Indonesia's Media Faces Objectivity Test

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

WILL the Indonesian media cover Indonesia’s 2014 elections in an impartial and professional manner? This is the question many in Jakarta were asking earlier this month as the local media celebrated National Press Day.

Numerous media outlets in the country are now controlled by politicians, all of whom will inevitably be tempted to use their businesses to promote their respective political interests in the coming presidential and parliamentary election campaigns.

Perhaps the most well-known media tycoon cum politician is Golkar party chairman and prospective presidential candidate Aburizal Bakrie. He controls news channels TVOne and ANTV, and online news portal Vivanews. Other prominent political figures with similar investments include National Democrat (NasDem) party chairman Surya Paloh, owner of Metro TV and daily newspaper Media Indonesia.

Hanura chief Patrnon Hary Tanoesoedibjo is yet another media tycoon with political ambitions. Formerly associated with NasDem, he controls PT Media Nusantara Citra (MNC), one of the largest media networks in the country.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose second term ends in 2014, is among those who have expressed concern. “I hope journalists will actively contribute to the creation of an improved political atmosphere, democracy and election. Give enough space (for all) and be relatively fair,” he told his audience at a ceremony to mark National Press Day on Feb 11.

Mr Yudhoyono is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

Some may argue that the threat to democracy posed by wealthy tycoons using their media outlets to get themselves elected to high office is exaggerated. Kompas, the daily newspaper with the largest circulation, is not associated with any of the ambitious politicians named above. Widely regarded as the most influential newspaper in the country, it is published by the politically independent Kompas-Gramedia Group. The latter controls a network of newspapers across the archipelago, including the English language Jakarta Post.

Then there is the Jawa Pos group of newspapers owned by media tycoon Dahlan Iskan. Currently Minister for State-owned Enterprises, Mr Dahlan is not a member of any political grouping, although he does have close connections with senior figures in Mr Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party.

Other independent newspapers include Republika, which reflects the views of Muslim conservatives, and Suara Pembaruan, owned by the Lippo Group. Jakarta’s only afternoon daily, Suara Pembaruan, plans to publish in other Indonesian cities by the end of the year. The Lippo Group also publishes the English language Jakarta Globe, which competes directly with the Jakarta Post.

In addition, there are about 3,000 private radio stations in the country. And while only a few broadcast nationally, many do carry their own news bulletins.

Arguably, the threat to the free flow of ideas is most serious in the television industry, where two politically linked stations – TVOne and MetroTV – are virtually the only free-to-air 24-hour news channels available nationally. Other more independent networks – including Elang Mahkota Teknologi’s (Emtek) SCTV and CT Corp’s Trans TV and Trans7 – focus mainly on entertainment.

But even the more limited news available on these latter channels may not be entirely free of political bias. CT Corp chairman Chairul Tanjung is a member of President Yudhoyono’s National Economic Committee, while Emtek has been linked with Mr Taufiq Kiemas, the husband of opposition Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Reports earlier this month suggest that the media industry could be about to experience even greater concentration of ownership. This is because the Bakrie family is considering selling its media interests in order to help finance a plan to buy back coal assets from London-listed Bumi.

Just how this would impact on Mr Bakrie’s plans to run for the presidency in 2014 with the support of the Golkar party is difficult to say. Presumably, the tycoon would avoid selling out to Mr Paloh, his longstanding political rival. Indeed, speculation in Jakarta is that Mr Tanoesoedibjo’s MNC Group is the likely buyer.

According to Mr Ahmad Faisol of media watchdog Medialink, the sale to MNC would result in a formidable political alliance in which an enlarged MNC Group would support Mr Bakrie’s presidential ambitions.

Responding to Mr Yudhoyono’s call for more objective reporting, Press Council chairman Margiono noted that his organisation could do little to prevent media owners using their businesses for their own political ends. This was because the existing code of ethics concerned only journalists and not media owners. “Objectivity and independence are the main challenges facing the country’s press,” he told the Jakarta Post earlier this month.

Well said.

(C) Singapore Press Holdings Limited 

Key Political Risks

Asia is the fastest growing region in the world, and is likely to remain so in 2013. However, a number of risks cloud the picture.

The good news is that domestic demand in the region remains strong and should continue to cushion the impact of weaker external demand on overall economic growth. The completion of national elections in Japan and South Korea in December 2012 should also help reduce political uncertainties. 

But Asian governments will need to guard against the adverse impact of prolonged easy financial conditions on inflation.

Rising inequality also continues to threaten social stability. Ethnic and religious rivalries remain just below the surface in many countries. When combined with government corruption and (in some countries) high youth unemployment, this could become a deadly mix. This seems particularly true of China.

Territorial disputes also require close monitoring. Much diplomatic activity in the new year is likely to be centered on finding ways to reduce tensions over resource-rich islands in the South China Sea, where Beijing's claims overlap with those of Japan, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian states. South Korea and Japan also have rival territorial claims.

North Korea remains the wild card. Inclined to believe its own propaganda, Pyongyang's new leadership could miscalculate, making belligerent moves that plunge the region into a military conflict that nobody wants.

About Me

My name is Dr Bruce Gale and I am a senior writer with the Singapore Straits Times. I studied at  LaTrobe University (BA Hons) in Melbourne and later at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University (MA). My PhD thesis, which focussed on Malaysian political economy, was completed at the Malaysian National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in 1987.

From 1988 to 2003 I was Singapore Regional Manager for the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). 

I have written several books and articles on Southeast Asian affairs, including Political Risk and International Business: Case Studies in Southeast Asia (Pelanduk Publications, 2007). Books on language include Mastering Indonesian: a guide to reading Indonesian language newspapers (Pelanduk Publications, 2008)

©2024 All Rights Reserved.