Posted by: mel | December 16, 2009

Media-Indonesia: Chinese-Language Papers Flourish in Indonesia

South China Morning Post | By Fabio Scarpello | Denpasar | 16 December 2009

Newspaper circulations and revenue are falling across the Western world, where predictions for the industry are dire.

But in Indonesia, Chinese language papers are thriving.

It has been almost a decade since then-president Abdurrahman Wahid lifted Indonesia’s ban on Chinese-language media and cultural expression.

The ban had been imposed in 1966, when a failed coup attempt was blamed on the Communist Party, allegedly backed by China. The bloody reprisals that followed paved the way for the rise of Suharto, who ruled over Indonesia with an iron fist until 1998. During his tenure, only bilingual newspaper Harian Indonesia was permitted – under strict licence and government scrutiny – to publish some of its news in Chinese.

The collapse of the Suharto regime opened the way for improved inter-ethnic relations, allowing Chinese-Indonesians to assert their dual identity. The growth of Chinese-language newspapers is part of this trend, says Sunardi Mulia, editor-in chief of Indonesia Shang Bao, a business daily established in 2000, the year Wahid lifted the ban. “The newspapers are important, [they] recognize our role and our belonging, in the national context,” he said.

Indonesia Shang Bao has a daily circulation of about 55,000, according to Sunardi.

He said the newspaper’s key challenges were advertising revenue and attracting the young Chinese readers he refers to as the “lost generation”.

“Suharto’s ban deprived a generation of the opportunity to learn Mandarin. Our readership is generally of people over 55 years old. More and more young people are now learning Mandarin, but the problem of the lost generation remains. It is also felt in the limited number of people that can write for us,” he said.

Sunardi’s newspaper competes for readership – and contributors – with the Yin Ni Guo Ji Ri Bao (Indonesian International Daily News), which distributes 60,000 copies a day nationwide, and the Harian Indonesia Yin Ni Sin Chew Ri Bao, a product of the co-operation between the old Harian Indonesia and Malaysia’s Sin Chew Daily.

Both were established soon after the ban lifted. They have lately been joined by Indonesia Business Today, a product of media mogul Dahlan Iskan, who owns the country’s largest media group, the Jawa Pos. A few local newspapers have also appeared in small communities with many Chinese Indonesians.

Jhwa King Bok, who has been a Harian Indonesia reader since the 1980s, said Putonghua was attracting more and more interest.

“It’s like spring time for the Chinese language in Indonesia, where everything is blooming anew,” said the 83-year-old pensioner, who was born in Medan, Indonesia, but whose family hailed from Fujian province .

Sociologist Ida Ruwaida Noor noted that the proliferation of the Chinese-language media could not be separated from the political process that has seen ethnic relations improving since the low point of the anti-Chinese riots of May 1998, in which more than 1,000 people died. The improved ties were cemented in 2006, with the passing of a law that classifies anyone born to Indonesian parents as Indonesian, and threatens punishment of officials who discriminate against the Chinese.

“The situation is definitely much better. But this does not mean that there are no more problems,” he said. “Chinese language media cater to the Chinese Indonesians, but exclude the Indonesian-speaking people. There is still a divide and a perception that the Chinese-Indonesian community is inward looking.”


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