|Pacific Media Watch|
Reforms brings change to journalism practice
Title -- 5257 INDONESIA: Reforms brings change to journalism practice
Date -- 15 January 2008
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- The Jakarta Post 14/1/08
Copyright - JP
Status -- Unabridged
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REFORM BRINGS CHANGE TO JOURNALISM PRACTICE
SIRIKIT SYAH, Surabaya (JP Online/Pacific Media Watch): Completing the first decade of reform, the media is still in search of what's appropriate and ideal for the practice of free press in a relatively young democracy like Indonesia.
The euphoria has passed. The watched dog that turned wild (in
1998) has become what it should be: a watchdog. Of the five
services the press has to provide in accordance with the 1999
Press Law, namely information, entertainment, education, social
control and economy, the media has succeeded mostly in providing
information and social control. Information is now more diverse
and varied, and social control is perfect. Well, almost, since
some people consider it "too much" and to some extent in
violation of ethical codes.
On the other hand, the news from print and electronic media is
hardly entertaining (unless you like TV entertainment programs),
and less than educational.
The most unpleasant fact is that the economic component of the
media industry has made an impact only at the upper level of
media owners and leaders, not journalists. While the media
industry is blossoming and advertisement revenues and profits
are steadily increasing, the welfare of most media employees,
particularly journalists, remains relatively low. Pocket
journalism is still rampant as many reporters scramble for extra
Many of about 100 journalists in Sumenep, in the east of Madura
Island in East Java, are on the state/provincial
administration's payroll, both in the legislative council and
local government information offices. How can a dog watch
somebody who feeds it?
Big companies aren't surprised to see 200 journalists show up at
their annual stakeholders meeting. No one seems to care about
what media these journalists really represent.
Despite the clear regulations in the Press Law on the welfare of
press employees, media publishers do not seem to care, and
journalists often have no better alternatives in terms of jobs.
"Envelope" journalism exists because of three parties: the
journalists who sell their integrity for money, the sources who
buy journalists and the media owners who do not care about
For decades we have been taught in journalism school that bad
news is good news and good news is not news. Hence, the front
pages of many print media (and first segment of TV news
programs) are often filled with blood and bodies or tragedies
After so many violent conflicts, whether racial, religious or
ethnic, Johan Galtung comes with the idea of peace journalism.
Journalists are no longer neutral, they take sides.
For Galtung and his followers (two of them are Jake Lynch and
Annabel McGoldryck from Reporting the World), journalists shall
opt for peace. It is sinful for journalist to say: "I don't take
sides. I just write, take pictures and report. I am not
Journalists are indeed involved and playing roles. Even a
prestigious news magazine like Tempo plays an active role,
helping a whistle blower get legal support. The press is no
longer simply an observer; it participates.
It is not that easy anymore to teach students of journalism
about balance, covering both sides, objectivity. Robert Fisk
from the Independent, Martin Bell from the BBC and other
European journalists are very much one-sided.
They are of the opinion that balance is not needed when the
facts are clear. When a bulldozer destroys the homes of
Palestinians, killing anyone inside, these journalists will not
bother to interview the other side for an explanation.
In Indonesia, covering both sides may result in more polarized
conflicts. You cannot just interview GAM rebels and the military
in Aceh, or Christians and Muslims in Central Sulawesi, or
Freeport and human right activists in Papua. Journalists need to
interview many sides. What about interviewing Javanese
immigrants in Aceh, and thousands of Freeport employees who are
native Papuans and their families?
Covering both sides is not enough anymore. Journalists take
sides, or cover many sides. Good news is also newsworthy and
fairness (to all sides) is more important than objectivity
(which sometimes is unfair).
In the first years of reform, it seemed the objective was simply
to cover only the big political campaigns of Golkar or PDI-P.
These big parties had "magnitude" and "prominence". But it now
looks unfair if the media pays no attention to small new parties
holding small rallies without the presence of prominent figures.
Free and responsible press, words frequently uttered during the
New Order, is now practiced. One of the consequences is that it
may make mistakes, and it can be sued. During the New Order, the
press was not allowed to make mistakes, it was stopped from
making mistakes. No chance. So the press never learned to make
Since reform began in 1998, understandably, our free press has
made a lot of mistakes: errors, ignorance, negligence, even
malice. But entering the 10th year now, we can be proud of the
quality of Indonesian journalism. It is diverse, free and
responsible, at last.
Of course, there some problems with yellow papers, pornographic
tabloids, envelope journalism, ethical violations, libels,
plagiarism (especially "the cloning of visuals" among TV
stringers in small towns throughout Indonesia), but I would
rather be optimistic. We should be happy and hopeful with the
progress and development of the country's press.
* The writer is a media observer and founder of LKM Media Watch.
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. It is now published by the Pacific Media Centre at New Zealand's AUT University. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Programme at the University of the South Pacific, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG) and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. The website is hosted by the Association of Progressive Communications (APC).
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