Fitri Wulandari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Head of the state-owned Antara news agency Mohamad Sobary said on Thursday that his agency was still conducting an assessment of its legal status as recommended by Law No.40/1991 on the Press.
""The assessment is still being conducted, including by carrying out comparative studies with the state-run television station TVRI, state radio station RRI and state postal company PT Pos,"" Sobary said.
He said that the assessment of Antara, which has been riddled with financial problems, had to be conducted carefully due to a variety of complicating factors, especially those related to the agency's history and its financial situation.
""We were formed to advance the nation's interests, to serve the independence struggle and to voice it to the world,"" Sobary said, adding that the agency's historical significance had led many groups, including the House of Representatives, to reject the idea of its privatization.
""Whatever the choice, it has its own consequences. This is a big challenge for us. So we haven't made any decision on it,"" he said.
He said that the agency was relying heavily on a joint cooperation scheme with foreign news agencies, including Bernama of Malaysia and Ria Novosti and Itar Tass of Russia to cover its expenditure.
Antara, which has a vast network of 27 regional offices throughout the country, celebrated its 64th anniversary on Thursday without much fanfare.
Established in 1937, the agency is under the supervision of the State/Cabinet Secretary's office, which means it is not surprising to see it act as the government's mouthpiece.
Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, a media observer, said that Antara was currently facing a dilemma after having been the sole news agency for decades.
""Antara is the only news agency that has managed to survive in Indonesia. While the agency relies on government subsidies, which are far from adequate, the organization has steadily grown up,"" Atmakusumah told The Jakarta Post.
Until 1962, there were three other news agencies besides Antara. They were the Indonesian Press Bureau (PIA), the Asian Press Board and the Indonesian National Press and Publicity Service (INPS).
Aiming to control the media, the then president, Soekarno, merged the four into a single news agency, Antara.
Formerly in private hands, Antara became a state owned company after the merger. It was placed under the president's control and given a government subsidy.
From 1965 to 1966, two more news agencies were established, the Indonesian National News Agency (KNI) and the Armed Forces News Center (PAB).
KNI has long been defunct, while PAB is rarely heard from.
Atmakusumah said it would be difficult for Antara to survive as a private entity unless it received backing from newspaper companies through, among other things, the purchase of its equity, as is the case with the Associated Press.
""If the government still needs a news agency, the government must extend its help as long as it stays away from the agency's management and editorial policy,"" Atmakusumah said.