Last week I facilitated a forum in Jakarta on ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia. Beasley Intercultural were supporters of the event alongside the ABC, BBC, PPMN (Indonesian Association for Media Development), the Ford Foundation and the Australian Government. The gathering brought together media, journalists and bloggers from across the region. The event coincided with the launch of the podcast/radio series ‘What Can I Say’ on BBC and ABC. It is always deeply satisfying to facilitate dialogue among groups of people with great depth of personal knowledge and experience, and such important topics to discuss. Click the links below to listen to the podcasts/programs:
It was interesting timing, with events in Tahrir square in Egypt unfolding at the same time. The BBC broadcast live from the conference venue in Jakarta (albeit at 1am Jakarta time), interviewing panelists and crossing live to Tahir square to speak to fellow bloggers and social media specialists. Concurrently, events relating to reactions to freedom of expression were also unfolding near Jakarta with the burning of two churches and the killings of three members of the Ahmadiyya movement. Such developments focused conversations on the potential to mobilise groups through the immediacy of social networks, and the inherent freedoms and risks involved.
Key elements of the workshop discussion I found most interesting were the focus on the tension between ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Freedom of Religion’ – what
happens when expression challenges local religious truths? Participants in the workshop explored the cultural sensitivities around interpretation and analysis and the necessity for understanding the audience. Cultural change was also a key topic – how cultures are dynamic and do change, and an insightful discussion of power structures driving and benefiting from change ensued.
An insightful keynote presentation was provided by Mr Bambang Harymurti, CEO and Publisher of the Tempo magazine in Indonesia who reminded the audience of the importance of exploring alternate perspectives free of judgement. Other speakers included: Mick Bunworth Executive Producer Al Jazeera English Asia-Pacific; Nezar Patria, Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia; AlexAu Waipang and Supinya Klangnarong, political bloggers from Singapore and Thailand. The most eye opening of presentations was on the depth of twitter and facebook penetration of Indonesia. Indonesia is the biggest ‘twitter’ population on the planet, and the second largest Facebook, and the use of the platforms are having some fascinating impacts on social movements.
As one participant so eloquently put it – “Just because we have new platforms for communicating, it doesn’t change who we are. A computer is just a vehicle, a piece of technology. It is the human being who is the driver that makes the difference. What we say, why and how we say it is what matters. It is easy to forget with the proliferation of social networking that ultimately it is people, with human fears, needs and concerns which utilise these platforms”.