Warta Talk

Bringing media people with different cultures together

* First published on ABC News BACK STORY (Tumblr).  April 2016


The first one raised the issue of the live cattle trade, relations between the new leaders of Jokowi and Turnball, and a new left-leaning political movement in Jakarta, while the second focussed on terrorism, the extremist movement in Indonesia and comparisons with Australia’s situation.

Next up was a fascinating view of corruption in Indonesia and the current power plays which have made civil society concerned.

These are the conversations that have come up over the past 4 months in a new, informal gathering of media types in Melbourne.

Indonesia is never dull. It is one of Australia’s closest neighbours and a gateway into Asian culture. It sits in a strategic position in the region and is going through all the difficult gear changes that are seen in a new democracy. It has the energy of a young demographic which is chafing against entrenched interests.

The events mentioned bring together people who work in the media, including producers, academics and bloggers, to discuss the issues that they care about, sometimes between the two countries, and sometimes just areas of similar interest. They are designed so those participating can gain an insight into important issues both domestically and in the region. And develop a better cultural understanding between all participants that will inform stories, ideas and perspectives. And aside from the important stuff, there are moments of fun, and realisation that there are many things between cultures that are the same.

This kind of get-together all started in Jakarta, while I was stationed there for four years working as a correspondent. It was an amazing experience, a privilege. It also exposed my lack of knowledge about the country. I hope I am right in saying that … I learnt …!  about nuance, about being mindful of my actions and words in a different culture, and of the immense value in simply taking the time to get to know people and build valuable relationships

During that time I became friends with a reporter and presenter on one of Indonesia’s national television news channels, Metro TV. We met on one of the numerous crazy court reporting days when armoured tanks and rows of police officers had been deployed to be at the ready – this time for the trial of an radical islamic leader considered to be the ideological head of the Bali bombers. I, like others, had asked this influential leader questions through cell bars and pushed through hordes of supporters to get into the courtroom.

Rory is now one of my best friends, and am so glad that he simply came up to me at that courthouse and said hello.  

After many discussions over wine, over coffee, over brunch, we realised that we were learning a lot from each other. For instance, how story imperatives were shaped, reporting ethics, the differences between a public broadcaster and a privately-owned station, and most wonderfully for me, the glorious gossip, anecdotes and background information we shared that provided a richer understanding of “what the heck” was going on, and helped us prioritise the mountain of information to be kept across.

It seemed like a very useful collaboration that could be more widely disseminated.
So with another friend, from the Wall Street Journal, we decided to bring it all together more formally. We also wanted to bridge the divide which saw news teams from foreign outlets and the local crews going to the same media press conferences and events but not mingling with each other, even during some of the very long waits we all endured together. An email was out out, calling for media types from all outlets and backgrounds to join us for a “gathering” … in my apartment, bringing drinks and food to share. It was loud, and interesting, and illuminating.

Eventually we gave it a name – Warta Talk – wartawan is Indonesian for journalist, and of course, we talk. It’s a mix-it-up name that is meant to mirror the tone of the conversations. Mixing cultures, mixing ideas, getting to know your neighbour better.

It is still going, small, but passionate!  

Fast forward to my return to Australia, and to my surprise I discovered that quite a reasonable number of  Indonesians were living in Melbourne, including those who worked in the media industries or have a connection to them. Enough in fact, that I thought it might be good to start a group here (and personally assist with my language practice!).

I contacted the Indonesian Consul General who put me in touch with the Australian Indonesian Journalists Association. So now we have had a few meetings. No surprise – I think they have been great. I hope others feel the same. The aim is to encourage Australian media types to more about another country in the immediate region, and by default, Asia, and provide some different insights. Also that Indonesian attendees will be able to ask questions to their Australian counterparts, and give their own perspectives on the issues that rise between the two nations and also learn. It is meant to be a frank and worthwhile experience.

The Jakarta initiative also sparked the first media dialogue by the Lowy Institute held in March 2015, which brought out three senior Indonesian journalists for a private discussion and a public panel discussion.

Asia, and Indonesia, can be difficult places for a Westerner to get his or her head around. It has been changing markedly like many countries in Asia. As the region grows in wealth and global importance it can’t be ignored. And it does not hurt to lay more groundwork for robust and respectful relationships. I hope, as I think do the other organisers, that this will happen through a forum such as this.

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