Aliansi Jurnalis Independen

The media outlook in Indonesia
September 6, 2007, 6:31 pm
Filed under: Kliping


This week we take a first-hand look at the state of the Indonesian media. The country has experienced some remarkable liberalisation over the last ten years, but what’s that meant for Indonesia’s media sector?

ADDITIONAL FEATURE: Listen to an extended interview with Tempo editor Bambang Harymurti
DOWNLOAD MP3 [24 min.12sec – 22.6MB]

Bambang Harymurti is one of Indonesia’s leading and most highly respected journalists. A former foreign correspondent, he is now the corporate chief editor of the Tempo Group, responsible for a staff of some 400 people. The Jakarta-based company’s publications include the weekly Tempo magazine, a daily newspaper and an online news site. Mr Harymurti is also a member of the Indonesian Press Council.

In this wide ranging interview, Bambang Harymurti talks about the liberalisation and democratisation of the Indonesian media sector, efforts to improve journalistic standards and reduce corruption, and also the changing way in which Indonesia is being portrayed to the world.



This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.

Antony Funnell: Today, continuing political oppression in Indonesia, and why that country is little more than a nest of terrorists!

Well, actually that’s not what this morning’s program is all about. That’s the stereotype many of us have of our near neighbour. In fact this morning, we’ll try to get past that stereotype, by examining the way in which Indonesia is continuing to open up in terms of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

It’s a subject we’ve touched on previously, but over this past week I managed to get myself to Jakarta for a bit of a personal look.

There are plenty of good developments to report and a few question marks, particularly where journalism’s concerned.

And a little later we’ll hear from a young Indonesian film festival organiser about the health of the country’s television and film production sector.

But first, let’s kick things off in Jakarta.

[street sounds/music]

Rini Budiman: It’s quite challenging. I learnt a lot and I still need to learn although I graduate from journalism studies, but I think I need to learn a lot more about this world. It is more liberal today than a couple of years ago, especially about 10 years ago. Maybe 10 years ago, I can’t do this job, I have to do it very quietly, I cannot do it openly.

Antony Funnell: That’s Rini Budiman, a young Indonesian journalist who’s just started her first job as a junior reporter at a major daily newspaper in Jakarta. For someone like Rini it’s a great time to be a journalist. The liberalisation and democratisation that’s gone on in Indonesia over the past eight or so years has seen a boom in media outlets.

And as we’ve reported previously on this program, there have been some very encouraging developments in the Indonesian courts relating to media freedom. For example, recent legal attempts to close down the Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine came to nothing, while separate laws which made it a crime to insult the President and to criticise the government, were declared unconstitutional. And last year, there was a groundbreaking decision in the Indonesian Supreme Court which saw the throwing out of defamation charges against the editor of Tempo magazine, Indonesia’s premier current affairs journal. And we’ll hear from the editor, Bambang Harymurti in just a few minutes.

But while all of these things are welcome developments, it has to be said it’s not easy being a journalist in Indonesia. It pays poorly and they have little status.

In a nondescript area of central Jakarta is the office of the AJI, the Alliance of Independent Journalists.

Heru Hendratmoko is its president. He helped set up the service back during the Soeharto years to give journalists a truly independent voice, one not controlled by government.

Heru Hendratmoko: Actually, we have three goals within this organisation. We have to defend the press freedom as far as we can get and, second, the welfare of the journalist, because we know that the salary, for example, among the journalists is very low, so that’s why we promote the owners to raise up their salary. And the third is professionalism. We want that… along with the advocacy to defend press freedom, at the same time we, as journalists, have to upgrade our professionalism.

Antony Funnell: Aside from low pay and often poor working conditions, there also remains in Indonesia the ever present threat of violence.

Heru Hendratmoko: We just announced about the enemy of press freedom, from August last year till August this year, and we counted that there are about 58 cases of violence against journalists. This is less than the same period from 2005–2006, but still, this is a big amount so we want that next year in the same period, the cases will be decreasing. We don’t want that whoever will be attacking the journalists physically.

Antony Funnell: The president of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Heru Hendratmoko.

Despite all the positive legal developments in Indonesia in recent years, the country’s defamation laws are still being used as a way of silencing journalists and stopping their investigations.

[lawyers talking]

Antony Funnell: These lawyers are part of a not-for-profit organisation called the Legal Aid Centre for Press. It has three full-time legal aid workers and a network of advisers whose job it is to prevent cases of defamation from being used as a weapon against journalists.

In 1998, after the fall of Soeharto, a new press law was introduced, which gave a role to the Indonesian Press Council in resolving legal disputes involving reporters.

One of the tasks of the Legal Aid Centre has been to encourage those who feel they’ve been badly treated by the media, and also the authorities, to use the press law process before resorting to the criminal code. It’s been an uphill battle.

Misbachuddin Gasma is a prominent Jakarta lawyer, and one of the founders of the Legal Aid Centre for Press. He’s now busy trying to establish a special Media Lawyers Network which he hopes to have up and running in a matter of weeks.

Misbachuddin Gasma: You know that there is no real expert in Indonesia to give knowledge to the law on how to handle press cases. By establishing this organisation, at least we can make a kind of regular discussion through a mailing list or something like that, you know, in order that we can handle press cases as best we can. We hope that we can collect more lawyers who know how to handle the press cases, particularly those that happen in the region.

Antony Funnell: Jakarta lawyer, Misbachuddin Gasma.

Across town at the offices of Tempo, the staff are hard at work putting the final touches on the weekly magazine.

[Tempo office atmosphere]

Bambang Harymurti: As you can see, this is the main news room area, where the last editing is done before they go into that place where they put into design…

Antony Funnell: So that’s the layout table is it?

Bambang Harymurti: … yes, that’s the layout. And then they do the last check. As you can see, the board there, it’s printed out, so the journalists can have a final check before it goes into the printing room.

Antony Funnell: Bambang Harymurti is the corporate chief editor of the Tempo Group. He’s responsible for a team of some 400, who put together the highly-respected weekly magazine, a daily newspaper, and also an online news site. He’s a member of the Indonesian Press Council and, in that capacity, he’s been closely following attempts to review the country’s press law.

The review is being foisted upon the industry by the Communications Minister and many journalists are suspicious that this might be the beginning of a wind-back of media freedom. But Bambang Harymurti, while remaining cautious, believes the review won’t necessarily lead to a dramatic change.

Bambang Harymurti: There is always voices, or pressure, especially from the conservative group, who think the Indonesian press is too liberal or too free. But we are of the opinion that it is not the right time to revise the press law even though we know that the press law is not perfect. And the current Minister of Information has made it clear that if there is any revision of the press law, the Press Council should be given the leading role. So I think we are pretty safe for a while.

Antony Funnell: So you trust him on that?

Bambang Harymurti: Well, he is a new minister and usually you always have a honeymoon period between the press freedom and a new government or a new minister. We are hoping to prolong this honeymoon, although we are not so happy with the press law actually, the Press Council wants to fight for constitutional amendments so our press freedom is not only guaranteed by a law by the constitution also.

Antony Funnell: And how will the government respond to that? Or how have they responded to that?

Bambang Harymurti: Well, I think it is a very mixed feeling because government itself is not a homogenous group. There are people who support us inside the government, but people who also are against us in the government. But we do have some teeth in our fight: one of them is that Indonesia two years ago has ratified the political and civil rights covenant, the UN covenant. So now the Press Council is exploring ideas from the certification to make sure that if there is any attempt to control the press again, we could use this law as our shield.

Antony Funnell: What about the attitude of the President? I mean, how receptive has he been to press freedom?

Bambang Harymurti: Well I think he is… he always says that he became president because of press freedom. But on the other hand, once in a while he would complain about excessive freedom of the press, of it being irresponsible. But so far, he has not done something that is fairly dangerous for us. In fact, he has shown his willingness… when he had a problem with two big newspapers, he went to the Press Council to have his complaint addressed, and not going through other more worse things, like going to the police or the court. So the Press Council appreciates that the President himself trusts the Press Council to mediate between press and members of the society, and the Press Council is using this example to other officials [so that] if even the President, and also the Police Headquarters, went to the Press Council, if they feel they have a complaint against the press, other lower-ranking officers will follow this example.

Antony Funnell: And of course it’s now no crime to insult the president or to criticise the government because of recent decisions in the constitutional court. That must be pleasing to you as a journalist?

Bambang Harymurti: It is very pleasing. We always fight this law, because it was a legacy of the colonial time and I’m very happy that the constitutional court has stated that it’s unconstitutional, so they want to throw it away. But now I’m worried also because there are some groups in the government and in the parliament that pressurise or ask that there should be some kind of institution to control the constitutional court. Because so far I believe our constitutional court has been doing a terrific job, and especially in getting rid of all the bad laws.

Antony Funnell: Now as the editor of Tempo, you personally faced jail only a couple of years ago, when your magazine was found by a court to have defamed a prominent businessman. And that verdict was struck down by the Indonesian Supreme Court in a celebrated case. But it’s my understanding that under Indonesian law your case didn’t actually set a legal precedent, is that correct?

Bambang Harymurti: Yes, we don’t have the same judge make law kind of system like in the Anglo-Saxon law. But it also it doesn’t mean that it does not have any influence. And I think the fact that in the Playboy case, the judge threw out the case actually following the example by the Supreme Court… the Supreme Court didn’t say that the press law is the only law [that] should be used, but it did say that the press law should be the first law to be used in a case involving a media dispute. And I think, yes, it is not a blanket guarantee but it is something that we can always use in our defence, and with the help of public pressure it can work.

Antony Funnell: Bambang Harymurti, corporate chief editor of the Tempo Media Group. And we’ll hear more from him shortly. But before we move on, I should just mention that the full interview with Mr Harymurti is available from our website. And this is a special Indonesian edition of The Media Report.

[traffic, Islamic call to prayer]

Antony Funnell: Two hours from Jakarta is the small city of Bogor, small by Indonesian standards, that is — it only has around three million people.

Bogor is interesting because the city contains an expanse of tropical rainforest. The rainforest is home to the not-for-profit organisation CIFOR, the Center for International Forestry Research.

Australian-born Greg Clough is CIFOR’s international head of communications.

Greg Clough: Well as you can see, we have quite pleasant facilities. We’re surrounded by forest, we have guest houses for visitors. We have offices around the world, and so the scientists who come and visit here will stay with us for one or two weeks for important meetings.

Antony Funnell: Indonesia is Greg Clough’s home: he has a house and family here, he speaks the language fluently and has spent most of the past 18 years in the country. Greg has a firm understanding of the way in which the Indonesian media operates, because he deals with them on an almost daily basis. And forestry issues — particularly relating to logging — are issues of considerable interest for the Indonesian press.

Greg Clough: I would have to say that apart from Kompas and Tempo, Metro TV and maybe a few others, Indonesian journalists are not very investigative. The journalists that I’ve dealt with can range from the very ordinary to the very, very good. Some of them have a very good understanding of the issues involved with forestry and ask quite probing and intelligent questions. Others may come along to a press conference and basically rewrite the information that’s given to them, or just quote it directly under their own name.

Antony Funnell: So the standards are quite variable?

Greg Clough: Extremely variable standards happen in Indonesian media. And I think that’s a lot to do with, firstly, that the growth and expansion in the media industry has been quite tremendous since the Soeharto regime ended. And so you’ve had an explosion of newspapers and magazines and television. I forget the figure… I think there’s 12 or 13 TV stations now operating. You can’t have that kind of expansion in one industry without drawing on a lot of people who probably don’t have the necessary skills to do that kind of work. So that is one factor in why the journalism standards aren’t as good as they should be, and as they will be in the future. And I think the other factor that we have to keep in mind is that Indonesia is still a developing country. People’s salaries are not very high and so even though they may have a full time job working as a journalist, they may also be looking for money through other means, whether it’s through their journalism, through a second job, or other more dubious methods.

Antony Funnell: Now speaking of those dubious methods… I mean, there’s a lot of money in logging, there are concerns about illegal logging, particularly in Indonesia. Do you find that, because of the fact that journalists aren’t very well paid, I mean, do you come across instances of corruption yourself, involving journalists or where you suspect there’s been corruption in terms of reporting stories regarding logging?

Greg Clough: Definitely I’ve been asked, or my staff that I work with have been asked, to provide money for stories. We have a policy at CIFOR where we do not pay those sort of payments. However, we do have a policy whereby we recognise that there are costs involved for journalists — their lunch, their travel cost to come out to our centre which is 50 kilometres away from Jakarta — and we will reimburse those costs. We think that’s a fair arrangement. But we’ve also had people come up and ask for payment to get stories published, and that’s happened a number of times.

I remember one occasion, a guy published a story about CIFOR, came the next day looking for money. And when I saw the newspaper that it was printed in, it was a four page broadsheet that I had never ever seen before. And I couldn’t help feeling that it was actually set up to run as a newspaper for a group of guys to try and get money.

Antony Funnell: So just a scam to extort money?

Greg Clough: Well, I hesitate to call it a scam, but I also hesitate to call it a proper officially recognised newspaper.

Antony Funnell: And do you ever read stories about forestry issues and wonder whether a company has paid for the spin that’s gone into the story?

Greg Clough: I have no evidence of that, but I’m sure it goes on, and it’s probably a much more literal or more obvious way of what happens in Western countries. And that is, these large logging companies will probably hire a PR firm and the PR firm will put the money in the envelopes and hand it out that way. Now I have no evidence of that, but it’s often spoken of. By hiring a PR firm, these larger companies then obviously keep themselves at a distance from it. They just have a contract with the PR firm, the PR firm says, ‘we think that we can get these stories into these X number of newspapers,’ and that’s the arrangement on which the contract is based. There’s nothing in there that would say that they are contracted to pay the journalist to write the stories, but that would be implicit.

Antony Funnell: Greg Clough, from the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, West Java.

Back in Jakarta, Bambang Harymurti agrees corruption in the media is still a significant problem. But he thinks things are improving.

Bambang Harymurti: The market is a funny place, because the people who used to give money to control the flow of information, suddenly found out they have very different choices. First, the journalists are so many that if they give them all money, it’s going to cost them a lot. And if they don’t give a few of them any money, they cannot control the flow of information — somebody will just publish whatever they want to control by money. So now less people are willing to give money to the journalists. It used to be if you were in the PR business, it’s part of your expenses to pay the journalist. But now it’s against their business interests to pay this. So there’s less money to give to the journalists. And that’s why I think a big number of newspapers are in trouble, especially newspapers who rely on these journalists who accepted money from their sources. So it is still a very big, prevalent problem, but I think the only time it will cease to exist, or we can minimise it, [is] if the journalists’ association themselves are strong enough to enforce their code of ethics and code of conduct. But it is a long and slow process.

Antony Funnell: Now for a time you were the US correspondent for Tempo, and you’re obviously very familiar with the way foreign journalists interpret what’s happening in Indonesia for their audiences. How have you seen the way Indonesia is portrayed to the world change over the last couple of years?

Bambang Harymurti: Well I think there is an up and down of the kind of image portrayed by foreign correspondents about Indonesia. Of course we had a very positive outlook during the early phase of democratisations, and then we had very negative image because there was disappointment — corruption was still there, there were a lot of funny things happening. But I sense now you are starting to see more positive news because there is some positive news, like, for instance, the government reform process has started to show itself. We are beginning to see a lot of small, but everywhere ubiquitous changes. And some foreign journalists are very sensitive to that. So I think we have reached the bottom of Indonesia as a source of bad news.

Antony Funnell: Bambang Harymurti. And let’s move away from the news business now, and look at another sector of the Indonesian media industry.

[Balinese music]

Antony Funnell: The sixth annual Q! Film Festival wraps up screenings in Indonesia’s tourism capital, Bali, this week, after an earlier run in Jakarta. The festival presents a collection of gay and lesbian films from around the world and was originally the creation of several Jakarta-based journalists, one of them being John Badalu, who’s now the event’s director.

I caught up with John in the foyer of a swank hotel just after the festival’s opening, and I asked him whether people were still surprised that such an event is held annually in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

John Badalu: I guess a lot of people always think, it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re very brave to do this festival here.’ And actually, in Indonesia there is no law against homosexuality, so that’s a good base to start the festival. Big cities like Jakarta, Surabaya, even Bali, they’re quite accepting [of] the queer people. And I guess the challenge is more like how to raise this awareness to another level, and just to present alternative films, rather than the ones that are shown in the commercial cinemas. And that’s what we are aiming for.

Antony Funnell: Now this year’s event is quite a large event. Just take us through the schedule that you’ve put together.

John Badalu: It’s growing and growing. We’ve got now 80 films to screen and we’ve got a lot of fringe events, we’ve got photo exhibitions. So that’s… all in all it’s becoming very big, and it’s actually one of the biggest queer film festivals in Asia, I must say.

Antony Funnell: And Asian films are a particular focus this time around, aren’t they?

John Badalu: Yes. We see that a lot of Asian films are on the rise, and there are a lot of demands on Asian films, so we decided to put together a focus on Asian films, just to see what’s going on in our neighbouring countries. Because we can see easily an American film here and there, but for Asian films, we cannot get any distribution here, it will not be in the cinemas at all. So we try to present what’s rare.

Antony Funnell: What about Indonesian films?

John Badalu: We always encourage Indonesian films, as well, to be screened and every year we get at least two or three Indonesian films, even if they’re short films. So you can see, like, even Indonesian film makers, they sometimes make films about queer people, about queer themes, so there are always queer films from Indonesia.

Antony Funnell: Now I understand that you had some issues, at least, with the Censorship Board in Indonesia. Just tell us about that.

John Badalu: This year is the sixth year of the festival. We never had any problem with the censorship until this year. Like, two hours before the opening ceremony, they called me up and said, ‘It has to be stopped and all the films have to go through censorship.’ And we all know that the Censorship Board is very conservative and they will never release a film without censors, especially queer themes, or even if it’s banned. So the festival is at the verge of maybe, like, stopped completely. So I had a meeting with them yesterday explaining everything, saying that it’s non-commercial screenings, and it’s only for a limited audience, and it’s free of charge, and it’s to raise awareness and to appreciate alternative films, and it’s educative. But what their concern is, is more because this year for the first time we have a commercial cinema as one of our venues. So I guess that’s what they’re worried about. Because other venues they said it’s OK, because it’s all in cultural centres and it’s really… like you can see it’s really limited audience as definition. But a commercial cinema for them is like, ‘No, it’s public.’

Antony Funnell: But the fact that they were willing to discuss it, to negotiate it, that must be an encouraging sign?

John Badalu: Yes. I guess the Censorship Board now also is being criticised a lot by all the Indonesian film makers. We are trying to change the Indonesian film law. We have a group of people who are doing research on this and who are really studying the law, and now we are putting together a draft of a new film law that we would like to pass on to the government. We actually had already a hearing with the parliament two months ago for the first time. It still will be a long process, but it’s a beginning, and it seems like the government is now more open to hear something from people.

Antony Funnell: What sort of changes are you suggesting?

John Badalu: We really would like to change everything, basically, from the root. From the education system, because we only have one film school so far. We would like to change the infrastructure, the help from the government to really push the film industry. Because we have a lot of potential, we have a lot of beautiful film locations as well, but in terms of human resources we are very, very limited.

Antony Funnell: Is there any government financial support at the moment for the film industry?

John Badalu: Not at all. The government doesn’t support it at all. It seems like they still haven’t seen films as an asset. They haven’t seen that. In the past, yes, we did have, but nowadays it seems like because of the changing of the governments and the laws, so it’s becoming less and less, and in the end it’s non-existent.

Antony Funnell: Looking at the Indonesian film and television industry overall, how healthy is it at the moment?

John Badalu: The TV industry is growing very, very fast. Now we have lots of locally made TV series, so the presentation of foreign films on TV is very, very low. We’ve got maybe like 20 per cent, and the rest are all Indonesian productions: the TV series, the talk shows, all these reality shows — even like American Idol, we adapted it into Indonesian Idol. So we have that too. So in terms of production and money, it’s very, very good.

But for the feature films, like for the cinemas, it’s still very, very much struggling. We have a lot of film produced but quality-wise it’s still very, very low. So it’s only like going into the country itself, but it can never be sold outside of Indonesia, for example. But in terms of numbers, we are competing with Thailand only in South East Asia, and the rest — like even Malaysia — cannot compete with us. We produce like about 50 films a year, so that’s already quite a lot. It’s almost like once a week we have a new Indonesian film in the cinema.

Antony Funnell: Well John Badalu, thank you very much talking to us on The Media Report.

John Badalu: Thank you so much.

Antony Funnell: And a big thank you also to CIFOR and the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists for their logistical support.

Today’s producer was Andrew Davies, with technical production by Jim Ussher.


Rini Budiman
Junior Journalist in Indonesia

Heru Hendratmoko
President of the AJI – The Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia)

Misbachuddin Gasma
Jakarta Lawyer and one of the founders of the Legal Aid Centre for Press (Indonesia)

Bambang Harymurti
Corporate Chief Editor of the Tempo Media Group

Greg Clough
Communications specialist for CIFOR (The Center for International Forestry Research)

John Badalu
Q Film Festival Director


Antony Funnell


Andrew Davies


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