There are many ceremonial days in our calendar, most of which are significant only for those who would attend or are otherwise involved in the usually overlooked occasion itself. Today’s National Press Day is, perhaps, one of those occasions.
Most journalists can’t recollect the meaning of Feb. 9, and even fewer Indonesians know that we have been commemorating National Press Day for over a quarter of a century.
The trials and successes of this nation mirror that of the development of professional journalism here. As young Indonesians bonded and solidified their diverse views of nationhood at the turn of the century, so the media did the same.
In the pre-independence era, pioneers of journalism were interchangeable with celebrated names forging a national identity — names like Tirto Adhi Soerjo, Ki Hadjar Dewantara and Haji Agus Salim.
In this progressive age of reformasi, we take the basic liberties of expression and the press for granted, so much so that the media is often regarded as a scourge on societal fabric and at times regarded as a menace rather than a public asset.
We argue that while there are many things wanting, the mainstream Indonesian press continues to admirably perform its most important function of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable”.
Many in established media organizations take great pains and make significant investments in training and education for the most important asset in this endeavor — the people holding the pen (or behind keyboard in this digital age).
We also argue that ultimately the media is a reflection of the society it supports. Hence, if the public and media consumers clamor for gossip, innuendo and articles on the short and banal, then ultimately that is the direction by which the world of Indonesian journalism will gravitate.
In this age of digital immediacy, we believe that the role of established media institutions, including this newspaper, is all the more important in sustaining the values of traditional journalism. We believe that these values are essential to the functioning of qualified free expression in a democracy, no matter what the platform, digital or otherwise.
Values which incorporate objectivity and verification has been, is, and should remain the qualities defining Indonesian journalism, as opposed to the bellow of a digital mob.
The media provides a sense of empathy for the voiceless who find no sympathy in our courts or assistance from the authorities or state institutions. The Gutenberg press, the mechanical foundation promulgating critical thought and modern journalism, preceded modern democracy by three centuries.
Suffice to say that democracy cannot exist without a free press.
We put forward now that a quality press embedded with the values of traditional journalism is a prerequisite for a functioning modern democracy. And no matter how we in the journalism profession endeavor, we must honestly say that such a Fourth Estate cannot be realized, survive and prosper without the pecuniary support of the market.
Like this newspaper that you hold, the future is in your hands.