More TV Channels, Same Political Players?

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INDONESIAN television stations run by politically well-connected media tycoons currently control an estimated 70 per cent of audience share. Facts such as these worry observers concerned about the future of Indonesian democracy.

The recent move to suspend planned regulations on digital broadcasting suggests that many in the political elite may also be feeling uneasy.

Indonesia has a huge television audience. An AC Nielsen survey released in November last year showed that the average Indonesian watches 20 hours and 18 minutes of television per week, or around three hours every day. Total viewership is estimated at more than 200 million.

One of the biggest television conglomerates in the country is the MNC Group, run by Mr Hary Tanoesoedibjo. The group’s portfolio includes television stations RCTI, MNC TV and Global TV. According to another Nielsen survey, these networks collectively enjoy a 34.7 per cent share of the national audience.

Apart from controlling the MNC Group, Mr Tanoesoedibjo is also the chairman of the board of experts of the Nasdem party. This political party grew out of the National Democrats, a social organisation formed by Golkar party leader Surya Paloh not long after he lost the Golkar leadership to local tycoon Aburizal Bakrie in 2009.

Mr Paloh and Mr Bakrie also control television stations of their own. Mr Paloh owns Metro TV (2.5 per cent share), while Mr Bakrie controls TVOne and ANTV (10.8 per cent). Television stations controlled by both men have come under fire from senior members of the ruling Democratic Party for alleged political bias in their news reports.

In terms of audience share, Mr Chairul Tanjung’s CT Corp has the second largest viewership. AC Nielsen says these two stations – Trans TV and Trans7 – enjoy an accumulated 24.7 per cent of audience share. Mr Tanjung has not formed an alliance with any political party, but he is widely believed to be close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr Tanjung also has close ties with the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice party.

Last year, in a move many observers believe was politically motivated, Mr Tanjung purchased The country’s biggest online news portal, it was well known for trenchant criticism of President Yudhoyono’s administration.

Two other major television stations – Surya Citra Media, controlled by the Salim Group, and Indosiar, run by the Sariaatmadja family – have audience shares of 14.9 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. Both have avoided direct political involvement.

Last year, the Ministry of Information and Communications’ new regulations on the introduction of digital television seemed set to further entrench this concentration of ownership.

Dividing the country into 15 transmission zones, the regulations provided for six multiplexes (groups of television channels using the same bandwidth) in each zone. Each multiplex would carry up to 12 channels. With a total of 72 television channels available in each zone, officials declared, a wide variety of news, entertainment and cultural programming was possible.

Non-governmental organisations such as MediaLink and the Independent Coalition for Broadcast Democratisation disagreed. They noted that only companies with existing broadcast licences in a zone were eligible to bid for a multiplex. There was also no limitation on the number of multiplexes a company could hold nationally. In effect, the existing players would control the new digital infrastructure. This would allow them to dictate terms to newcomers such as the Kompas newspaper chain, which runs an online television station but has no public broadcast licence.

On March 12, with opposition also growing in the House of Representatives, Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring announced that the regulation would be suspended. Bidding for the multiplex licences planned for April 6 was also delayed, pending a revision of the Broadcasting Law.

With a presidential election due in two years, many believe that media ownership will be a key factor in the battle for votes.

There are certainly grounds for concern. But the extent to which television influences the political views of Indonesians can also be exaggerated. One reason for Metro TV’s relatively low ratings, say some observers, is the fact that it regularly promotes the political activities of both Mr Paloh and the Nasdem party.

A recent Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) study on the impact of television on voter preferences seemed to bear this out. The LSI found that a large majority of respondents preferred to watch sinetron (soap operas) and movies rather than tune in to talk shows.

LSI speculated that political advertisements were probably more important in shaping political opinions. Could this mean that access to campaign funding rather than favourable news reports will win the day?
We will find out in 2014.

(C) Singapore Press Holdings Limited 

Key Political Risks

The inability of the government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to bridge the deep divisions between her populist government and its royalist opponents in the military and bureaucracy remains a major concern.

Prime Minister Yingluck has selected a competent economic team, but it is difficult for these technocrats to deliver on the new government's campaign promises without triggering inflation or hurting business. 

The government has also been unable to resolve the ongoing insurgency involving ethnic Malay Muslim rebels in the south.



  1. Attempts by the government to amend the constitution. The proposed rewrite is aimed removing legal measures initiated by the royalist generals who overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the current prime minister's elder brother, in 2006.
  2. Ballooning government debt as officials seek to finance government programmes aimed at subsidising rice prices in order to retain the support of farmers.
  3. The relationship between Prime Minister Yingluck and senior generals. Coups have been a common means of regime change in Thai history, and any attempt by the government to purge royalist elements in the top brass could trigger yet another. Thailand

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)

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