INDONESIA: Media expert says coverage of Soeharto 'overdose'

National TV stations keep teams of reporters and cameramen at Pertamina Hospital 24 hours a day to provide latest reports and capture newest footage

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jakarta --- Getting the best footage or photograph of the critically ill Soeharto, along with the expressions of his prominent visitors, has been the focus for dozens of photographers and television staff since the former leader was hospitalized.

Some media staff spend more than 12 hours a day outside the Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta, where the former president has been receiving medical treatment since Jan. 4.

"We have been trying to get the best shots we can," RCTI's video journalist Iwan Harjadi said Wednesday.

"Soeharto's snapshots are what we're most after, but we rarely find chances to get them.

"We have also being trying to catch the best angle or the genuine sympathy of the prominent people who visit him," Iwan said.

Metro TV's field producer Kabul Indrawan said, "The problem with TV stations is that we need pictures".

"No pictures, no news," he said.

"We often have to air the same video footage several times if we get updates only on the stories but fail to get the pictures."

RCTI and Metro TV, as well as other national TV stations such as Global TV, Indosiar, ANTV and Trans TV, are competing heavily on Soeharto coverage, with each sending at least eight teams of 16 reporters and cameramen to standby at the hospital in shifts covering 24 hours.

Television stations have been airing news on Soeharto between three and eight times a day, with updates of the five-star retired-general's condition.

Soeharto has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses during his 32-year presidency, but the TV stations rarely report stories on his legal status.

ANTV cameraman Ghofur said television stations had provided excessive coverage on Soeharto's illness.

"I know we're sort of over-exposing it and the news has become rather boring, but he's a prominent figure and many people want to know his latest condition," Ghofur said.

"As long as other TV stations remain outside the hospital, we have to stay here, too."

Communications and media expert Effendi Ghazali told The Jakarta Post media coverage on Soeharto's condition was an "over dose" of information, with the same footage being aired repeatedly.

"I can remember exactly the footage of Pak Harto being carried on his bed through the hall, (the coverage) has been visually boring," Effendi said.

He suggested TV stations also cover other subjects related to Soeharto, including his legal status and the condition of the victims of his alleged crimes.

He said the same news aired over and over could spark questions around the motive behind the coverage.

"Is this an effort to foster sympathy on him?

"Or is it the TV stations have no other things to report?" Effendi said.

Agus Purwadianto of the Indonesian Medical Association's Ethics Board said the latest media coverage would have humiliated Soeharto because it exposed his powerless condition.

"Everyone, including Soeharto and his family, will be in a panic facing such a situation, and this should not be exposed to the public," Agus said.

"Besides, this excessive coverage has automatically disturbed them."