Monday 11 Oct 2021 | 22:44 | SYDNEY
Monday 11 Oct 2021 | 22:44 | SYDNEY

Media really carping, condescending and critical?

This post is part of the Australian journalism in Southeast Asia debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

12 March 2010 14:50

This post is part of the Australian journalism in Southeast Asia debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Greg Earl is the Asia Pacific editor at the Australian Financial Review.

After almost 20 years of writing about Indonesia I’ll take Stephen Grenville’s admonition for being ‘carping, condescending and critical’ on the chin. At least I can use it as evidence for the defence next time I’m accused of being a member of the Indonesia Lobby.

But split personalities aside, Stephen’s familiar criticism of Australian journalists does raise a few issues after a week of debate about the bilateral relationship which began right here with Fergus Hanson’s work.

There could be more diverse coverage of Indonesia (including by my newspaper which doesn’t have a staff correspondent there any more) and I lament the fact there are often more Australian journos in the Bali courts these days than in Jakarta, let alone places like Sumatra. But there are still far more Australian reporters in Indonesia than Indonesian reporters here.

The first thing that I find so frustrating from the people who can instantly identify the ‘carping, condescending and critical’ journalism is that they don’t turn the page or flick to another news outlet on the same day to see the range of material in the Australian media at any one time on Indonesia.

Japan or India can only dream about getting the same sort of coverage. Last week was a case in point. I don’t think any fair assessment of the week’s output would find that Stephen’s three Cs prevailed.

Indeed I was struck by the way some of the most critical commentary through the week came from Hal Hill (subscribers only) and Ross McLeod (East Asia Forum) — two economists who come straight out of the same mould as Stephen. So I guess by definition they wouldn’t be carping or condescending.

The second thing that guardians of the relationship have to get used to is that as we go down the track of more integration between the two countries in whatever sector of life that proves possible there is likely to be more unruly commentary from people who are new to the territory — from journalism and elsewhere.

That is the nature of the sort of diverse and growing relationship that we all desire. It is not going to be a rarified discussion on fora like this. It is going to be at the soccer or on cable TV — where the anchors were pleasantly surprised that SBY could tell a good joke.

Stephen presumably feels that all journalists should view Indonesia through the same prism of successful long term macroeconomic performance that is his basic frame of reference.

People like him fail to appreciate that journalists are equally besieged by others who are as passionate about Indonesia as he is. It is just that they want us to use other prisms like long term human rights achievements.

Those who think that daily media practitioners are an unreflective crowd might be interested to know that just as Stephen was penning his comments last Monday a group of Indonesian and Australian editors were sitting down for a two-yearly gathering.

It’s a commendable project of the Australia Indonesia Institute that has achieved the sort of easygoing long term interaction that we all aspire to for the relationship. Bosses, colleagues and political leaders are all fair game in a discussion about current events and how the media portrays them. 

Believe me, the 3 Cs were rolled out on both sides and no one was offended.

Photo by Flickr user London Summit's photostream, used under a Creative Commons license.