Wimar Witoelar loves to talk. In fact, he has made a whole career out of it: He was a spokesman for the late Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid during his brief and sometimes stormy presidency, and in December last year, he was chosen to moderate a news conference where Finance Minister Sri Mulyani spoke about the high-profile Bank Century graft scandal.
He has hosted television talk shows, including the renowned “Perspektif” and “Perspektif Wimar.” And when his shows were canceled, he refused to stop talking, and continued to share his views with the public.
Wimar certainly has his fans, many of whom have egged him on to go for a ministerial position. “Well, first, I know I wouldn’t be asked, second, I’m too old, and third, I know I’d only last one day of not talking,” he says with a laugh.
Perhaps Wimar’s love for talking is overcompensation for his quiet childhood: He was an overweight kid and was largely ignored because of it. He was teased at school and, consequently, he spent a lot of time alone, talking to no one.
“Whenever I told people my ideas, they would laugh at me. So when teachers threw questions to the class, I wouldn’t say anything, even if I knew the answers,” he says.
This all changed at university, where Wimar became president of the student board at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). It was the first time he felt could freely speak his mind. “It felt good. I had been a wallflower all those years. It was like I was charging my battery that whole time and I could finally discharge it,” he says.
Still working in the media industry, Wimar is always willing to talk to the press and provide information. Foreign journalists often turn to him for comment.
“They know they can come to me and get what they think is a fair opinion, not balanced, but fair, about good guys and bad guys,” he says.
One “bad guy” he spends a lot of time criticizing is Golkar Party leader and prominent businessman Aburizal “Ical” Bakrie. On his blog, Wimar called for Bakrie to show greater sympathy for the mudflow victims in Sidoarjo, East Java.
Many geologists say the mudflow disaster, which has displaced tens of thousands of people, was caused by PT Lapindo Brantas, an oil and gas exploration company owned by the Bakrie family. Lapindo, however, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in September 2009.
Wimar criticized Aburizal for not visiting the victims in Sidoarjo months after the initial explosion of mud. “Instead of visiting them, he flew in August to Bali to meet with Thaksin,” he says, referring to the deposed Thai prime minister. “I said in my article that I thought his plane would land in East Java, but apparently it missed its target and went straight to Bali.”
On one occasion, Wimar says, he criticized Aburizal on Twitter and provoked a response from the businessman. “I thought we were friends,” Aburizal posted, according to Wimar.
“I just said, ‘So don’t mess things up,’ ” he says with a laugh. “But Ical knows who I am and that the best way to deal with me is to ignore me.”
However, Wimar’s openness and sense of fairness sometimes backfire. On Twitter, Wimar criticized a TV station for including a member of conservative Islamic organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in a discussion about the planned visit by US President Barack Obama.
“I criticized and regretted that they invited people who just agitate the public,” Wimar says. “I too have termites in my house, but I don’t serve them on a plate for my guests.”
The day after that, he says, the TV station canceled his appearance on a show to comment on Obama’s then-planned visit.
But what did they expect? This is Wimar Witoelar, and he is known for saying it like it is. He has repeatedly called to task two leading TV news stations for what he says are conflicts of interest with their owners’ personal agendas.
“[It’s a pity because] both have excellent professional expertise and production values, all kinds of color schemes, editing, lighting, sound and everything,” he says. “If I were the owner of the TV stations, I would try hard to get better quality news.
“This is such a wasted opportunity,” he says, adding that the only way to measure good-quality news is through international appreciation. “With the content they have, they won’t find appreciation.”
Wimar does not get invited to share his thoughts on TV as much as he used to, but he does produce his own show, “tvTWO,” broadcast on YouTube.
Broadcasting on the Internet allows Wimar to talk more freely about his topics of interest, mostly current affairs, ranging from film reviews to diplomacy. The “show” is run almost entirely by Wimar and one camerawoman.
“Meet Rumiatun, my nurse, who is also my camerawoman,” he says.
Atun, as he calls her, is a young Javanese woman who looked after Wimar when he was suffering health problems three years ago.
Today, Atun sits behind a small round table, preparing the camera and looking at Wimar through the display screen.
“OK, it’s tight,” she tells Wimar. “Ready? OK, go!”
And off Wimar goes, talking for seven minutes about a bunch of newspapers he has with him, what they say about the day’s events and what he thinks about the papers.
“If you want to have a clear mind, then don’t read dirty stuff,” he tells his audience.
Looking into the camera, he issues a warning. “And as for TV, if it is a station that twists things, then don’t watch it.”
After seven minutes, Atun switches off the camera.
“And that’s how it’s done,” Wimar says. “We can tape at any time. Once I woke Atun up at 3 a.m. and told her to get ready to tape me because I had come up with a new idea. After that, I edit the tape and upload it on YouTube.”
Wimar is happy with his YouTube show and says he is no longer interested in a show on an actual TV station. “It’d be too much work, money and effort, and it’d invite enemies and rivals,” he says. “This show require very little technical effort, but the output is quite good.”
Besides, Wimar appreciates the little things in life, an attitude inspired by two near-death experiences. He was actually declared dead in 2001 when his heart stopped for a moment, he says.
“So, just being healthy is a bonus, and what’s even better is being healthy and useful. I like to be useful.”
Asked if he has ever been threatened for his sharp criticisms, he replies in the negative.
To describe his feelings on that issue, he turns to the late king of grunge, Kurt Cobain: “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”