Indonesian election adds
spice to media internship

Timaru journalist Megan Sutherland, a Canterbury University graduate, spent six weeks in Jakarta interning for Agence France Presse (AFP), during which she covered Jakarta's incumbent governor as he sought re-election and battled accusations of blasphemy.

Exploring Sunda Kelapa port, Jakarta (Photo: Megan Sutherland)

I was fortunate enough to be in Indonesia during the Jakarta gubernatorial elections – a journalist's dream given Jakarta’s then governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Chinese nickname “Ahok”, was also on trial for blasphemy (which he was subsequently convicted of). 

Politics is a far more intricate and complex beast in Indonesia. Democracy is relatively new to the country, corruption is everywhere, and people truly believe in the power of their vote. 

On election day, I was out chasing Ahok all day from 6am until. We filmed him cast his vote and then went and filmed from inside his campaign house, watching live as the votes were counted.

It was the most exhilarating day and probably the most exciting day of my young career! I was running off so much adrenaline I didn’t eat from breakfast until I was back at the office at around 4pm. The whole time I was there I felt like a sponge just constantly learning and absorbing everything that surrounded me. 

I was able to travel to beautiful places on the weekends and after the program had finished. Bogor, Bandung, Lembang, Yogyakarta, Bali and Lombok are places I was able to squeeze in with other interns during our stint in Indonesia; I know many of us would love to have done more travel if we had more time, it’s cheap to travel and there are so many beautiful places especially for those who love the outdoors and climbing or hiking. 

During my time in Indonesia, I gained an appreciation and deeper understanding of the country's rich and complex history, political structure, media and culture. New Zealand and Indonesia have strong economic ties through the likes of APEC and ASEAN.  We export over $800 million to Indonesia with Indonesia exporting over $700 million to New Zealand. 

I think New Zealanders need to be more aware of Indonesia and Southeast Asia as a whole. The region is so important to our country in terms of trade and economy, but more importantly people-to-people relationships. 

Not that ignorance of the other country is a one-way thing – when I was in Jakarta, I still got asked if New Zealand was a part of Australia. There are so many opportunities for us to learn from each other. 

Men at work on the streets of Jakarta (photo: Megan Sutherland)

Being back in New Zealand is bitter sweet. I love being back, but I wake up sometimes missing speaking Bahasa to random people on the street on the way to work. Everyone seemed so cheerful and happy - always saying “Pagi!” “Good Morning” or asking how you are, “Aka Kabar?” It’s a different world in so many aspects.

Indonesia is a beautiful country and this experience truly opened my mind and has left me wanting more. A little piece of Indonesia is left in me. 

Sutherland's internship with AFP was through the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesia Studies and sponsored by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.