Executive director of the Political Literacy Institute
Three recent incidents barely attracted attention despite the significant impact they will have on the democratic consolidation of the content and flow of information in Indonesia’s media at present and in the future.
First was the evaluation of 10 TV stations for a 10-year extension of their broadcasting licenses by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI). Second was the drafting of the broadcasting law that was deliberated in early February. Third was the selection of KPI members, which is in its final phase, ahead of the fit and proper tests to be conducted by the House of Representatives.
Mass media remains a determining factor as well as a pillar of modern democracy. In contemporary Indonesia, the media serves not only as a channel of information, but also as an aspect of business and political power.
The structure of the media market in several countries, including Indonesia, as cited by media experts, is an oligopoly in which the players are a handful of owners of large integrated media outlets.
Their business and political interests often intersect because the owners are often politicians and even the chairpersons of political parties. Consequently, the media cannot function properly as a professional public service. Instead, the media is used as the tool of the owners to shape public opinion, or as an agent of propaganda.
Unlike newspapers and other printed media, broadcast media like television or radio use public frequencies. It implies that broadcast media should serve the public instead of the owners’ interest. Thus it is urgent to evaluate television and radio regarding this substantial issue, as a number television and radio stations are supposed to extend their licenses this year.
Let’s look at these instances case by case.
On the evaluation hearing between the KPI and 10 TV stations, we need to develop a transparent model involving public participation, although the commission did sometimes involve some experts during the hearing. People in attendance said the dialogue lacked real exchanges.
There was not enough time to intensively investigate alleged violations of ethics by some TV stations. In response, the TV station managements merely promised correction and improvement.
The commission actually has the right to give warnings or recommendations to discontinue broadcasting when TV stations do not comply with the commission’s warnings or penalties.
Violations include unsuitable content for children, bad journalism, provocative talk shows, uneducational entertainment programs and suchlike. These violations are a sign of media negligence toward the Broadcasting Code of Conduct and Program Standards (P3SPS).
Furthermore, TV and radio station ownership is a crucial issue since it leads to media dominance. Article 36 of the 2002 Broadcasting Law clearly articulates that neutrality of broadcasting content should be maintained and that it cannot accommodate a particular group’s interests.
This condition affirms that the media is committing “seven deadly sins” as postulated by Paul Johnson in his article “The media and truth: Is there a moral duty?” back in 1997. One of the sins is the abuse of power by the media in framing public opinion through mass deception.
Second, the draft amendment of the broadcasting law to be deliberated further at the House must be widely scrutinized.
Some crucial issues are that media ownership is not regulated, potentially causing further abuse of media outlets. Furthermore, the draft amendment mentions that the networked broadcasting station system (SJJ) is optional instead of obligatory — which is contradictory to the current broadcasting law.
Third, the criteria for digitalization are not legitimate, since the draft mentioned that the commission serves as an institution that only regulates broadcasting content.
By and large, if the draft amendment is passed, the Broadcasting Commission will be clearly unable to regulate crucial issues of media industries consisting of networks of broadcasting stations, ownership, licenses and suchlike. The new draft implies that while the government has the bigger authority, the Broadcasting Commission as the public representative and independent regulator has a weaker and more limited force.
Three, the KPI commissioners will soon come to the end of their terms and the legislature will receive a list of recommended candidates from the selection committee.
This commission must be filled with dedicated commissioners who display integrity, capability and professionalism instead of being merely job-seekers, politicians who failed to win seats in the House, TV station representatives who carry the vested interests of the industry, or people with criminal records.
The appointment of the best commissioners will raise the dignity of the Broadcasting Commission when dealing with the pressure from industry, government and political parties.
In our society, watching television is surely more popular than reading. Therefore, we need a solid but healthy broadcasting media to educate and transform our civilization. As media researchers Pamela J. Shoemaker and Stephen D. Reese wrote, the media is affected by both inside and outside factors, namely media workers, media routines, ownership, sponsorship, government, political parties and ideologies.
To maintain the quality and the health of the broadcast media in its use of public frequencies there should be clear rules and an assertive independent regulator. Failing that, the broadcast media will merely serve as the slaves of market dictatorship and the owners’ political interests, which frequently misguide the public.
The writer is executive director of the Political Literacy Institute and a lecturer of political communications at UIN (State Islamic University) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta.
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