Reformasi sets free scandal sheets


Political dirt in demand after 30 years of control

BUSINESS is brisk for Jakarta’s street urchins. Forget busking and begging. They have latched onto the media revolution in Indonesia to spread an orgy of information – and disinformation.

Each day, young scruffy boys no older than 15 dart nimbly between hooting cars and buses to sell dozens of publications to motorists trapped in Jakarta’s traffic jams.

It is not just the respected Kompas, Suara Pembaruan, Tempo and Forum that Indonesians in major cities devour now. Reading diets have changed these days with reformasi.

People want plenty of political dirt, a catharsis to more than 30 years of controlled media. And they get a lot of this in tabloids like Tokoh, Perspektif, Adil and Aksi.

Most of them have their genesis in banned underground publications.

How much wealth did Suharto and his children amass? Are they in exile? Was former state secretary Moerdiono a playboy? Is politician Amien Rais an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency? Where are the country’s ethnic Chinese businessmen? Have they run off with the money?

Very provocative indeed. This is Indonesia’s alternative media. And it is cheap – mostly between 1,000 and 2,000 rupiah per issue.

But editors from the more conservative media establishments are critical of them. Mr Taufik Darusman, managing editor of the English-language daily, Indonesian Observer, cites examples where these tabloids carry front-page stories with dubious or no sources at all. “They are not educating people, but poisoning their minds with rumours and half-truths.”

But Mr Frans Padak Demon, chief editor of the weekly Perspektif, insists that his tabloid is read across the board and targets the well-educated.

The tabloid, which has 25 full-time journalists, sells about 25,000 copies a month in the capital. A leading magazine like Tempo sells up to 60,000 weekly.

He says: “We don’t have the arrogant ‘we know it all’ face of the more established media groups. We like to think we are very different.

“The new tabloids might be an alternative now but in 10 years we could join the mainstream. So don’t write us off.” Most of their fans, however, are in the lower brackets of society. Security guard Bambang Suprapto is an example. He says: “They give us the truth. They are brave to print it for everyone to read. I wish all other Indonesian papers and magazines were just as brave.”

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