Keith Loveard, Reporter & Publisher, Laksamana.net
6th September 2003
keeping with Media Man Australia's tradition of tackling
any subject, we explore the world of publishing in
the politically sensitive Indonesia.
Loveard is an accomplished reporter / journalist who
now makes Indonesia his home.
discusses his background, politics, media, technology
and more in this unique, interesting and exclusive
started off at Daily Telegraph in Sydney as a cadet
after I dropped out of University. I didn't have the
faintest idea what I was doing, and really fell into
journalism. I spent a year at the Tele, was going
go back to University, didn't get around to it (story
of my academic life - I finally got my BA 20 years
later) and picked up a job in the trade press, at
Yaffa. It wasn't a glamorous job but it taught the
principles of production. After that I went overseas,
bummed around a bit, then came back to Australia at
age 26 with a wife and a young child and no money.
I went to work at AAP on their overseas desk. AAP
was a place a lot of people used as a staging ground
until they picked up something more relaxed, but I
was there for six years. I learned to write on the
desk there, dealing with some of the world's best
writers' copy, and doing it with precision and speed.
I'm also grateful for the help I got from some of
my older colleagues, not least Richard Moore, who
I worked with later at ABC Radio. Dick was a tough
co-worker who demanded extraordinary high standards,
and I learned a lot from him. I also learned a lot
about managing people, which was a whole lot harder
than I thought it was going to be. I started at AAP
as a C+ in the old grade system and made A grade in
18 months. After a while I went bush. Story of my
life, really. Then at the ABC I had some great experiences,
on the overnight foreign news desk the night People's
Power happened in Manila, covering the death in custody
at Brewarrina in NSW that sparked the Royal Commission.
I did a lot more reporting on Aboriginal issues out
of Darwin in the late 80s but I also got the chance
to go into Indonesia as it was just starting to open
up again after the so-called Jenkins' affair. And
here I still am.
are your aims and objectives?
I've been very lucky. My ambition when I was younger
was to be a foreign correspondent and to write a book.
Now I've done both, as correspondent in Jakarta for
seven and a half years, and the book, while it's not
what you'd call a best seller, is in the National
Library and that's some sort of legacy (Suharto,
Indonesia's Last Sultan, Singapore, 1998).
With those two in the bag, well, I set myself another
goal, to do a little spin doctoring, and that's happening
a workaholic so it doesn't take much to get me moving.
As long as it's professional, I'm happy, though I'm
not that keen on purely commercial gambits. I spend
a while in my youth trying to get out of journalism
but came back eventually for two reasons, first that
there wasn't anything else much I could do, and second
that there is a demand for information that needs
to be filled in a constructive and intelligent way
. I have tended to work in places where I have been
able to avoid sensationalism. The former Indonesian
Consul in Darwin who helped me get into Jakarta, Joseph
Halim, told me before I came to Indonesia that what
the government wanted - and then of course it was
the Suharto regime - was objectivity and balance.
That suited me fine, and Asiaweek was a magazine that
was better to work for in this respect than an Australian
daily would have been, for instance, because I wasn't
caught up in the bilateral relationship.
has the internet helped you achieve your personal
and business goals?
been playing with the internet now for over two years
and thinking and planning with friends for longer.
I watched the great Nasdaq crash and the collapse
of all the start-ups with interest. I think it's still
very difficult to finance a website and I tend to
treat the internet as a very specific media that can
perform some roles extremely well but doesn't have
the impact that other media forms have. It's great
for data storage and it's a great source of information
because of it. What I have learned is where I fit,
which is content management, and in that sense the
net is not much different from traditional publishing.
are the addresses of the websites you created and
contribute to, and what is the function of each website?
the discussions I had with friends I started asiamad.com
but I was the only one who ever did any work on it
or paid the bills. I guess I was also optimistic that
it would serve as a vehicle for civil society discussion
within Indonesia, and that has never looked like happening,
let alone from elsewhere in Asia. There is still no
single site for discussion of a lot of the issues
that I still believe matter. Women's rights, broad
environmental issues, trade issues etc could all gain
from a forum that the internet could serve. Too idealistic,
I guess. But Asiamad
taught me what the internet is and how you can use
it, and that has paid off.
too long after I started Asiamad, I was asked to take
over editorial control of Laksamana.net, which I've
now been running for two years. I don't think there
would be much argument that it's the best source of
free news on Indonesia on the web. It's under-staffed
and under-resourced but you can't fault the commitment
of the owners, Laksamana Sukardi and Mochtar Buchori,
for continuing to fund such a service. It has very
little hope of ever making any income so it's very
much a public service that they think is important
nicest compliment we received recently - and it mentioned
both Asiamad and Laks.net - was to say we were the
Economist of Indonesia.
am also working on concord-review.com
This is a subscription-based service operated by the
Concord security consulting group. Security is a very
big issue in Indonesia and I apply the same principles
I learned at AAP and the ABC - objective, solid reporting.
off-line business activities do you partake in?
engage in more off-line business than on-line. I left
journalism full time in 1997, just at the beginning
of the economic crisis, mainly because I just lost
the enthusiasm for doing it, though I still retain
great pride in having 'served' as a hack. The timing
of leaving a well-paid job was not the best but I
had a house and the basics of existence and didn't
owe any money, still don't. A part of the process
was learning what I could do as a business operator,
what my skills were, what I was selling. I did a fair
bit of freelance journalism, writing copy for advertorials
for a lot of Indonesian corporates, some low-level
public relations. Along the way I decided what Indonesia
needed was some efficient information infrastructure
and tried to convince government it needed it. Abdurrhaman
Wahid, who was an old friend from Asiaweek days, wanted
it but didn't have any money. Then I ran into Rini
Soewandi, the current Industry and Trade Minister,
and I've now been working with her for getting on
for a year. I do a lot of speech writing and infrastructure
development as some trade promotion stuff for her.
the Indonesian government feel threatened by any of
the information you publish?
have changed and I've moved on. Indonesia has become
a lot more mature about criticism, after all, they
get so much of it. Laksamana.net doesn't have any
funding for investigative reporting and tends to concentrate
on covering the basics and a level of analysis, but
relies mainly on published sources in the English
and Indonesian language. I have to acknowledge a debt
to the Joyo News Service, published out of a New York
apartment by an Indonesia veteran who was briefly
ruined by Indonesia's remarkably cruel business elite.
It's a service that has pretty well everything on
Indonesia that's published in English and what we
try to do in a way is add some value, particularly
in local political analysis and geopolitical comment.
But we couldn't survive without Joyo.
in the old Suharto days it was of course a different
story. Again, working for a magazine based in Asia
meant there was a level of understanding of the way
Asian societies worked. Asiaweek was happy to dress
a story in color and anecdote and the tough part of
the story you sort of tucked away in the middle. It
was a very Indonesian way of dealing with the oppression
of Suharto as well. In those days you'd have to read
a whole story in the Indonesian press and the interesting
part was always buried down the bottom of the page.
The story still got told and Asians knew to look for
it: anywhere but the top of the report or screaming
at you from a headline.
one way the Indonesian government is very happy with
the material I produce. As part of my work with the
Department of Industry and Trade I produce a weekly
"review" that gets sent out by email to
the trade attaches around the world. It's the first
time they've had a service that tells them what's
going on at home, which is important in their trade
negotiations. It's very opinion-free, simple summaries
of what happened. We also publish Indonesia-solutions.org
which has both English and Indonesia pages, produced
by two local staffers. This site is starting to generate
interaction with the community, people with business
problems and the idea is to build this with other
resources to provide a solid internet infrastructure
base for the Department.
you consider yourself a whistle blower?
because we simply don't have the resources. We've
got attitude but we simply don't have the staff to
do much really original work, although Hendrajit,
our political correspondent, an Indonesian journalist
I've known for a decade, does some excellent background
always open to whistle blowing but you have to get
the facts very straight. Indonesian journalism in
its current form is very free - to the point that
there are libels every day of the week. Dealing with
the big fish is not a lightweight assignment and you
have to respect people's right to innocence unless
proven guilty. I recall in 1995 doing a cover story
for Asiaweek that questioned whether the Lippo group's
investments in land were soundly based. In retrospect
it doesn't sound too dramatic, but at that stage they
were spending very big in Indonesia and Hong Kong.
We were extremely careful with the report and I heard
afterwards that James Riady pulled a lot of top lawyers
in from Singapore to go through the story with a fine
toothcomb but they couldn't find anything that was
not factually based or reasonable comment. I ran into
James at one stage and he told me they nearly sued.
My reply was obvious enough, that there were no grounds
to do so. He declined my offer of an interview, probably
not surprising since he was in trouble in the US for
illegal campaign contributions at the time. I met
him again recently and he's finally forgiven me!
freedom of the press?
of the press to me is the right to report and to express
opinions with the rider that a degree of responsibility
is a part of the ideal recipe. Again, the Indonesian
press provides an example where there is a lot of
freedom and little responsibility so that a lot of
people's reputations get dragged through the mud.
Freedom of the press shouldn't only mean the freedom
to be critical, but should also include a constructive
role in society.
is your political persuasion, and why?
have to say I'm a democratic socialist. In non-political
terms, I'm a humanist. I believe people have the right
to decent lives, wherever possible.
have been the highlights of your career?
the end of Vietnam and Year 0 in Cambodia, plus of
course Watergate when I was at AAP, People's Power
in Manila while I was at the ABC, together with the
Brewarrina death in custody. In Indonesia, well, lots
of highs, the June 1996 attack on Megawati's Democratic
Party office in Jakarta was one, when a major thoroughfare
got burned and trashed, then through all the riots
in 1998 and onward.
will the future on online publishing and broadcasting
not sure the internet will revolutionize the world
in any real sense. In the wake of the initial hysteria
where we thought we were all going to be going round
with monitors embedded in our skulls I think we come
back to a fairly sane view of the internet. As I said
earlier, it's great for storing data and therefore
for accessing information, but it's become horribly
commercialized. I don't think it will ever take over
from print media and certainly not from electronic
media. It's an add-on, not a replacement.
traditional media feel threatened by online publishing?
don't think so. After all the hype has settled, it's
still internet publishers who have trouble making
ends meet. It's not a good medium for advertising,
so its financial support base is limited.
other media attention have you garnered?
much. I stay pretty low profile, rarely use by-lines.
internet aware and savvy is the population in your
part of the world?
but definitely growing. In the upmarket daily press
there are always at least half a dozen ads for computers
every day. A number of major shopping centers have
entire floors boasting computer gear so obviously
the market is growing. Teenagers in Jakarta at least
are pretty switched on through internet cafes. Given
the good prospects for the economy I'd say we're looking
for a boom of sorts. Mobile phones aren't such a big
investment, and they have become an everyday item
for lower middle income groups within a year or so.
National mobile growth is around 45% this year. My
guess is computers won't be far behind on the shopping
lists of the newly affluent, not least because Indonesians
now put a lot of emphasis on education, so people
will buy them for their children.
are your biggest supporters and detractors? Why?
don't get much negative mail, though we have attempts
to kill us with viruses. We put a very high fence
up so if anyone wants to send mail they have to make
sure to put an eye-catching subject title on it. Even
so we may just ditch it, it's just too dangerous to
play around with viruses. But we do get some herograms.
People like our attitude more than anything, no sacred
cows, but I hope they also appreciate the depth of
% approx of viruses and spam comes from Asia?
is the most dangerous situation you have been in?
been in some dangerous spots but I've never really
felt as if I was going to get hit, which I suppose
is a stupidly trusting attitude to life. When a bunch
of hoodlums attacked the Democratic Party headquarters
here in June 1996 there was a standoff between the
police and troops and a mob that was throwing stones
at them. About 1pm I was in no-man's land when the
troops and police decided they'd had enough and charged.
Everyone ran for their lives - a couple of people
were killed that day. I was standing by the front
fence of a house as the troops all rushed past and
they just ignored me. In fact there was this little
Indonesian guy who came up and sort of hid behind
me, then I walked him to the corner when things had
calmed down a bit so he could get away. The troops
and police went berserk and were even clubbing housewives
and school kids who were just there to have a look.
There were quite a few occasions like that, but oddly
maybe the worst one was in Brewarrina after that death
in custody, when I got surrounded by a group of drunken
Aboriginal people who thought I was responsible because
I worked for the ABC. That wasn't a nice experience.
is the law on spamming in Indonesia?
government is drafting a cyberlaw now so it's a bit
early to tell on that front. Enough to say that using
an Indonesian credit card on the net is difficult
because most vendors reject them because of the very
high rate of Indonesian computer crime. Indonesians
are quite creative people.
are the hot topics right now?
we've got elections coming in April next year and
then the first ever direct presidential elections
in July, so we are really waiting to see if Indonesia
can pass this test of its new democracy. There's what
I see at the moment as a positive sign in that business
is tending to get on with business and ignore the
politics. After the obsession with politics we've
seen in Indonesia for so long it's refreshing and
healthy to see people just wanting to get back to
work. Then the economy, will it make it out of the
IMF recovery package successfully. Poverty is still
high, and 4% growth, which would be marvelous in Australia,
just isn't enough here to absorb the enormous pool
of unemployed. If Indonesia fails, it becomes a human
disaster on a grand scale, if it succeeds there's
the hope of a better educated, better fed population.
The other hot topic, of course, is terrorism of which
there's no shortage of debate anywhere in the world.
are your current projects?
to win the support of government on the information
infrastructure program. I have the support of the
minister, but winning the backing of the bureaucracy
is very slow. I'm having to learn to be very patient.
have you been described?
as a humanitarian. A lot of Indonesians think I look
like Mr. Bean.
would you like to be remembered?
nicest compliment I've had was when the former Australian
information attaché came back from a bilateral
event in Bali and rang to say a journalist who's made
quite a big name sent his regards and said I had taught
him about good journalism. He was a young D grade
I hired when I was bureau chief for ABC Radio in Newcastle.
I've done journalist training work here and talk at
seminars from time to time. I still keep in touch
with some of the journalists who were in the courses
I taught. So to sum it up I guess I'd like to be remembered,
albeit briefly and by a mere handful of people, as
a professional journalist who was always happy to
share his skills with younger colleagues. If I can
transform that into a businessman who made some money
through providing professional services, that's fine
note: A hard hitting, educational and interesting
interview with somewhere with their ear very close
to the ground in Indonesia. Something tells me that
we will be hearing more from Keith Loveard, as things
continue to heat up in the Indonesian region.