Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) is changing course and goes forward in a slimmed-down version: a smaller organisation focussing on Free Speech. From the old RNW ("2.0") to the new: a tour of the desks which will be terminated or are changing their approach.
Part III, Indonesia.
“There is no shortage of news, but issues like religion and sexuality remain taboo.”
During the Suharto years (1967-1998) Radio Netherlands was a vital source of information in a country without any press freedom whatsoever. Objective news was nowhere to be had, so the broadcasts of the Indonesia desk met a huge demand, says Corine van Dun, coordinator of the Indonesia desk.
Other highlights were the struggle for freedom in East Timor and Aceh and the tsunami that hit Indonesia during Christmas 2004. The latter event prompted Radio Netherlands to rush two mobile radio stations (Radio in a Box) to Aceh to help restore the dissemination of information to the victims.
The Indonesian desk is one of the oldest at Radio Netherlands. It has been around since the station’s foundation in 1947. As its former coloniser, it was only natural for the Netherlands to maintain ties with Indonesia. Radio Netherlands’ radio programmes reached an audience of nearly two million people on a daily basis, also as a result of rebroadcasting of Radio Netherlands programmes by local partner stations. Its Indonesian language website drew about 100,000 visitors a month.
However, after 65 years the show is now finally over. Radio Netherlands faces radical budget cuts and is changing its focus to free speech. Indonesia is no longer a target country, mainly because of the substantial progress the country has made in the field of press freedom. About 20 employees at Radio Netherlands will lose their jobs and the RNW office in Jakarta will be closed. Radio Netherlands’ regional representative will return to the Netherlands.
Corine van Dun readily admits that press freedom in Indonesia is in much better shape than it was under the Suharto regime. However, she adds that even though Indonesia formally has press freedom, which has even been laid down in the constitution, in practice it is under substantial pressure from fundamentalist Islamic groups. In addition, these free media are often in the hands of rich politicians who have an interest in slanted reporting. There is plenty of news, but issues like religion and sexuality remain taboo. In other words, press freedom is not really all that self evident. Just take a look at the Freedom House index, in which Indonesia is characterised as ‘partly free’ as far as press freedom is concerned.
Listener Arthur Sailendra remembers how his father became a loyal listener to the Radio Netherlands' broadcasts shortly after his release from prison in the early 1980s. His father had been arrested by the Suharto regime in 1969 and was held without charge for 10 years.
Eddy Setiawan, another loyal listener of many years, says the end of the Radio Netherlands' broadcasts will leave a void that local radio stations will not be able to fill. Setiawan has fond memories of the broadcasts on Queen Juliana’s visit to Indonesia in 1971.
Another listener sums up the departure of Radio Netherlands in just a few words: “We won’t miss the news, of which there’s now an abundance. It’s mostly the background information and the extremely useful projects in Indonesia. These will be sorely missed.”
On 14 June Radio Netherlands organised a seminar in Jakarta called ‘What’s next’? The future of international broadcasting in Indonesia is not at all clear. Van Dun: ‘Deutsche Welle and BBC World Service are still broadcasting to Indonesia, but they are also downsizing; partly as the result of positive developments in the field of free press, but also as a result of budget cuts. Radio Australia is also still active, but the historical ties with the Netherlands will be irrevocably cut on 27 June. A monument will cease to exist”
Radio Netherlands 3.0 may offer some scope for small scale activities targeted at Indonesia. This way, a very thin line of communication may continue to exist between Hilversum and Indonesia.