Wahid a victim of prejudiced press

Bangkok Post
25 March 2001

Jeffery Sng In Jakarta

'My advisers tell me I should sue them," said an uncannily relaxed President Abdurrahman Wahid, seated behind a massive desk stacked with Beethoven CDs in his spacious office inside the Presidential Palace. "The media have been making slanderous accusations against me."Outside the Presidential Palace 20,000 radical Islamic students had gathered chanting "Gus Dur, Mundur!" (Gus Dur Resign!).

"But I am reluctant to bring newspapers to court because it would create a depressing effect on press freedom," said Wahid, who is better known by his honorific childhood name of Gus Dur.

Sitting behind his desk, which had been repositioned by well-wishers in accordance with Feng Shui, the President explained in his quiet and matter-of-fact way the problems he faced with the media. As he spoke, Gus Dur was interrupted by an occasional telephone call or report from his staffers on the status of the student demonstration taking place outside the palace grounds. A report informed Gus Dur that the ambitious fundamentalist Muslim leader Amien Rais was spotted directing the demonstration from a commandeered bus. Another report informed him that large numbers of loyalists from his own 40 million-strong traditional Islamic organisation Nadahtul Ulama were marching on the Presidential Palace to show solidarity with their leader under siege.

"The media have mounted a systematic campaign to destroy Gus Dur's image," said Thai Buddhist leader Sulak Sivaraksa, who was in Jakarta with members of the Thai Senate Human Rights Commission, democracy activist Phipob Dongchai and Forum Asia chairman Somchai Homla-or.

"We do everything we can to answer many malicious accusations against the President but the media don't pick it up," said presidential spokesman Wimar Witoela. Members of the President's family are distressed by the sustained campaign in the media to discredit Gus Dur and to convince the public that the wise and gentle man whom the people supported to be their President has changed.

Wahid descends from Java's ecclesiastical Muslim aristocracy. He is well educated, cosmopolitan and polyglot-speaking Arabic, Javanese, Indonesian, English and Dutch. He is steeped in the Koran and solidly represents a living tradition, that of Javanist Islam as opposed to the Modernist stream of Islamic fundamentalism.

Gus Dur grew up at the centre of Javanist Islamic politics. His father, Wahid Hashim, was the leader of Nahdatul Ulama, the organisation of traditional Javanist Islam and a loyal supporter of Sukarno. Witty, philosophical, erudite in Islamic theology and occasionally Machiavellian, Gus Dur was more than equal to the task of giving all his political rivals a run for their money during the last days of Suharto's crumbling New Order. As a result of last-minute political manoeuvring Gus Dur managed to slip in through the narrowest of spaces to gain the presidency of the Republic of Indonesia. However, after coming to power Gus Dur quickly revealed his independence. Those who had supported him, believing they could control him if only because of his near blindness, became disappointed. Amien Rais was one of them. The honeymoon with his political rivals was soon over. The media went on the offensive against Gus Dur. In this undeclared war against Gus Dur the media tends to regard facts as largely irrelevant. What apparently matters is the article of faith that Gus Dur's fall from power is imminent because of the country's intractable problems he has failed to solve, election pledges he was unable to deliver and the thickening political intrigue by his opponents to overthrow him.

Therefore, the media tends to highlight the President's mistakes, magnify the significance of political intrigues against him, exaggerate the threats to his position, downplay his achievements and ignore his replies to his accusers.

One recent accusation against the President is that he is interfering with the media. "This is a bad joke. Gus Dur is the most liberal President Indonesia has ever had and the most committed to the idea of press freedom," exclaimed Rizal Ramli, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs.

The fact that the media, including the press, has been able to continue attacking the President with impunity tends to contradict the media's own claim that freedom of expression is being shackled.

"Nothing can be further from the truth. I am the victim of the media. The local media make libellous accusations against me. These lies are often picked up and reported in the international press and subsequently quoted back in the local press. When the lies are picked up and reported in the international media they become magnified. When the same lies, circulating in the international media, are quoted back in the local press, they are multiplied," said Gus Dur.

Ownership and control of the media are largely in the hands of the President's political opponents. "Most of the urban TV channels are owned by Suharto's daughter Tutut and other Suharto cronies. The press has been bought," said Gus Dur in a quiet matter-of-fact manner.

Dr Habib Chirzin, editor of the Muslim journal Kultur, reaffirmed that at least four TV stations, including TVI and SCTV, are owned by Tutut. The government owns only one TV station. The most established and prestigious daily newspaper, Kompass, belongs to Catholic media mogul Yacob Oetama. The English-language daily Jakarta Postalso belongs to the Kompass Group. There is evidently a high degree of concentration of ownership and control in the media industry. Even the rich, powerful and famous would think twice before deciding to take on the media.

Although media ownership is apparently dominated by Abangan and Christian interests, radical Muslim groups have managed to penetrate Kompass. Consequently, Kompass's editorial line often reflects the views of radical Muslim groups who have recently become very critical of Gus Dur.

"Muslim influence in Indonesia's largest Catholic newspaper dates back to 1991, when Kompass was threatened by Muslim fundamentalist groups who attacked a Kompass Group tabloid for printing the results of a poll which alleged that the public regarded Suharto as more famous than the Prophet Mohammad," said Gus Dur. The tabloid incident incurred the wrath of pious Muslim fundamentalists who demanded that the tabloid, Monitor, be banned from publication. "To pacify the radical Muslims, the owner of Kompass, Yacob Oetama apparently let several Muslims sit on the editorial board of the newspaper," recalled Gus Dur. "Some of the hostility against me, reflected in Kompass, can be traced to the radical Muslim elements on the editorial board who are closely associated with my political opponents in the fundamentalist Muslim camp.""The only time I have interfered with the media was when I dissolved the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Social Affairs, which represented the propaganda machinery of GOLKAR and General Suharto's New Order, one day after I was installed as President of the Republic of Indonesia," added Gus Dur.

The press also alleged that Gus Dur wanted to issue a decree to disband GOLKAR. "That's rubbish," said Gus Dur. By its mischievous reporting the press has contributed to the tension between Gus Dur and his coalition partners including GOLKAR chairman Akbar Tanjung and Vice President Megawati.

Further damaging Gus Dur's credibility is the way the media blew up the extraordinary story of Gus Dur's masseur, Suwondo, who disappeared after allegedly persuading a senior official of BULOG, the state food distribution agency, to embezzle US.1 million from a pension fund. The event was dramatised by the media as Gus Dur's Bulogate.

But Suwondo has been caught and is now in jail. Strangely, the media gave considerably more attention to Bulogate when Suwondo was at large than after Suwondo was apprehended. Many people outside Indonesia did not even know that Suwondo had been arrested. It would seem that if the media are really interested in getting to the bottom of the scandal of Bulogate now is the time to focus on Suwondo and his testimony and that of other witnesses.

Another scandal mongering story, dramatised as Bruneigate by the media, concerns the alleged lack of accountability in Gus Dur's handling of a US million aid donation for the politically troubled province of Acheh from the Sultan of Brunei. Gus Dur's party (PKB) has published a White Book accounting for the receipt and disbursement of the aid funds from the Sultan of Brunei. But the media did not seriously take up the government's explanations. The government has also produced a witness to testify, but the Parliament decided not to callup the witness. As a result, the government's case remained under-reported in the media.

The collapse of the rupiah, delays in the disbursement of IMF funds, the massacre of ethnic Madurese by rampaging Dayaks in Sampit, the temporary closing of the Mobil facilities in Acheh, the slow progress of the attorney-general's investigations into the past crimes of the Suharto family, the thickening of political intrigues to impeach the President, have all been highly publicised. The substantive significance of some of these problems are highly questionable. Given that Indonesia's reserves stood at about US billion, delays in the disbursement of IMF funds should not pose any serious problem except that the alarmist reports tend to exert a downward pressure on the rupiah. The vulnerability of the rupiah also stems from the fact that the IMF has refused to allow Indonesia to introduce any currency restrictions. The Indonesian rupiah is currently the freest Asean currency.

The weakness of the rupiah does not reflect the poor performance of the Indonesian economy. Real GDP in 2000 grew by 4.8%. Exports in 2000 grew by 27.4% to US billion. Indonesia enjoyed a trade surplus of US.47 billion for the year 2000. "I am satisfied with our economic performance, given the unfavourable climate last year. We shall try to do better this year. Our commerce minister, Lurus Panjaitan, is negotiating to sell helicopters to Malaysia. We are also negotiating with China to produce light aircraft in Indonesia," said Gus Dur.

"In addition, we seek to deepen our economic relationships with both Malaysia and Thailand within the framework of the Northern Triangle. I shall seek an early meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir and Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin to discuss issues of mutual interest."There are some very interesting economic parallels between Indonesia and Thailand following the installation of the Thaksin government. Both Indonesia and Thailand appear to be abandoning the World Bank-sponsored model of export-led growth which had contributed to the Asian Economic Miracle spanning the 1980s and early 1990s. "We shall not stress industrialisation and exports," said Gus Dur.

"That approach had already been tried by the Chuan government (of Thailand) under the tutelage of the IMF. It had failed because it was putting the cart before the horse. Foreign investment would return after Asian economies have recovered from the crisis rather than the other way around. Our strategy for economic recovery should not be predicated upon the return of foreign investment," observed Pansak Vinyaratn, chief policy adviser to Prime Minister Thaksin. "If they come it's fine and they would be welcome. But our strategy must not be dependent upon foreign investment."The outspoken former Indonesian finance minister Kwik Kian Gie also said sarcastically during an interview by the Asian Wall Street Journal last year that "if I am a foreign investor I will not come to Indonesia."

Apparently, there are many similarities between the policy standpoints of the current Indonesian and Thai governments. Gus Dur wants democratic Indonesia to discontinue the Suharto government's stress on large companies (except in the mining and natural resource sector which requires large capital equipment) and exports, which tended to concentrate wealth in a few hands leaving the mass of the Indonesian people behind. He wants to make Indonesia's large domestic economy the cornerstone of the country's economic development strategy.

"We shall concentrate on the people's economy and the domestic market instead of pushing exports like we used to do under Suharto's New Order. The more we export the more we have to import," said Gus Dur. The Thaksin government also seeks to move away from urban-based, export-led industrialisation which tends to put pressure on the current account and on the baht currency. Its current stress on small and medium-sized enterprises, the farm sector and the domestic economy tend to echo similar concerns in Indonesia.

Despite the media's exaggeration of the significance of political intrigues to impeach him, Gus Dur may perversely outlast his political opponents. Amien Rais's aggressive and vulgar attempts to discredit Gus Dur at all costs is fast appearing to be counter-productive. The more the President's political opponents exploit Indonesia's explosive potential for ethnic, religious and communal violence to destabilise the country's democratic government, all the more people may feel that having a religious, tolerant, liberal and ecumenical leader like Gus Dur may be Indonesia's best bet.

After all, Vice President Megawati has so far refused to take the bait and in fact has gone to great lengths to rein in her own supporters. Reliable sources say that she hesitates to support any extra constitutional moves to impeach the President because it may create an undesirable precedent, which could be turned against her in the future.

Moreover, historical memories and a sense of family honour may also be at stake. Gus Dur's father had thrown his organisation's crucial support behind Sukarno, Megawati's father, during the political crisis in 1950. Sukarno's daughter may be acting out of a sense of feudal honour towards the son of her father's friend.

Jeffery Sng is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

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  1. From Alnesputra on 28 September 2006 00:48:58 WIB
    Sangat Menarik,

    Gus Dur jelas telah mengalami trial by the media atau pengadilan oleh media.

    Pengadilan oleh media mungkin adalah hal paling mengerikan yang bisa terjadi kepada siapa saja. Kisah Gus Dur adalah salah satu dari sekian banyak kasus-kasus pengadilan oleh media.

    Di Australia, contoh kasus yang paling menggambarkan pengadilan oleh media adalah kasus Lindy Chamberlain yang 'diadili' oleh media secara sangat sepihak.

    Lindy Chamberlain dijatuhi hukuman oleh Pengadilan Australia dengan tuduhan membunuh bayinya sendiri secara sadis dan kejam. Lindy menyatakan bahwa dirinya tidak bersalah dan bahwa seekor Dingo (Sejenis Anjing dari benua Australia) menculik dan membunuh bayinya.

    Namun tekanan dari pihak media pada saat itu luar biasa kuatnya sehingga membentuk opini publik yang sangat merugikan Lindy dan keluarganya. Bahkan muncul sentiment anti-lindy di benua tersebut.

    Empat tahun setelah kejadian itu, baju dari bayi Lindy ditemukan dan terungkap bukti bahwa memang Dingo (dari ludah air liur Dingo pada baju bayi itu) yang menculik dan membunuh bayi Lindy. Lindy akhirnya dinyatakan bebas dan mendapatkan rehabilitasi dari pihak negara.

    Kasus Lindy hanyalah salah satu contoh dari bentuk pengadilan oleh media. Media membentuk suatu image atau bahkan reputasi dari seseorang yang sangat dapat mempengaruhi pandangan publik.

    Ambil saja contoh ringan yang lebih gampang diingat yang terjadi di Indonesia baru-baru ini tentang Nadine Chandrawinat yang salah mengucapkan kalimat, "Indonesia is a beautiful city" pada saat penjurian miss universe.

    Kalau mau jujur sih, menurut saya tidak ada manusia yang sempurna, dan adalah sangat mungkin dan manusiawi apabila Nadine tegang pada saat menjawab pertanyaan-pertanyaan tersebut.

    Namun nyatanya?

    Hampir semua media baik elektronik maupun cetak membuat suatu opini publik yang 'seakan meligitimasi' bahwa Nadine adalah contoh produk gagal dari pemilihan putri Indonesia dan tidak pantas mewakili Indonesia. Bahkan di mailing list pun bisa beredar bahwa 3 B yang dimiliki Nadine adalah Bego, Bodoh, dan Bloon. Hal ini tentu sangat menyudutkan Nadine.

    Menurut saya pribadi, narasi dari suatu tayangan televisi ataupun kata penutup di dalam artikel tertentu sebaiknya memberikan kesempatan pada pembaca untuk menentukan sendiri sikap mereka terhadap isi berita tersebut.

    The main purpose of media is to inform objectively, instead of to judge subectively

    Mudah-mudahan media selalu dapat mengingat pesan bijak di atas...

  2. From keket on 29 September 2006 10:54:59 WIB
    dikasih ati malah minta ayam utuh(bukan jantung lagi)
    makin lama, media makin tidak terkendali.
    setelah sekian lama diatur oleh soeharto,saatnya lepas bener2 bebas, bagaikan burung lepas dari sangkar.
    sudah tidak tahu aturan lagi.
    sampai tidak ada hormatnya ke Gus Dur, yang waktu itu jd Presiden.
    setuju dgn pesan bijak Alnesputra,tapi jangan hanya diingat, do action too.
    tanpa media,masyarakat akan bodoh karena tidak tahu berita yang sedang "in", taoi karena media, masyarakat juga bisa hancur.
  3. From Daisy on 29 September 2006 17:14:37 WIB
    Ini hanya sekedar pemikiran saya:

    Gus Dur dipojokkan oleh media. Media membentuk opini publik yang buruk mengenai Gus Dur.

    Namun kita lihat, Gus Dur tidak mengambil tindakan "kekerasan" terhadap media-media tersebut. Seandainya ini terjadi pada masa Orde Baru, lihat saja, pasti media-media tersebut tidak lama kemudian pasti akan langsung dibredel. Pada masa orde baru, jangankan mau memojokkan Presiden, salah menyebut nama Presiden saja orang bisa di penjara. Tapi kita lihat, Gus Dur tidak melakukannya pada media-media yang memberitakan hal-hal buruk tentang dirinya. Gus Dur hanya mengungkapkan pemikirannya, memberikannya pernyataannya, bahwa apa yang dikatakan oleh media tidak benar seperti itu. Tapi, bagaimana masyarakat menilai seorang Gus Dur, kembali pada masyarakat itu sendiri.

    Gus Dur tetap konsisten terhadap pola kepemimpinannya, menjadikan Indonesia sebagai negara yang demokratis. Dan Gus Dur membuktikan hal ini. Dia tidak "asbun" (asal bunyi, asal ngomong), tapi dibuktikan lewat tindakannya.

    Saya rasa justru tipe seperti Gus Dur inilah yang pantas kita sebut Great Leader. Dan memang Gus Dur adalah Great President. Bahkan ketika akhirnya ia "jatuh", ia tetap adalah great leader sampai sekarang.

    Media mungkin tidak melihat "kebenaran" dan "sisi positif" pemerintahan Gus Dur pada saat itu. Tapi kita lihat sekarang, waktu dan sejarah-lah yang membuktikan kebesaran Gus Dur sebagai seorang presiden. Sudah kurang lebih 5 tahun Gus Dur tidak lagi menjabat sebagai President, tapi karyanya masih bisa kita rasakan sampai sekarang... demokrasi dan pluralisme di Indonesia.

    Ada saatnya orang benar dipersalahkan, dan yang salah dianggap benar. Kalau boleh mengutip iklan A-Mild, "Tanya Kenapa?" Saya rasa setiap orang punya jawabannya masing-masing. Namun satu hal hal yang saya yakin pasti, pada saatnya kebenaran sejati akan muncul :)
  4. From mansur on 02 October 2006 09:16:02 WIB
    Tanya Kenapa? Daisy, Gus Dur menjadi korban Prejudiced Press karena media massa dimiliki dan dikuasai oleh kelompok-kelompok lawan politik Gus Dur. Ini memang menjadi persoalan tersendiri dan sudah lama yaitu antara kepentingan pemodal dan independensi pers. Tapi Sebenarnya, masih banyak kok wartawan Indonesia yang punya integritas. Di sisi lain, saya sangat salut selama masa Gus Dur tidak ada media yang dibredel dan wartawan yang diajukan ke pengadilan. Ini menunjukkan sikap demokratis Gus Dur

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