November 15, 2011

Interview With Andreas Harsono, Controversial Indonesian Journalist


Yesterday The Irrawaddy published Dyah Paramita‘s interview with Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian writer who specializes in the increasingly rare craft of long form journalism. The pair discussed human rights, the importance of research, and Harsono’s love for the bands Queen and U2. With the recent release of John Jeremiah Sullivan‘s essay collection, Pulphead, we are crossing our fingers that long form journalism will make a comeback, because right now it seems like readers aren’t willing to read 50,000 (or even 5,000) words on a particular subject without some serious cajoling.

Here’s what Harsono has to say about his writing and his homeland:

What makes your writing controversial?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Read more here.