After The Crash
01 July 1998
Interviews by Richard Lloyd Parry
Pictures by Steve Sandford
The talk-show host
Wimar Witoelar was the presenter of Perspektif, a television talk show which was taken off the air in 1995 after it interviewed critics of the government. Since then he has begun presenting a new late-night programme, and founded a web site, a radio programme, a syndicated newspaper column, a publishing and merchandising business, a management consultancy and public relations agency.
Perspektif became very popular because it represented a certain something... nothing concrete, just an attitude of scepticism, irreverence maybe, alternative thought. It criticized the government by implication--I never named names. But the government started to get wary. I was called in and warned, and then I had Muchtar Lubis on, a journalist whoís critical of every government. We made some cracks, and ten minutes after the show somebody called the station and said we must stop right now. The owner wouldnít reveal who that somebody was, but it was someone with power.
The new show in different, set in a cafť, with a broad range of guests, from very serious types--army generals and Ph.D.s--to Miss Indonesia, comedians and dancers. Itís still going strong, because talk shows are cheap and thereís an increase in interest as times get more critical. We are allowed to call in economists and talk about the financial crisis, and they tend to be from the opposition. Last night we were launghing about the ineptitude of the government, the clumsiness, the inconsistency. People love that.
Twenty years ago I spent a month in detention for anti-Suharto activities, and I donít want to repeat that. But itís so random, the political danger--it has almost nothing to do with what you do. Itís to do with palace politics, the vested interests, and itís hard to follow day by day. So we just do our thing, and at least we win in the court of public opinion, as they say. Iím just a normal guy, but the country is uptight, so I look quite brave.
People criticize me and say Iím just talk with no action, and I say: thatís right. Iím the talk guy, not the action guy. If enough people talked Iím sure thereíd be enough people ready with the action. This is a new world. Suharto wonít be thrown out by demonstrations, by 100,000 angry students Heíll be thrown out by fund managers in Hong Kong. And by talk shows, probably.