Sunday, April 10, 2005

Banda Aceh Journalists

Banda Aceh has a lively journalist community although it practically has only a single daily newspaper –the Serambi Indonesia. But many journalists work as correspondents for various media outlets in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, or Jakarta. Most journalists are familiar with the guerilla war between Indonesian soldiers and the Free Acheh Movement, which declared Acheh’s independence in December 1976.

Serambi is a subsidiary of the Jakarta-based Kompas Gramedia Group, Indonesia’s largest media conglomerate. A new newspaper, the Rakyat Timor, was published on January 17, 2005, nearly a month after the tsunami hit Aceh or five days after Jawa Pos CEO Dahlan Iskan visited Banda Aceh. The Jawa Pos Group is the arch rival of the Kompas Gramedia Group. It has more than 120 newspapers throughout Indonesia. It is owned by the Tempo magazine.

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Aceh Media Center on Jalan Merak in Banda Aceh. It was only established on March 23, 2005 by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI). The German funding agency Friedrich Ebert Stiftung helped the union to rent this two-story house. It also handed over five PCs, one laptop, some printers, a television set and furnitures to equip this new office. It is also used as a media center where freelance journalists like Nani Afrida of The Jakarta Post dan Hotli Simandjuntak of TV7 could work.

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Nurdin Hasan, the chairman of AJI Banda Aceh, who works for the Serambi Indonesia. He was chairing a meeting between AJI members and two representatives of the US Aid International Agency.

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The “CoHA” coffee shop for Aceh journalists. “CoHA” is the acronym of the "Cessation of Hostilities Agreement" --the ceasefire agreement in Aceh between 2002 and 2003. But Aceh journalists altered it into “kongkow-kongkow haha-haha.” Kongkow is a Hokkian-derived word which literary means “chatting.” It is a coffee shop for chatting and laughing.


News stand in Neusu, Banda Aceh. It is common to see news stands like this throughout Banda Aceh. Neuse is a bustling market in Banda Aceh. It was saved from the tsunami as it was pretty far from the coastline.


Serambi Indonesia daily, the oldest newspaper in Banda Aceh. Like most Indonesian newspapers, it has no byline. It lost more than 50 staff in the tsunami.

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Mohammad Dim used to be the managing editor of the Kontras weekly tabloid –a supplement of the Serambi Indonesia daily. The tsunami closed down the tabloid. Dim took over the business management of the daily when most of his business colleagues perished in the tsunami. “We lost more than 40 business staffs including the marketing head, the circulation man and the finance guy,” he said. Dim wanted his remaining staffs to be trained in marketing and circulation.

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Serambi Indonesia lost its huge office in the tsunami. They currently work in a temporary office in Banda Aceh. Sjamsul Kahar, its publisher-cum-chief editor, told me that he is now building the office again, hoping that it will be completed in July 2005.

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Mahfud and Ridwan Ridwan Mukhtar of the now defunct Warna tabloid in their office on the second floor of a shop-house in the Darussalam area in Banda Aceh. Ridwan stressed the importance to have a cultural magazine in Aceh. Mahfud said it is unrealistic to suggest a $250,000 annual budget for a tabloid like Warna. They wanted to distribute Warna freely among refugees and added the content with daily needs at the barracks.

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Tarmizy Harva, the Reuters photographer in Aceh, sat in the well known “CoHA” coffee shop in the Banda Aceh downtown area. Tarmizy won the honorable mention at the 2003 World Press Photo awards. He photographed some women who were shocked when finding out their family member was tightened to a tree and murdered allegedlly by Indonesian soldiers. Tarmizy has a dream, “I want to see James Nacthwey to lead a photo workshop in Banda Aceh.”

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(from left to right) Mohd. Hamzah of the Suara Pembaruan evening daily, Riznal Faizal of the Rakyat Aceh and Syawaluddin of the Medan Bisnis daily. They sat and chatted in a journalist coffee shop in downtown Banda Aceh. Riznal is the chief editor of the Rakyat Aceh. His newspaper was published on January 17, 2005 or 21 days after the tsunami. Its presence makes the long-established Serambi Indonesia management uneasy.

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Asnawi Kumar is the chief correspondent of the Rakyat Aceh. He used to work for the now defunct Atjeh Post daily, owned by the Jakarta-based Media Group. Later he edited the now defunct Aceh Ekspres, an independent newspaper published in 1999, but closed shop due to financial difficulties. Asnawi suggested that a sophisticated training to be organized in Aceh. “Let’s do it in Sabang so that the journalists could stay away from their daily routine,” he said, adding that the journalists should be selected based on a set of criteria. “We should give a certain portion to women.”

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