A memoir-type story about my own experience as a freelance journalist covering the abortive communist coup attempt in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept 30, 1965.
We did it, apparently because there was a missing link in AP’s team, somebody in their office to relay the breaking news in real time to an AP bureau outside Indonesia. Dick told me later that day UPI beat AP by six or seven minutes in breaking to the world the news about the historical transfer of power from President Soekarno to General Suharto. This was the event that ushered in a new era in the history of the archipelago nation, at the time the fifth most populous country in the world.
The days following the official announcement of the power transfer were hectic and full of newsworthy events. More and more senior correspondents from the world’s major news media descended upon Jakarta. Indonesia had been in the forefront of world news coverage since October 1965. CBS News Asia Bureau Chief Bernard Kalb was in town with his cameraman, French Alex Bauer, and soundman, a Thai national whose name I don’t remember. I was working with them along with Sie Lukman, a local cameraman who was also a stringer for CBS News.
Bernie Kalb, who in the mid 1980s did a two-year stint as a US State Department spokesman, was an admirer of Soekarno. He was posted to Jakarta as a New York Times correspondent for two or three years in the late 1950s. The president knew him personally. And Bernie made friends with a lot of Indonesian politicians and intellectuals. The two I remember well were Dr. Umar Kayam, a leading poet-cum-writer, and Dr. Sudjatmoko, who later became Indonesia’s ambassador in Washington, DC. Bernie asked me if I knew someone who could arrange for him to interview Soekarno. I asked Guntur, Soekarno’s eldest son, whom I met through a mutual friend. But he told me even he and his siblings had a hard time getting a pass from the military to visit his father.
A few days after the power transfer announcement, Information Minister B.M. Diah held a news conference in the auditorium of the TVRI building. This was meant to give the media a chance to ask questions about the power transfer. There was no such opportunity when the announcement was made. The auditorium was packed with correspondents, reporters, photographers and TV cameramen from both domestic and foreign media. CBS News, NBC News, ABC News were all there in full force. CNN was unheard of at the time. Grace was there so I had a chance to introduce her to Bernie and a few others from the foreign media. The minister’s major announcement was that the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly or the MPRS (an acronym of its full Indonesian name) would convene its annual session on March 11.
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