National

'Antara' news agency gets
new chief


JAKARTA (JP): Columnist and writer Mohamad Sobary was installed on Monday as head of the Antara news agency, replacing Parni Hadi, with a specific task of making the state agency more independent.

Acting State Secretary Bondan Gunawan, who swore in Sobary on behalf of President Abdurrahman Wahid, quoted the President as saying that past abuses of information for certain political purposes must be ended.

""A news agency, although state owned must be able to deliver open and honest news because the state is not allowed to lie to its people,"" Bondan said in his speech.

With his official installment, Sobary will hold the position both as general manager and chief editor of the news agency.

Bondan, who is also secretary of development supervision, told Sobary notto cover up bad news and pointed out that the President would be disappointed if he failed to make the news agency a more independent institution.

""Report all the facts on social and political affairs and the economy without any cover-ups,"" said Bondan.

Parni himself was absent from the meeting without any explanation.

""Pak Parni has been informed about this installment,"" Bondan replied whenasked about Parni's absence.

Speaking to journalists after the official ceremony at the State Secretariat, Bondan also pointed out that the country's oldest news agency must end its monopoly on the subscription of foreign news wire services in Indonesia.

""All monopolistic practices must be ended,"" Bondan remarked.

Parni, who took over as Antara's general manager in 1998, has denied allegations that the agency monopolized the sale of subscriptions to these foreign wire services. He claimed that Antara was chosen as the distributor, merely based on the company's own qualities.

Established in 1937, the news agency has developed as a key information provider to the public. It has an extensive network across the country, unmatched by any media organization.

Officially Antara is under the control of the State Secretariat. Not surprisingly its content is often regarded as biased toward the government. Meanwhile, Sobary, who is known as an astute social observer and friend of President Abdurrahman's, said he was compelled to accept the job at Antara as he had already turned down two previous offers by the President.

Sobary claimed he had earlier been offered the post of head of a yet to be formed national cultural council and the deputy chairmanship of the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI) where he currently works as a researcher.

Sobary, 47, admitted that it would be difficult to lead a major media organization like Antara as he had no experience in journalism. Nevertheless, he was optimistic that those working in the company would back his work.

Sobary also disclosed that he had not fully prepared for the ceremony. Herevealed that he had to borrow from his friends, the suit, shoes, peci (Muslim cap) and tie he wore during the ceremony.

""I know you say I look funny in this suit,"" Sobary quipped as he dangled his blazer sleeves which were evidently too long.

But later in the evening Antara carried a report claiming that a majorityof its journalists and employees objected to the appointment of Sobary.

M. Yunus, a staff member who has been working there for 30 years, expressed fear that the presence of a completely new company and editorial chief who was unable to master the problems of the company would only be counterproductive.

""If he is an outsider, he will start from zero,"" Yunus said. (prb)

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