Armed militias had forced most journalists to flee from East Timor by September 7, the day then-President B.J. Habibie and General Wiranto of Indonesia declared martial law for the region. But reports out of Dili were still airing on Radio 68H, a loose affiliation of radio stations throughout Indonesia. The reporter 68H had dispatched from Jakarta three weeks earlier had left on one of the last planes, but local “friends” were filing stories via the Internet. Their reports were being produced in Jakarta and distributed again on the Web to stations across the archipelago, from Aceh at the western tip of Sumatra to Kupang in West Timor.
At the new studio on Utan Kayu Street in Jakarta, Santoso, the editor and coordinator of Radio 68H, stayed up most of the night working with reporters to prepare related stories (a student demonstration in Jakarta against martial law; an interview with the director of the Legal Aid Foundation examining the proposed law; the request of Amien Rais, a major political party leader, that the United Nations send peacekeeping forces) and getting ready for a trip to Ujung Pandang in Sulawesi, where Santoso hoped to drum up more interest in “Indonesia’s NPR,” as one journalist calls it.
Radio 68H has been an overnight success. The first program aired this past April 5. Today there are thirty-five stations that directly cooperate with 68H and another 111 in West Java that use news material broadcast to them by a powerful transmitter in Bandung. Listeners already number 25 million.
Stories on politics and the economy, along with interviews and editorials, are posted on the Radio 68H Web site (www.radio68h.or.id) three times a day, in time for member stations to broadcast them on the noon, evening and late-night news. While the audio versions are available exclusively to Radio 68H’s radio partners, all Internet users have access to the text versions. Radio 68H is also compiling a sound library of important speeches in their entirety, both contemporary–such as a seventy-minute speech by Megawati Sukarnoputri, now vice president, about the killing and violence in Timor–and historical, such as Sukarno’s independence speech in 1945, which has yet to be found. “Members can pick up whatever they want, item by item,” explains Andreas Harsono, a journalist and secretary general of ISAI, the nonprofit foundation that started Radio 68H. He estimates that on average, member stations use 70 percent of each day’s stories and, at politically charged moments, even more.
Radio 68H’s success is due largely to the fact that it has no competitors: “Since independence was declared in ’45, radio stations have never produced their own news reports,” explains Harsono, now a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. “At first the reasons were financial. Then it became political. It was cheaper and politically advantageous–finally, required–to take the news from RRI”–the government-owned and -sponsored Radio Republik Indonesia, which sent out Suharto-sanctioned news fourteen times a day. “The setup was mutually beneficial to the government and the owners,” he adds.