around the country, largely targeting Chinese-Indonesians)

The street fight, in fact, happened to be in Salemba.

Fortunately, the rumor was not true, despite the fact that these 8 students were really shot, but with rubber bullets, instead.

On 1st April, anticipating any further possible riots, all of us were told – through Blackberry Messenger – that we didn’t have to attend the school on the day before the decision was implemented. I myself received more than 10 similar broadcast messages, while some friends of mine received more than 20. While asking for verification from the school whether it’s already proven or not, one of my friends suddenly Ping-ed me, informing that our class’ form teacher had ordered me to send messages to all my classmates, demanding them not to come for their safety. At the same time, having known that areas surrounding my home had also been blocked by the students burning unused car tyres, my mom advised me not to go on tuition anymore.

Everyone was in deep uncertainty what the final decision would be. The plenary session was continuously delayed many times, firstly from 1 to 2 pm, in which the session lasted approximately one hour, from 4 to 5 pm, from 5 to 6 pm, then dinner, then from 6 to 7 pm, again from 7 to 8 pm, again 8 to 10 pm, until most of the representatives began to lose patience, before the session resumed at 10.40 pm. The meeting, as everyone saw and tweeted what they churned out, turned out to be ‘funnier’, in tragicomedy contexts, than the demonstrations themselves. Before the session began, hundreds of students clashed with hundreds of riot police amidst the rain, no more than a few hundred meters from my own home. Some of the civilians threw stones at the police as well. They kept on blocking three main roads of Medan until a further 7 hours, before they were forcefully disbanded at 10 pm. Many of the police posts were smashed to smithereens and burnt to ruins. Some dozens were captured and brought in to the nearby police stations. Another similar thing also occurred in Makassar, and in Jakarta, altogether. The situation in Jakarta, as reported on TV stations, even reminded me of a New Year celebration, as riot police unstoppably launched fireworks, in many colors, around House of Representatives, forcing the protesters to get out of the complex.

Police fired tear gas in front of House of Representatives to disband protesters.

Back to the nation-determining plenary session. Throughout the meeting, from 10.40 pm to almost 1.30 am, I could hear hundreds of ‘Interruption!’ exclamations pronounced very loudly by the parliamentarians against headship of the meeting. Chairman of the House of Representatives, Marzuki Alie, must be the most patient person in the world. No matter how many times (hundreds, as I guess) he’s been yelled at ‘Chief!’ by those unforbearing members aspiring to interrupt his speech to voice out their opinions, his face, though a bit annoyed, seemingly had so much patience to go on with the meeting. (the same thing he had done for the rest by procrastinating the schedule, perhaps to extend their patience limits, but who knows?) Someone sang Mbah Surip’s reggae-style ‘Tak Gendong’, and some others acted as though they were kindergarten kids. Some screamed, and some others almost began fist fights. Some ignored, and some did finger-pointing against each other in a very furious manner. Some later walked-out (as PDIP and Hanura members did), and some students in yellow jackets (known to be from UI, Indonesia’s best university) had pushing against the security guards. Some were hard-headed, and others seemed to be Janus-faced, double-faced hypocrites. That’s how their plenary session be defined, I guess.

After the chairmanship decided to use voting system, here’s the final result that we got: 356 out of 531 House of Representative members (including those from Golkar and PKS) decided to NOT increase fuel prices on 1st April. It was instead resolved by further analysis on 6 months whether oil crude price, pegged at NYMEX standards, will surpass 120.75 US$ a barrel or not. In case that happens, the fuel price hike is automatically implemented. That also means we have 6 months to wait, 6 months in uncertainty. Our fear, indeed, is instead postponed to a further period as already decided.

Personally, I can’t decide which one is the most suitable policy to adjust our national budgets and its steepening deficits. It seems that every side, either the staunchful supporters or the opposition, do seemingly have their own reasons and statistics to prove their alternatives are best implemented. But, as far as I know, our oil industry has long been problematic and overtly corrupt, and given that factor, our government seemed to have no more other ways but to place the most frequently staked political commodity, at stake itself. That’s what I can say.

*****

3 to 4 years ago, I once read through a few blog posts by oil engineers, claiming that a geological fault located west of Simeulue Islands, Aceh, is estimated to have contained Brobdingnagian amounts of oil reserves. The range may be between 100, in minimum, and 350, in maximum, billion barrels. Even if it’s proven that the fault – a by-product of 2004 Aceh disaster – does have oil as much as the former, we would have been in almost similar position with oil-producing gold-laden sultanates like Kuwait. But what if there were 350 billion barrels? It could make us even richer than Saudi Arabia, and we might be the ‘Saudi Arabia of petroleum’ ourselves. But, long after the time has passed, there’s little, or even a no, progress on the hypothesis. Has the news report itself been concealed? I can’t decide.

Even if it were correct, I’m not sure the oil itself will give Indonesia so much prosperity as the extracting companies have promised. The commotion will still be there, instigated by endless rivalries of corporations, political parties, or superpowers, thristy of power and influence. Or worse, possibly, oil may be utilized as a ‘weapon’ to acquire power. It brings a nation wealth, but it also brings a nation curses as well, Midas-style.

And that’s why I titled this article ‘empire state of commotion’.