Last year, when the Rupiah was falling alarmingly and Indonesia’s economy looked increasingly shaky, Bisnis Indonesia chief editor Arif Budisusilo was confronted by a young reporter who felt that the nation’s premier business newspaper was being too pro-Government.
“’What’s with our coverage? Are we speaking on behalf of the Government? Have we been given projects by the Government? The young reporter demanded to know,” said Arif, who’s also known as AB, the first two syllables of his full name.
The young reporter was indignant because he felt that Bisnis Indonesia had not been critical enough in its reporting of the government’s handling of the economy.
Then, explained AB, Bisnis Indonesia had adopted the policy that it is to no one’s benefit if all it did was report on the anxiety, fear and pessimism felt by businesspeople. “If we did just that, then all we would do is to make businesses more anxious and worsen the situation.”
“What we decided to do then was to try instead to push the government to do something to stabilize the Rupiah and to introduce economic packages that would benefit Indonesian society.
“If Bisnis Indonesia had focused only on reporting the bad news and we influenced many people then the economy would worsen and investors would not want to come here. Who would suffer then if not ourselves as a society?” he asked.
It is this obligation to protect the country’s national interest that forms the basis of much of AB’s thoughts about the role of journalism that Bisnis Indonesia needs to adopt at this time in Indonesia’s development.
National interest, however, is different from nationalism, says AB.
Nationalism is being politicized by some sectors and all about importance of Indonesians in all matters and in its more extreme forms is about excluding foreigners from entering Indonesia and controlling its human resources.
National interest, however, is about how to secure maximum benefits for Indonesians, in which foreign investors can freely participate. The more the better so long as they help to create more added value for Indonesia, such as opening up factories here, following the regulations and not being engaged in transfer pricing.
This distinction has given him an interesting interpretation of issues, such as the call to ban the sale of alcohol by religious groups.
Excessive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol, said AB, would affect the quality of human resources in Indonesia. The key to prevent this from happening, however, is not a wholesale ban but for the government to be clear about the laws that regulate drinking of alcohol.
“In America, Malaysia and Singapore, for instance, the consumption of alcohol is well regulated. They are clear on who can buy and who can drink alcohol but when Indonesia tries to regulate this, it is met with screams from one and all.
“Some use nationalism to confront this issue,” he said. The national interest here, he added, is how to protect the quality of Indonesian human resources. “When it was mandated that the sale of alcohol would be stopped at supermarkets, they protested noisily. Why? Because their sales would drop. To me the people that protested were expressing their personal interest, not the national interest.”
He nonetheless thinks that Indonesians are sometimes too quick to react and protest and this is where the media comes in as an agent of education for the populace.
While there is much to do and new challenges are constantly being thrown at Bisnis Indonesia because of digitalization and social media, AB remains confident of the future because of BIG Media (Bisnis Indonesia Group Media).
“Our business is to sell information about the economy, business and supporting activities,” he said, adding that BIG Media is positioned to deliver these through multi-platforms.
In print the group has Bisnis Indonesia, Solo Pos and Harian Jogja. Online, they have Bisnis.com, Kabar24.com, Solopos.com and Harjo.com. They also have an extensive database at bisnis.com of the financial reports of listed companies that cooperate with the paper.
In print, Bisnis Indonesia also has a strong position because 97% of its customers are subscribers. Of its subscribers, 80% come from corporations, not individuals. “The readership at workplaces ranges between five and 10 people so although we publish 30,000 copies, our readership – according to Nielsen, stands at about 120,000.”
Nonetheless, the paper is not standing still in a quest for a younger readership and this is reflected in its use of lively headlines that are not typical of staid business papers. When Lion Air reported a spate of troubles its headline was “Lion Lagi, Lion Lagi”.
The group also has a radio station in Jogja, and Bisnis TV that delivers its information via streaming over the internet. “This is because research has informed us that the viewership of network TV, cable TV and Pay TV has been in decline” because of the move toward mobile.
Apart form BIG Media, the group also offers BIG Services, which focus on services such as research, consultancy and event organizing.
The Business Indonesia Learning Center, which focuses on training such as media management, communications management, personal finance and wealth management, completes the group’s offering.
Although the group is in a comfortable position AB, however, is only aware of the changing nature of newspapers because of social media.
The biggest challenge to him as the editor-in-chief is to ensure that the news they report is done so in the proper context. “This is because the sources of information are more driven by social media. Anyone can create and manipulate information in social media.”