|Veteran writer, Andreas Harsono. (Photo: Jakarta Globe)|
Answer: Over the last 10 years, my main job has been writing stories of up to 50,000 words, called long-form writing, which take months to research and are quite costly. Such work allows me to get to the bottom of an issue, which is why I advise that research is as important as writing. This method results in me writing only two or three stories a year. But for more difficult issues, I still release short reports. I also still write features and interviews.
Q: Are human rights issues your sole passion in journalism?
A: In the past, I wrote about corruption and conflict in general, but later I became more specialized in human rights issues, like those in Aceh, East Timor, West Papua, Java and Burma. I realized that I’d had that passion since I was in second grade, when I admired many human rights activists.
Q: Did you feel threatened when you were detained in East Java, because of your work on discrimination against Shia Muslims?
A: I see threats and condemnation as part of a process Indonesia has to go through to respect human rights. Nowadays we have more free space to express our opinions, though of course there are many who use hate-speech.
In East Java, I was accused of pitting one ethnic group against another, and undermining the republic. But like Gus Dur [former President Abdurrahman Wahid] once said, “Gitu saja kok repot?” [Why sweat the small stuff?]. My mentor, Goenawan Mohamad, told me there are two similar words in Malay, one is takut [fear] and the other takluk [surrender]. Takut is natural but takluk is not. I may be fearful but I’m not going to surrender.
Q: What about the risks to your family?
A: When I publish a “dangerous” story, I usually tell my wife about the risk, and she responds, “You do your job, go ahead.” I once even wrote a story that might have affected the company she worked for, but she gave me the same response. Luckily, nothing bad has ever happened.
Q: Is freedom of expression still rare in Indonesia?
A: Legally, there are spaces for free expression. But there are more than 100 statutes condemning it. Just look at how many human rights activists face prosecution because of their work.
Q: We are in the era of citizen journalism. Any thoughts?
A: This is one of the best times for journalism. In the past, publishing a story required a printing machine. Now we have blogs and Twitter, which function like a news wire service. But at the same time we are risking a “tsunami of information.” We can drink a glass of water, but we can’t drink a tsunami. I mean that everyone involved in writing needs to learn democracy along with journalism since many are just voicing hatred, rumors and even teaching bomb-making.
Q: Care to share any little-known facts about yourself?
A: I love Beethoven, Queen and U2. Twenty years ago I used to be the lead singer in a rock band. I took a music course at Harvard.
Q: Any chance you like U2 because of their activism?
A: I leaned about U2 in 1985.