Sunday, March 28, 2004

Concerns over Media Interference Ahead of Elections

JAKARTA, 28 March 2004 (Radio Australia/Pacific Media Watch): As Indonesians prepare for general elections next month, there are allegations that as election fever heats up, political parties have resorted to taking over the media to control it.

Presenter/Interviewer: Adelaine Ng

Speakers: Andreas Harsono, Chairman of the PANTAU Foundation; Dr Andi Mallarangeng, founder of the Unity, Democracy and Nationhood Party (PPDK)

NG: The freedom to publish or broadcast news and information without political influence was supposed to be a celebrated new liberty for Indonesia at the end of Suharto's rule.

And although the media has more independance than many of its regional neighbours, there are concerns the elections could harm this reputation as the countdown to the polls begin.

There are 24 parties vying for votes, and the fight will be furious.

Andreas Harsono is chairman of the PANTAU Foundation, which monitors the media and trains journalists in Indonesia. He says recent moves by political parties to place their people in the media are cause for concern.

HARSONO: 90 per cent of Indonesian voters get their political news from TV. Meaning that controlling a TV station is very strategic in getting to the voters. RCTI, the largest TV station, commercially the most successful in the country, the news director was replaced with a new guy named Derek Mananga. Derek was reportedly placed there on the demand of the PDI-P party.

NG: One of the byproducts of Indonesia's democracy has been the mushrooming of news outlets all across Indonesia. This, says Harsono, has resulted in a drop in journalism standards.

For example, the practice of using bylines to credit reporters with their stories has largely stopped, and there's often no distinction between editorial writing and advertisements.

Another trend he notes, is a change in the way politicians and business leaders try to influence the media.

HARSONO: They've developed friendships with the editors of those news organisations. These are friendly phone calls, like "Your reporter's doing this, doing that, I'm not happy with that, it's not accurate, it is not proportional, it is not comprehensive, more like social pressure rather than direct business pressure.

NG: Some would say that's more dangerous because it's not so obvious.

HARSONO: Yes it is more dangerous because as journalists you know, we are not to seek friends, but we are not to seek enemies, but these people are using the media to express their versions of the truth.

NG: Harsono himself has declined two offers to get into politics, believing that you can't be a journalist and a politician at the same time.

So, with this scenario, how much fairness can Indonesians expect of their media as political parties step up their campaign?

HARSONO: A big question. According to surveys, yes they are satisfied with media freedom, but at the same time, that the media tend to be more political; there is a decrease fo trust in the media, there are many journalists involved in politics, many journalists also running for a state or national seat.

NG: Dr Andi Mallarangeng, a former political scientist who recently formed the Unity, Democracy and Nationhood Party or PPDK, says while the developments are worrying, smaller parties like his will not be too disadvantaged.

MALLARANGENG: We are lucky that many of the independent journalists in the media, even those controlled by the big parties are giving us good coverage, and they fight within their organisation to give us good coverage, because they see us as a new hope in Indonesian politics.

NG: Dr Mallarangeng also says there's a new way of spreading political messages in Indonesia, that could give parties like his, an edge.

MALLARANGENG: SMS. Political SMS. For example when Golkar, PDI-P, buying all different ads, right now we have SMS responding, ridiculing those ads whether it's Akbar Tandjung style, those political SMS are trying to resist the domination of the big parties.

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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Sunday, 28 March 2004

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