The Jakarta Post
Gone is the New Order regime that was characterized by, among other things, the government’s control, if not suppression, of the press. But press freedom in the country remains a tricky, slippery issue despite the return of democracy nearly 20 years ago.
The Press Council, an independent institution founded under the 1966 Press Law to protect and develop the Indonesian press, recently revealed an ugly fact. Last week, the council unveiled its latest data in the country’s press freedom index. With a score of 68.95, the state of press freedom in Indonesia is classified as “somewhat free,” which means more efforts are needed to realize the type of full-fledged press freedom that typifies democracies across the world.
International press monitoring groups, with their “liberal” mindset, have not been content with the situation of press freedom in Indonesia, billed as the world’s third largest democracy, either. In its 2017 list, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) placed Indonesia in the red zone, although it recognized improvements the country had made.
Press watchdogs like RWB cite as factors in the state of the press intimidation and abuses journalists face at the hands of either state or non-state actors. The Press Council, however, warns that the most dangerous threat comes from within the press itself.
Council member Ahmad Johan identified the problem as a lack of professionalism, which, ironically, is rampant when the media is thriving and the state shows its commitment to protecting a free press. “We call the phenomenon anarchist journalism, which takes form in misuse of press freedom,” he said.
As a profession, journalism is indeed open to all, especially now that information and communication technology is fast advancing. Council data shows there are over 40,000 news portals, but they mostly operate without adhering to journalistic standards, such as check and recheck and cover both sides.
The council is referring to online media, which has been mushrooming over the last few years only to produce fake news for political purposes. Last year, the police arrested several people for their role in a group called Saracen, which started hoaxes and spread news that could be interpreted as hate speech. Some of its clients were reportedly election contenders.
To contain the “unprofessional” media, the council has required that all media outlets undergo administrative screening and journalists undergo competency tests. As of today, 101 print media groups, 22 television channels, eight radio stations and 40 online media groups have passed the administrative verification.
Such concerns are valid not only for the sake of public faith in the press, but also for national integrity. But another challenge is looming.
Indonesian media is still grappling with impartiality when it comes to political views. Some of them clearly fanned division during the presidential election in 2014 and the Jakarta election last year to serve the interests of their owners, who are politicians. Not only did print media display partisanship, but it misused TV channels for campaigning purposes.
Sadly, history seems to be repeating itself ahead of the regional elections in June and general election next year.