By FRANS ANGGAL
Chief editor of the Flores Pos
A paper presented at the Conference of the Representatives of Catholic newspapers in Asia Seoul, 22-23 March 2007. This paper was translated from Malay to English by Andreas Harsono of Pantau media group in Jakarta.
Indonesia is a country that hosts the largest Muslim population in the world. But it has a strong Christian presence on its eastern area, living in sparsely populated islands like Flores, Rote, Timor, Papua, the Malukus, central and north Sulawesi as well as smaller islands like Tanimbar, Kei, Dobo etc. Indonesia’s most important island is Java where around 65 percent of Indonesia’s total population of 220 million live. Java’s landmass, however, accounts for about six percent of the total land areas, putting the issues of population the most crucial agenda in Indonesia.
Flores is a predominantly Catholic area. Around 95 percent of its 2.5 million population are Catholics. The most influential Catholic organization in Flores is the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD). In 1912, SVD established office in Ende, a small town in central Flores, to start doing evangelical works initiated earlier by Jesuit and Dominican priests since the 17th century in eastern Flores and Timor Island.
SVD runs not only churches but also schools, farms and publications. It currently has a book publishing company, PT Arnoldus Nusa Indah, as well as the Flores Pos daily, Dian weekly tabloid and Kunang-kunang children magazine. PT Arnoldus' office is located on El Tari Street in Ende, sharing a single compound with the Flores Pos daily, the Dian weekly and the Kunang-kunang children magazine. It also has some meeting rooms and a hall for a bigger event.
In 1925, four years after securing its office in Ende, SVD published the Bintang Timur monthly magazine. Unpaid subscription, however, prompted the SVD to close this magazine in 1937. It is very likely that Indonesia nationalist leader Soekarno, who was exiled in Ende in the early 1930s by the Netherlands Indies administration, also subscribed to Bintang Timur. Soekarno befriended some SVD priests in Ende.
In 1948, SVD published Bentara bi-weekly and its insert Anak Bentara children magazine. Bentara became quite popular, supporting SVD’s education programs and schools, making the circulation to peak at around 35,000 copies. Financial difficulties again prompted SVD to close the bi-weekly in 1958.
In 1973, SVD created new magazines: Dian bi-weekly and Kunang-kunang children monthly magazine. Kunang-kunang was pretty famous not only in Flores but also in many parts of Indonesia, including Java. In 1987, Dian became a weekly tabloid.
In the 1980s, Indonesia started to see the emergence of Java-based media conglomerates such as the Kompas Gramedia Group, the Tempo Jawa Pos group and the television industries. An unexpected result of the SVD’s media works is that Flores has produced many journalists, prompting the Flores-educated journalists and editors to work in the emerging media networks. Today the number of Flores journalists working in Java is bigger than those working in their homeland.
In 1998, General Suharto, Indonesia’s strongman who ruled the country since 1965, was forced to step down from power. It prompted a huge political upheaval in the archipelago. Indonesia’s secessionist provinces such as Aceh, Papua and East Timor immediately pressured for their independence. Other provinces in the Maluku islands, partly in Borneo as well as in Sulawesi were involved in violent communal violence. Muslim and Christian fighters engaged in deadly wars in the Malukus and Poso in central Sulawesi. Anti-Chinese riots also rocked Jakarta and Solo in Java as well as Medan in northern Sumatra. Political assassinations were the news of those days.
In August 1999, East Timor voted for independence in a UN-administered referendum. Indonesian military and their militias burned and looted East Timor. Around 10,000 East Timorese died in the massive burning and killing, raising the anger of the international community against the Indonesian military. President Bill Clinton decided to impose a military embargo against Indonesia. His move was copied by other western countries.
Retreating Indonesian generals subsequently faced a new problem. Where should they place thousands of displaced soldiers and militias as well as their families? International peacekeeping forces obviously prevented these frustated soldiers to return to East Timor. An idea circulated among the generals. They wanted to move their retreating soldiers and militias to neighboring Flores. They wanted to move the Dili-based Wirasakti military command to Ende.
It alarmed Flores leaders as well as the Flores diasporas in Java. Hosting thousands of frustated soldiers, who were regularly involved in burning and killing, is a serious threat in a relatively peaceful area like Flores. As a major institution in Flores, SVD was also involved in the debate. Dian weekly was considered to slow to report on the rapid daily development of the pressing issue. SVD decided to publish a daily newspaper in a bid to accommodate various opinions over the plan and to inform the public about such a plan. On Sept. 9, 1999 SVD published the Flores Pos daily in Ende, mobilizing the public opposition against the plan. Founding members included publisher Henri Daros SVD, chief editor John Dami Mukese SVD, Frans Ndoi SVD and Valens G. Doy (Kompas daily journalist). Flores figures in Jakarta intensively lobbied the military. President Abdurrahman Wahid finally shelved the military plan in 2000.
The military issue was the starting point in publishing the Flores Pos. It then began to regularly bring news reports and editorial pieces from Monday to Saturday every week. Its mission is to voice the oppressed and to monitor those in power.
It is owned by a Catholic order but the Flores Pos is more like a regular newspaper. In a bid to promote religious dialogues, it provides religious columns for every religion in Flores. Its workers are religiously diverse. They are mostly Catholic but it has Muslim and Protestant employees indeed. The Friday Forum column is dedicated for Muslims while the Sunday Forum are for Catholics and Protestants.
Currently it also conducts monthly discussions on various issues in a bid to broaden the intellectual discourses among its audience. It sometimes open public donation for the poor and natural disasters victims. When Manggarai had a major landslide in March, killing more than 60 people, the Flores Pos opened a public donation. It collected more than 20 million rupiah ($2,000). It also conduct annual seminars on economic, political and cultural outlooks.
Format: tabloid Monday-Saturday
Pages: 1999 (8) 2001 (12) 2003 (16)
1999-2002 under Flores Media Foundation
2002-now under PT Arnoldus Nusa Indah
Vision: establishment of truth, justice, peace and integration of creation
Mission: to conduct prophetic dialogues with the oppressed people, other religious communities, other cultures and other ideologies
The Flores Pos has some strength factors. According to the 2006 audience survey by Pantau, it has a strong brand name. Eighty four (84) percent of the surveyed respondents in Flores know the Flores Pos. It is just less two percents from its main competitor, Pos Kupang daily, at 86 percent. Pos Kupang is a subsidiary of the Kompas Gramedia Group. It is based in Kupang in western Timor.
Flores Pos locally produces 90 percent its contents. They are supplied mainly by its seven bureaus in Flores and one in Kupang. The bureaus are stationed in towns like Labuan Bajo, Ruteng, Bajawa, Ende, Sikka, Larantuka and Lewoleba on Adonara Island. More than 60 people work for the Flores Pos. They include 23 editorial staff. The others are working on its marketing, finance, distribution etc.
In September 2006, the newspaper began to make unprecedented changes. Georgia Scott of The New York Times helped redesign the Flores Pos. She introduced cleaner, more spacious and easy-to-navigate news design. The newspaper also introduced bylined news reports. It is a rare even among Jakarta newspapers. The newspaper also put the mobile number of its reporters near their names, providing a chance to involved readers to call the reporters if the stories lacking something. It also publishes a feature story everyday on the front page. Reporters should also verify their stories. They can’t publish single-sourced stories. The SVD is committed to have these chances.
Obviously the newspaper also has its weakness. Its human resources lack training. Many journalists are not well trained to report and to write analitically. The non-editorial staff are mostly high school graduates. None of them specializes on business development and marketing.
Financially its income is not enough to cover expenses. Everyday it prints 3,500 copies of which 70 percent go to subscribers. It is priced at 2,000 rupiah per copy ($20 cents). Financially it should only break even if printed 7,000 copies.
Its equipments, from computers to cameras, from printing press to transportation means, are pretty old. Most correspondents send their stories by fax. The reports, when reaching the newsroom in the evening, must be retyped. Most bureaus have no internet connection. Its printing press is not for newspaper printing. It has no newspaper folding facility. Workers have to manually fold 3,500 copies of printed papers, every night, into folded newspapers.
The Flores Pos has some opportunities. It could increase its circulation based on the fact that the reading habit in Flores is higher than Indonesia's national average. It is now working with Swisscontact and Pantau to increase the newspaper’s capacity building.
In March, the Flores Pos is also published jointly with Hidup magazine in Jakarta. It makes a possible passage to raise advertisement incomes from ad agencies in Jakarta. Last but not the least, small and medium enterprises are growing in Flores. Flroes has no big industries. But these small companies are stronger and more durable than the big ones. It was proven during the Asian economic crisis. They want to advertise in the Flores Pos.
The possibility to set up a Catholic newspaper network in Asia is also a chance to increase its capabilities.
The treatment factors are quite numerous. Land transportation in mountainous Flores is very tough. It takes one week just to travel from Labuan Bajo in the west to Larantuka in the east. Newspaper distribution is very expensive. Using public transport is costly. Having our own distribution is also costly.
Today the Flores Pos is “surrounded” by Pos Kupang’s long distance printing presses in Ruteng (west Flores) and Maumere (east). It is quite a challenge. In Flores, people don’t buy two newspapers in a single day. If they already buy Pos Kupang, obviously they won’t buy the Flores Pos.
Newsprint must also be imported from Java and the shipment cost is quite dear. Another treatment is the oil prices that always increase in Indonesia over the last ten years. It prompts higher inflation every year. Flores is also one of Indonesia’s lowest income areas. The public buying power is limited. They prefer to secure their meals rather than buying a newspaper.
A network of Catholic newspapers in Asia might create a cooperation in the region, benefiting newspapers like the Flores Pos, Dian and Kunang-kunang children magazine in Ende. The Flores Pos also needs a capital injection to buy a new printing press to print long distance both in Maumere and Ruteng. Similar assistances like what Georgia Scott’s are highly needed in Ende.