Thursday, May 20, 2004

Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (13 of 40)

Chinese newspapers aim to raise political interest
By Laurel Teo
The Straits Times (March 19, 2004)

Jakarta - Once banned, Chinese-language newspapers are making a comeback in Indonesia.

They focus on community issues and help to raise political awareness on the Chinese ground.

Not only do they run advertisements inviting readers to take part in political seminars held by Chinese civil society groups, they also feature ethnic Chinese candidates contesting the election.

The oldest among the papers is the Jakarta-based Harian Indonesia, which has the biggest circulation, at about 14,000 copies a day.

It was the only one allowed during the Suharto era, and was formed in 1966 when all Chinese papers were forced to close down and merge into a bilingual one.

It became a government tool to help older Chinese pick up Bahasa Indonesia.

But since Mr Abdurrahman Wahid became president in 1999 and lifted the ban on the use of Chinese language, three other papers have emerged in the capital.

The Indonesia Shang Bao is run by the Bisnis Indonesia daily's management, while the Universal Daily is backed by Taiwanese funding. The International Daily is affiliated with sister papers in the United States.

There are a couple more in Surabaya (East Java), Medan (Sumatra) and Pontianak (Kalimantan).

Businessman Benny Teng, 72, who helped start the Universal Daily, estimated the total circulation of all the papers at no more than 50,000.

Raising readership numbers was a problem because after three decades of alienation, only a handful among those 50 and older can read Chinese. Another challenge was hiring staff fluent in the language.

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