Rosiana Silalahi: Making News
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 7:18 PM |
She has been named one of the country’s most powerful women, alongside politicians and entertainers. Rosiana Silalahi, editor in chief of the acclaimed news program Liputan 6 SCTV, is widely hailed for her work as a critical journalist and for her efforts to reshape the role of the national media. Maggie Tiojakin reports.
A lean, commanding, spiky-haired figure walks through the glass doors of the office of Liputan 6 at the new and fancy SCTV Tower at Senayan City. In a floral top, black khakis and a pair of signature dark-rimmed glasses, she walks tall and proud. Her gait is rather boyish yet elegant, her eyes taking in every object in the room.
This, I realize, is why she’s so good at what she does: nothing gets past her.
“Would you like tea, coffee, anything?” she asks once she has invited me into her spacious chamber, where a large bookshelf stands bearing many awards.
She settles behind the desk, facing piles of reference books perched in one corner and a sheaf of paperwork in the other. Somewhere among the piles are framed photographs of her and her husband, Dino Gregory Izaak, taken at a portrait studio and outdoor locations. Her smile appears radiant and earnest in all of them.
It’s hard not to feel intimidated by her presence, but Rosi – as she prefers to be called – has her own way of “breaking the ice”. She talks candidly, reverting between formal and slang Indonesian, often referring to herself as “gue” and me, the interviewer, as “loe”. It gets the ball rolling. Fast.
Born in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka, in 1972, she is the daughter of a judge, L.M. Silalahi. When she was five, her family relocated to Palembang, then also in South Sumatra, where they stayed for four years before they moved permanently to the capital city. Rosi admits that, even as a child, she was never the “quiet” type.
“I was a troublemaker,” she says. “My parents were regular guests at the principal’s office. And that’s just the way I am, you know. When I want something, I won’t stop until I get it.”
Back then, Rosi never dreamed of becoming a news anchor or the editor in chief of a major free-to-air commercial network. Nevertheless, she had always wanted to work in the media (she says she wouldn’t mind working in advertising or public relations as long as she had access to information and people). As a teenager, she was amazed by the news presenters she used to watch on television, who seemed to know everything.
“That was the image I had of news anchors,” she says. “They must have been the smartest people in the world to have that kind of information. Consequently, the experience shaped my first impression of the media: knowledge.”
A graduate of the University of Indonesia with a degree in Japanese literature, Rosi freely admits she chose that particular major because her application to the communications program was denied.
“I was angry,” she says, upping the volume of her voice to a point of shrill excitement. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make them regret not having me. I’m going to do so well as a media personality and they’re going to look up to me.’”
She laughs, shakes her head. A lesson was learned from that disappointment, she says. “I know now what I did not understand then,” she explains. “When a door closes on you, it’s not the end of the world. Something else, whatever it is, will always open up.”
In her case, it was an internship at state-owned broadcaster TVRI as a news reporter.
“I was in the middle of my thesis,” she recalls. “And TVRI had this vacancy I could not pass up. So I took it.”
A year later, following her graduation, Rosi joined the state broadcaster as a full-time reporter.
Even though she had also interned briefly at RCTI, which in 1990 had started to going free-to-air, she decided to stick with TVRI because “for the longest time, they were the one who had the best broadcasting system”.
In 1999, she left TVRI for SCTV, where she has remained until today.
“We’ve gone through a lot,” she says. “And I’m proud of the network, of the work we’ve done to make it what it is today.”
In 2005, she was promoted to the position of editor in chief. Liputan 6, praised by Kompas as the number one news program in the country, has grown tremendously under her leadership.
A long-time admirer of CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and ABC’s Barbara Walters, Rosi rejects the popular perception that to be a good anchor one must also possess good looks and youth. She draws examples from her idols who are still active in front of the camera (Amanpour is 51, Walters turns 80 in September).
“The people who run networks will always want someone younger and better-looking,” she says, regretfully. “I say to them, ‘If that’s what you want, you should go to a meat market’ – because in a newsroom, the main star is the news itself.”
She leans back in her chair, lets out a sigh. She claims that as editor in chief she has little say in the boardroom. Most of the time, she has to fight for what she believes is best for the network. She realizes that idealism doesn’t always sell, that there are times when the network will have to cave in to popular demands. But, she says, “that doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to get carried away”.
A decade since the fall of Soeharto’s authoritarian regime, the media is basking in the newfound freedom of the press without realizing the responsibility that comes with it, Rosi says.
The lack of variety in television programs is the unavoidable result of having too many free-to-air commercial networks running at the same time, all trying to get a bite of the same advertising pie.
“No other country has as many free-to-air channels as we do,” says Rosi. “And in the past 10 years, we’ve gone from three to 13 [channels]. Now everyone wants the same thing, does the same thing. As an industry, we don’t even know where we are, anymore.”
Rosi is known to be a hands-on editor, with a clear vision of where she’s heading. Her interview skills, which she has used on George W. Bush and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have become the gold standard for broadcast journalists in the country. In 2004, she produced a program cleverly titled the Voice Ballot covering the sensitive issue of money politics (the program won her an award from the Indonesian Journalist Board).
What is it like to be a successful woman in what continues to be perceived as a man’s world?
“I think that’s one of the more injurious perceptions that people have about this business,” says Rosi. “It looks like a man’s world, but it’s as much ours as it is theirs. That’s exactly what we need to change: the perception.”
Regarding her recent selection by a magazine as one of the country’s most powerful women, Rosi says it only means she has to do better. And she refuses to stop until she has achieved her goals.
“This is the time for [the media] to shape up. We can’t waste any more time than we already have.”
Photo by Bonita Suraputra