Sunday, May 04, 2008

Party Like it’s Ya Birthday

As regular readers could hardly have failed to notice, the Jakarta Post recently celebrated 25 years in the newspaper business. Unlike regular riffraff though, I was actually extended an invite to the paper's anniversary party which was held in the very posh and swanky ballroom of the Ritz Carlton hotel last week. Now as I fire off my column by e-mail every week I don't really know anyone who works full-time at the paper. Consequently, this was my big chance to meet my fellow JP-ers. So last Friday evening I donned my cleanest and most crisply starched underwear and bagged a Bluebird down to the Ritz.

When I arrived in the huge function room I could see that the city's bourgeois movers and shakers had turned out in force for the birthday celebrations. There were about a thousand people present, all dressed up to the nines and all schmoozing like crazy. I made a beeline for the free wine that was being ladled out at the rear bar and had a quick scan around the hall.

TV Newsreader and Jakarta Post Weekender columnist Dalton Tananaka was onstage MC-ing and various dignitaries were swanning around grinning from ear to ear. I was briefly introduced to the famous TV reporter and not Ramos Horta assassination co-conspirator Desi Anwar. I also met feminist author and fellow Jakarta Post columnist Julia Suryakusuma as well as respected Southeast Asian journalist John McBeth. All three seemed frankly under-whelmed to meet my good self, Indonesia's 47th most popular blogger and columnist but that's fair enough I suppose. In any case, I was quite content to wander around nursing several glasses of vino.

By about 11, most of the posh people had already pushed off home and I was left chatting with the real JP staffers who invited me on to the post-party party that was being held at the Post's brand spanking new offices in Palmerah.

On the way out of the Ritz Carlton, we were all given a goodie bag which very generously contained a copy of the new Jakarta Post book The Voice of Reason. This meaty hardback is well worth tracking down and is basically an anthology of the Post's editorials over the years. Reading the whole thing from cover to cover in one go would probably give you terrible indigestion. It’s a great book to dip into though and the volume contains an index at the back, making it an invaluable reference source.

Over at the swanky new JP building the joint was most certainly jumping. The young reporters and copy editors had set up a disco and were drinking and dancing to all that toe tapping pop and roll music so beloved of young people. It fare well reminded me of my undergraduate days I can tell you, especially when, after imbibing a veritable distillery of Bourbon, a young lady attempted to maneuver me into the stairwell to discuss her ex-boyfriend's infidelity. ahem.

The Jakarta Post though. What to say after 25 years? I think I'd assert that its heart has always been in the right place. Even during the Soeharto era, when political criticism had to be muted, its stories were often couched in euphemistic terms which allowed one to read between the lines to an extent.

I'm sure that many of you saw last week's reprinted facsimile of the first ever edition of the Jakarta Post from 1983. The international headlines were very different back then but the local news seemed all-too-familiar; tales of corruption and religious fundamentalism were the leading stories. How little things change ay?

Admittedly, I myself work for the JP in a limited capacity, however I assure you that I'm not receiving any bonus for this gratuitous plug (although if anyone in charge is actually reading this...) The Post has though, in all truth, been my window on local life during the decade plus that I've lived here. Perhaps porthole would be a more apt metaphor here however as Indonesia often seems far adrift of dry land. It hasn't always been plain sailing though of course; The Post's quotations of figures and conversions of Rupiah into US Dollars in news stories have, in the past, displayed a certain level of innumeracy. Either that or they’re indicative of a dearth of pocket calculators in the office.

In general though, the Post has always stood resolutely on the side of truth and justice and has exhibited a great deal more independence than many Western corporate controlled media mouthpieces. It has also seen off challenges from the long gone English-language rival, The Indonesian Observer and more recently from the Bakrie controlled rag The Point. (Is it still being printed by the way? I haven't seen it for weeks). The Point recently dispensed with all of their native speaker copy editors which, if you read last week's Metro Mad, you'll understand is a hazardous exercise.

The Post though remains my porthole on Indonesia and I religiously read its stories and editorials every day. I have to confess however that I usually turn to the letters page first. I love to see what apoplectic nut bag has written in to vent their spleen on any given morning. The new SMS text message mini letters are a worthy innovation but the old adage about giving someone enough rope to hang themselves usually sways me towards the longer rants.

Long may the JP survive and continue to pay me.