Building a Platform for Immigrant News

Transnational Media Matchmaker Tony Thamsir
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2018 / December

Camille Kuo /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


In Taiwan there are nearly 850,000 Southeast-Asian immigrants, but language difficulties can make it hard for them to keep up to date with domestic and international news. Tony Tham­sir, a Chinese-­Indonesian who works currently as an Indonesian-­language broadcaster on Taiwan’s Public Television Service, saw how alarmed Southeast Asians in Taiwan became during the global outbreak of SARS in 2003. The lack of access to information even caused some of them to contract SARS and die. Immediately, it became Tan’s ambition to work in news media.

 


 

Turning tragedy into a helping force

Before Tony Thamsir came to Taiwan at age 18, he had taken the TOEFL in preparation for studying in the United States or Australia. But his parents believed that the descendants of an ethnic Chinese family ought to have at least one child with a Chinese education, so they twisted his arm to get him to study in Taiwan. The decision would change his life.

With some regret, Tony acceded to his parents' wishes and came to Taiwan to study Chinese. But he had never learned the language at all before, and despite having been a star student in high school, in his first year at National Taiwan Normal University, studying in the Division of Preparatory Programs for Overseas Chinese Students, he performed so abysmally that he returned to Indonesia, where he reconsidered his future. Ultimately, however, he thought to himself: “This isn’t right. I can’t just quit. I’ve got to go back to Taiwan. I won’t give up!” After hitting the books hard the next year, his grades greatly improved, and he became the program’s first student to pass the entrance exam for National Cheng­chi University.

While he was at university, his family confronted a life-altering convulsion back home. In May of 1998 they were victims of anti-Chinese rioting, and his father’s factory, which he had built up from scratch, burned down. Overnight, they were bankrupt. From that point on, Tony had to support himself in Taiwan.

Although the rioting had touched him personally, it didn’t lead him to harbor prejudice against Indonesians. “I want to build bridges,” he says. “I want to make up for Chinese people’s historical shortcomings.” As a member of the media in Taiwan, Tony has maintained long-term interactions with Indonesian immigrants and foreign laborers here, working to help them get news in a timely manner as well as to heal ethnic divisions and improve relations.

A chance to work in media

According to the Ministry of the Interior, in Taiwan there are 150,000 long-term immigrants from Indo­nesia (many of them women married to Taiwanese men) as well as 700,000 Indonesian laborers on foreign worker visas. When you add in the children of immigrants, that brings the total to some 1.1 million. As Su Ling-yao, a Southeast-­Asian news producer at Public Television Service (PTS), says “We have a duty to speak to them in their own languages, so that they can understand what’s going on in Taiwan and abroad.”

The station’s Southeast-Asian-language news broadcasts, which kicked off in April of 2018, represent a break­through. Media outlets such as Radio Taiwan International (RTI) and 4-Way Voice (a monthly magazine with a website) had long been providing radio broadcasts and printed news in Southeast-Asian languages, but audio­visual news broadcasts were almost entirely lacking.

This dearth of accessible news made a particularly deep impression on Tony during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. He was working at the Tai­pei City Government at the time, and at the first possible moment he printed information about SARS in six languages—Chinese, English, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian—on 3000 sheets of A4 paper, which he widely distributed. Although he did everything he could to spread the word, news came from the Tai­pei City Hospital He­ping Branch that three Indonesian caregivers had contracted SARS and died there on the third day after the hospital was sealed off and placed under quarantine.

The news of the workers’ deaths hit Tony hard. When Taiwanese were wearing face masks, checking their own temperatures, and taking preventive measures, foreign workers had not even heard about the SARS outbreak. “Whether on television or radio or in print media, the news was practically all in Chinese!” Likewise, when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck the following year, Indo­nesians in Taiwan found it difficult to get news about how the disaster had affected their homeland.

Consequently, Tony went on to work at various media outlets, from hosting Indonesian-language shows on RTI, to founding INTAI, Taiwan’s first Indonesian-­language magazine, to serving currently as an Indonesian news anchor at PTS. Step by step, he has been broadening the reach of Indonesian-language news in Taiwan.

Building bridges

Not only has Tony set down firm roots in Taiwan, he has also been building bridges of cooperation between Taiwan and Indonesia.

He had the chance to get to know Sai­ful Hadi ­Chalid, then deputy editor-in-chief of Indonesia’s Antara News Agency, when Saiful visited Taiwan. Extremely sociable, Tony enthusiastically showed Saiful around, and their time spent together left a good impression on both.

In 2009 RTI held a gathering for its listeners in Jakarta, where Tony introduced top executives of RTI and the Central News Agency to those of Antara. In December of that year, Antara signed memorandums of understanding with RTI and the CNA, giving the Taiwanese outlets condensed versions of Indonesian news and opening new opportunities for news from Taiwan to be disseminated in Indonesia.

Leveraging the media, various countries have been able to grasp opportunities to overcome foreign relations difficulties. Conversely, a simple event that is covered repeatedly in the media can fan the flames of sensationalism. There was one instance when Taiwanese media hyped allegations about “employers forcing foreign Muslim laborers to eat pork.” Tony worried that the incident would aggravate anti-Chinese sentiments among Indonesians. He made an in-depth investigation of the situation which showed that the reports were mistaken, but the apocryphal stories had come to have a life of their own among migrant workers in Taiwan.

To mitigate the impact of yellow journalism, Tony Thamsir interviewed an imam as well as leaders of influential Indonesian organizations in Taiwan, reporting in depth on the state of the Islamic community in Taiwan. He also invited two foreign workers to describe their own experiences, which cleared the reputations of most Taiwanese employers. The report was picked up by Antara and published in major Indonesian news­papers. “At least we could inform Indonesian media not to continue to print spurious reports,” says Tony.

Building a new future

Tony broke new ground by being appointed as a foreign adviser to the mayor of Tai­pei before he had even graduated from university, and he remains quite famous among Southeast-Asian media personnel in ­Taiwan.

At the end of our interview, Tony mentions earnestly a matter that has recently been a focus of his attention: The possibility of brokering a deal between TV news broadcasters in Taiwan and Indonesia along the lines of the agreements between Antara, RTI and the CNA. He hopes to bring the two nations still closer ­together.

“Living in Taiwan for 24 years, I’ve given half my life to this country.” Tony Tham­sir is committed to continuing to fulfill his promise to build broad bridges between Taiwanese and Indonesian media.

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在這個知識爆炸的時代,周遭的資訊在在皆追求即時性,天氣、空氣品質或公車路線等都有立即的動態消息,新聞媒體更是走在「即時」的尖端。

但是,在台灣有近85萬名東南亞新移民移工因為語言障礙,不易得知台灣及國際的即時資訊,現為公視印尼語新聞主播的印尼華裔譚雲福,2003年經歷全球聞之色變的SARS事件,看見在台的東南亞人士因資訊不足而惶惶不安,甚至染病致死的情形,隨即立定投身媒體圈的志向。

 


將國難悲憤化作助人之力

譚雲福18歲來台灣時,台北市區正在興建捷運,他眼前所見一如狄更斯《雙城記》的開場白:「這是最好的時代,也是最壞的時代。」都市化過程的交通壅塞和環境雜亂景象,不如印尼安靜單純,讓他一度想回鄉;畢竟在高中時期,「留學台灣」是譚雲福生涯規畫裡從未出現過的詞彙。原已考過托福、做好到美國或澳洲留學的事前準備,因為母親一句話:「你有兩條路可以走,一是去台灣唸書,二是在印尼隨便找個大學唸就好了。」以強硬的態度要求譚雲福改到台灣留學,也因此改變了他的人生。

儘管心有遺憾,譚雲福與父母妥協,來到台灣學習中文。由於中文是他從未學習過的語言,就讀國立僑生大學先修班(簡稱「僑大先修班」)的第一年,他的成績一反過去名列前茅,幾乎是慘不忍睹,回到印尼重新思考前途,他心想:「不行,我一定要回到台灣,我不服輸!」再經過一年的埋首苦讀,成績突飛猛進,成為僑大先修班第一位考上國立政治大學的學生。

然而,大學生涯卻是他最不願回首的一段時光。1998年5月,他接到母親打來的越洋電話,母親又是這句:「你要就回印尼隨便找個學校唸一唸吧!不然……」譚雲福聽得一頭霧水,他弟弟接過電話說:「不要講那麼多,我現在要守護我們家唯一的那座橋。」

原來,譚雲福位在雅加達的家受到印尼排華事件的波及,「剛好我們家前面是河,村莊居民為了守護住大橋,不讓暴動的人進來,已全部動員,因為橋的那一端已被暴民燒成焦黑。」譚雲福略帶憤愾地敘述20年前的劇變,父親白手起家的工廠也在野火燃盡的那端,一夜之間宣告破產,此後,留在台灣的他只能自食其力。

雖然經歷過排華事件,但他沒有因此排斥印尼人,「我要建立好關係,我想要彌補過去華人沒有做到的事。」譚雲福說。他在台灣藉由媒體人的身分,長期與家鄉來的印尼移民移工互動,一方面幫助他們獲得即時的資訊,一方面則是消弭兩國人民之間的差異隔閡,促進改善印尼人與華人的關係。

投身媒體界的契機

根據內政部統計處的數據,台灣來自東南亞的新移民約15萬人,移工約70萬人,如再加上新移民第二代,總人口將近110萬人,人數眾多,正如公視東南亞語新聞製作人蘇玲瑤所說:「我們有義務要用他們的語言,讓他們知道在台灣每天發生的大小事情,甚至是國際新聞。」

今(2018)年4月開播的公視東南亞語新聞,是台灣新聞媒體的大突破。過去已有中央廣播電台(簡稱「央廣」)及《四方報》等媒體提供東南亞語言的廣播和平面報導,但以東南亞語製播的影音新聞仍相當欠缺。

譚雲福分享自己大學時期取得新聞資訊的經驗,他只能透過英文報紙,如《The China Post》(英文中國時報)、《Taipei Times》(台北時報)來瞭解台灣和國際大事,對同樣使用拉丁字母的印尼人來說,「比起中文,或許讀英文會快一些。」譚雲福說,但大多數的人無法依樣畫葫蘆。

關於資訊落差,譚雲福印象最深刻的是2003年台灣爆發「嚴重急性呼吸道症候群」疫情(Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome,簡稱「SARS」),當時任職於台北市政府的他,在第一時間把防範SARS病毒的資訊寫在一張A4紙上,以中、英、菲、泰、越、印尼等六種語言呈現,印製3,000份文宣四處發送;儘管盡力趕工,在和平醫院封院的第三天就傳出有3位印尼看護移工染病致死的消息。

移工的死訊使譚雲福受到很大衝擊,當台灣民眾都在戴口罩、量體溫、做防範的時候,外籍移民工還不知道什麼是SARS,「大家只知道和平醫院被封鎖,但不管是電視也好,報紙、廣播電台也好,講的幾乎都是中文啊!」譚雲福相當自責,衛教文宣仍然發送得太晚且不足。

再加上隔年的南亞大海嘯,在台灣的報章雜誌上,關於最大受創區印尼亞齊省的報導不多,無法得知家鄉災情的在台印尼人無不著急如熱鍋之蟻。

經過SARS和南亞海嘯的衝擊,譚雲福自問:「很多資訊就只是在我這裡,我要如何提供給幾十萬印尼家鄉的人?」所以他嘗試過各種傳媒管道,從擔任央廣印尼語節目主持人、創辦台灣首本印尼文雜誌《INTAI》……,以至現在擔綱公視東南亞語新聞的印尼語主播,一步步擴大印尼語新聞的傳播範疇。

搭建台、印尼媒體合作之橋

譚雲福不僅在台灣扎根,也為台灣與印尼媒體搭建一座跨國合作之橋。

他在因緣際會下結識了印尼國家通訊社「安塔拉」(Antara)當時的副總編輯Saiful Hadi Chalid,樂善交友的譚雲福,當起Saiful來台灣私人旅遊時的導遊,在熱情接待下,對彼此都留下良好的印象。

直至2009年央廣在印尼雅加達舉辦聽友會,譚雲福進一步介紹央廣、台灣中央通訊社(簡稱中央社)與安塔拉三方的高層主管認識,是年12月即促成三方簽訂新聞合作交流備忘錄(MoU),使台灣取得印尼新聞資訊的時間大幅縮減,而台灣新聞進到印尼國境的機會也增加了。

透過媒體,各國都有機會在外交瓶頸下走出不同的路,「媒體是政府、人民之外的第三方力量,是一個可以制衡的力量,可以影響到每一個人對任何一件事的看法,並且被左右。」譚雲福說。

相對的,一個簡單的事件在媒體圈反覆傳播的過程,有可能變得煽情而嚴重。台灣曾有媒體炒作「雇主逼穆斯林移工吃豬肉」的新聞,譚雲福擔憂此事會再度引起印尼排華的情緒,他深入瞭解事件的來龍去脈,其實是一場誤會,但負面新聞已在台灣民間發酵了,成群的印尼移工在記者會中舉白布條抗議,甚至下跪拜託雇主不要逼穆斯林吃豬肉。

為了化解訛誤新聞的影響,譚雲福採訪在台的清真寺教長和具有影響力的印尼組織,深入報導台灣的伊斯蘭教發展,並請兩名移工以自身經驗作佐證,為大多數的台灣雇主澄清;這篇報導經由安塔拉在印尼各大報刊登,「至少我們可以告知印尼的媒體,不能再繼續刊登錯誤的訊息。」譚雲福如釋重負地說。

奉獻台灣,更創未來

當初譚雲福的父母考量到,作為華人後裔的家庭至少要有一個孩子接受中文教育,所以半強迫地讓他到台灣讀書。再加上他不服輸的性情,譚雲福留在台灣,成績扶搖直上,創下各種先例,大學未畢業就破例錄取為當時台北市市長的外籍顧問,直到今天仍無第二人;且現在只要談到台灣的東南亞媒體人才,他絕對是榜上有名。能成為台、印尼媒體合作的推手,對他而言,應是不曾料想到的發展。

採訪的最後,譚雲福凝重地說出他近期不斷思考的課題:能否根據中央社、央廣及安塔拉三方簽署MoU的方式,再進一步促成台灣和印尼雙方電視台的新聞合作交流呢?他希望自己能再度為兩國盡一份心。

「我在台灣24年了,我人生的一半都奉獻給這個國家,這也是我對未來的承諾。」譚雲福將持續為台、印尼媒體的交流,打造一條廣闊大道。

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