marn*i on Thu, 18 Jul 2002 05:57:04 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Media independence in Indonesia

hey all,
I recently spent a couple of months in Java, Indonesia as part of the
smallvoices project. Below is an article on the current state of
independent media in Indonesia that i thought might be of interest.

More localised content on individual media projects can be found at:

You can join the smallvoices announcement list for monthly updates by
sending a blank email to:  For more
about the project, go to:


By Marni Cordell  from

During the Suharto regime in Indonesia (1966 - 1998), media was severely
State restricted and subject to enforced self-censorship. When Suharto
stepped down - at the beginning of what has been dubbed 'the Reform Era'
- press restrictions were lifted, and commercial and government-funded
media in Indonesia was allowed to function relatively free from State
control. Although stronger restrictions will almost certainly be
introduced when the Megawati government's new broadcast law is presented
in July of this year, the Indonesian archipelago is currently considered
to have a "free press".

Under Suharto, in response to the government's repressive media laws, a
strong sector of independent and alternative media existed throughout
Indonesia. Post '98 however, many independent journalists have now
shifted their focus to work in the mainstream arena, or, independently
but with the financial support of large foreign NGOs and even
multinational companies. Although many do hold grievance with the
government's plans to tighten press laws, there exists a widespread
belief among media workers in Indonesia that an independent sector is no
longer necessary since overt press restrictions have been lifted; because
"press freedom" exists.

There is however, still a strong community of grassroots organisations
throughout the country that work without influence or support from
corporations or government: creating photo-copied information leaflets
and zines, using political songs and public mediums such as graffiti and
posters to disseminate information and address issues that remain to be
confronted in the mainstream press.

                             DEFINING INDEPENDENCE

While in many countries the term "independent media" is used to describe
media that is free from governmental and commercial control, in Indonesia
a higher emphasis is placed on whether or not a journalist remains
independent from the issues; or: un-biased. So a journalist will often
call themselves "independent" if they believe they report with integrity
and even-handedness, even if they work for a mainstream news source.

While the concept of 'subjectivity' might be something that is embraced
by an independent media source in Australia (through the belief that
allowing different points of view creates a media democracy), in
Indonesia, personally-affected reporting has been the cause of a huge
amount of violence and conflict, and most people are very wary of its
destructive capacity. In Indonesia, if an issue is presented from a point
of view that is heavily sympathetic toward one party, the
under-represented party will often express their dissatisfaction through
personal attack. Particularly in areas where conflict between social
groups is already rife, destruction of equipment, threats, kidnappings
and even murder, all 'control' the media in ways that government
restrictions used to.

The reason for this, according to Akuat Supriyanto, External Relations
Officer for the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), is that
neither journalists nor the public in Indonesia are accustomed to having
a critical press; or to legitimate avenues for complaint when the press
oversteps its bounds. In Supriyanto's opinion, the population of
Indonesia is not yet ready for press freedom. He explains: "In the reform
era, there is a kind of euphoria. A lot of people think that they can do
anything; that there is no law. So journalists sometimes do anything they
want to, they ignore the ethics of journalism. And on the other side, the
readers of newspapers and magazines in Indonesia^don't know how to
complain (through legal avenues) if the newspaper or magazine writes
something bad about them."

Supriyanto describes how the Reform Era has left many people
disillusioned with the government's ability to exercise control: "if, for
example, someone finds a robber in the street, they will attack them.
They don't put their faith anymore in the legal system." Similarly he
believes that people attack media workers directly "because they don't
believe the law authority will give sanction to the press." In the past
three years there has been a push by NGOs and media support organisations
to educate both journalists and the public about the rights and
responsibilities involved with press freedom. According to Supriyanto:
"the Indonesian people need media education."


The South East Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) is just one of a handful of
independent media support organisations working within Indonesia. SEAPA
was formed in 1999 by press organisations from the Philippines, Thailand
and Indonesia and was modeled on the Committee to Protect Journalists in
New York. According to Rico Aditjondro, Publication Officer for SEAPA in
Jakarta, the main purpose of the organisation is to "protect journalists
and promote press freedom". SEAPA Jakarta provides education and training
to media workers in the ethics of journalism, as well as providing
support and advocacy for journalists who get caught on the receiving end
of an angry member of the public. They are also involved in a public
education campaign to inform people of their role within a free press,
which, according to Aditjondro, attempts to impart that "no matter how
bad the journalist is, if you want to complain or attack them, don't do
it through physical violence or threat, use the legal channels, and

Although SEAPA Jakarta was only formed in January 2000, it is currently
the largest branch. According to Aditjondro: "Indonesia has the highest
attack rate on journalists" of all three countries.

The concept of Peace Journalism is also being introduced by some of the
NGOs that are undertaking media training, and does offer some sound ideas
about socially responsible journalism. The Peace Journalism concept was
developed by Johan Galtung, Peace Studies professor and director of the
TRANSCEND Network, who first started using the term in the 1970s. Rather
than focusing on the immediate accounts of conflict such as the amount of
dead bodies and collateral damage, Peace Journalism, according to the
SEAPA publication Alert, attempts to "map out the problems: identifying
parties involved and analysing different agendas" and also recognises
that "nationalism and cultural identities often unconsciously effect
journalism reporting". In short, says Lucia Fransisca, Media Information
Officer for the British Council in Jakarta, Peace Journalism is about
"working out as a journalist how you can play a role in solving the
conflict," by reporting accurate facts alongside humanising points of

Fransisca's position at the British Council has involved organising
training programs for journalists in conflict areas, where she says the
ethics behind Peace Journalism have been useful. The main challenge to
providing training to journalists in these areas is to recognise that the
journalists themselves are often deeply affected by the conflict:
"because they live in that conflict area it's difficult for them to
separate their emotions from the issue^we might be talking to them about
professionalism, but deep inside their heart there is anger or hatred
because maybe their family's been killed; so first we need to offer space
for people to sit and understand each other." In Ambon in the Malukus,
where there is serious ongoing conflict between religious groups, a media
centre has been set up to act as a neutral space between journalists from
both sides.

Francisca is cynical about the notion of a free press, claiming that no
matter what level of press freedom is advocated by the State, mainstream
media will never be independent "because the Power uses the mainstream
media as one of their tools, to manipulate people's awareness." She says
that one major way that the government in Indonesia does this is "by
blaming ethnicity for conflict," when often the conflicts that take place
between religious or ethnic groups in Indonesia are initiated - and
perpetuated - by government policy.

                         THE CHALLENGE OF INDEPENDENCE

Perhaps then, the only truly independent media sources in Indonesia are
those who work completely free from commercial, governmental and
non-governmental support and influence, such as the Kontra Kultura
Kolektif (KKK) from Bandung, Java. KKK produce photo-copied leaflets that
critically address issues such as government policy and corporate
intervention and distribute them throughout their neighbourhood. They
work with very little funding and have a small but growing readership.

The difficulty with attempting to establish any kind of independent media
source in Indonesia, according to one newspaper vendor, is that most
Indonesian people have a strong religious bias toward a certain news
outlet, and are very reluctant to explore other options for information.
He refers to the situation in Jakarta: where Christians read Kompas and
Muslim people read Republika. In his opinion, there is no changing this

But as Pam, a member of KKK, says, the purpose of independent media is
not just disseminating information to a large audience, it's also about
empowering people: "Why I don't agree that we should depend on the
mainstream media is because it makes us more passive^The point of the
alternative system is leading by example, because then we empower people
by showing them that if they don't like how something is done, they can
make their own."

                           A REVISION OF LEGISLATION

Late last year there was a push by the People's Representative Council in
Indonesia to tighten press laws, claiming that the Reform Era law had
failed to anticipate the downside of press freedom such as defamation and
provocative reporting. Members of the press community argue that the
State Criminal Code (KUHP) already has articles to prevent each of these
violations, and that the problem lies in the implementation of the KUHP,
not in the press law.

However, a revision of the law - with tighter regulations - is currently
in parliament and expected to be presented in July of this year. Using
the draft as indication, it is anticipated to be much more repressive
than the current legislation, with threats and fines up to billions of
rupiah for broadcast violations.

It will be interesting to note whether the tightened restrictions will
succeed in silencing those journalists who shifted from the student and
alternative to mainstream sector in the belief that it would allow them
freedom of expression; or whether they will head back underground and
revert to the methods of Pam and his crew: distributing critical
information by moonlight, whether press law allows them to or not.

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