November 14, 2017

Q&A: Kartika Octaviana MPA ’18

Before coming to SIPA, Kartika Octaviana MPA ’18 was a journalist for Indonesia’s Metro TV, the largest television news network in her home country. From 2014 to 2015, she hosted Bincang Pagi, a morning show devoted to hard-hitting political dialogue.

Octaviana is scheduled to finish coursework next month and formally graduate in February. In this SIPA News interview with Philip Hsu MIA ’18—conducted for the class Magazine Writing with an International Dateline, taught by Claudia Dreifus—she talked about her experiences as a journalist, what brought her to New York, and her thoughts about Indonesian and American politics.

How did you come to pursue journalism professionally?

I knew I wanted to be a journalist ever since I was in high school. I narrowed down my skillset to broadcast journalism and became a TV journalist, joining a small and fairly new TV station right after my undergraduate studies. After that I stepped my game up to join a bigger TV station, working for Metro TV for about five years.

Where did your interest in politics develop?

When I was 15 years old, I remember being inspired by Indonesian news anchor Ira Koesno. She was bold and sharp and asked pointed questions to government officials on her show. And I thought, “Yes, I want to do that.”

Even before that was the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998, about the time when I was in fifth grade. It was kind of a traumatizing experience, especially for minorities. (I’m considered a minority, being Christian and with Chinese heritage.) These minorities were being targeted in the wake of this political change; my uncle’s shop was ransacked. Nothing ever happened to me, but it made an impact.

How does the mainstream Indonesian newsroom deal with this sort of identity politics?

We feel like we have an obligation to maintain harmony in a diverse nation. The editorial policy is that we understand there are sensitive issues of religion and ethnicity. So if there’s a story about conflict between Christianity and Islam we’re not going to highlight it. We can’t stop social media from taking that path, but we wouldn’t broadcast these divisive stories. Instead, we would re-direct the discussion to a matter of politics or to be resolved in accordance with the rule of law.

You covered the 2016 American elections for Metro TV from Trump campaign headquarters in New York City. What did Indonesians think of the elections?

Indonesians know Donald Trump from [television programs like] The Apprentice and the Miss Universe Pageant, and we know Hillary Clinton as Bill Clinton’s wife and from her visits to Indonesia during her time as secretary of state. I think the candidates drew attention because of this familiarity, but most Indonesians ultimately saw the U.S. election as entertainment and not something that would affect our national affairs.

What made you decide to come to SIPA?

Journalists are generalists, so we know a little bit about many things. But after eight years of working in the industry, I came to understand that if you want to be a really good journalist, or are trying to pursue something deeper, you have to become a specialist. That’s why I decided to study public policy—it’s close to the political and government coverage I engaged in before.

I looked at a lot of schools, and SIPA was one of my top options. What made it interesting was the number of options available here. When I searched for courses by concentration and specialization I knew immediately that this was the program I want. I felt like these courses can help me reach my goals after school.

What are you going to do after you graduate?

I can always return to the journalism industry, since I’m already known there and familiar with the business. In the long term, though, I would like to go back to Indonesia and serve my country, most likely by working in the public sector.

This interview, conducted by Philip Hsu MIA ’18, has been condensed and edited.