Indonesia’s media will be busy this year covering the approaching 2014 presidential elections, as well as several local elections that will take place before then.
However, the media’s role in these elections is now under scrutiny, both from Indonesian citizens and free press supporters worldwide.
With the removal of the central government’s control at the end of Soeharto’s New Order era (1966-1998), Indonesian press is now free to function as a public watchdog. However, in this nation of 240 million people, most news outlets are controlled by just 12 media groups. (See INDONESIA: Overcoming the Media Conglomerate Wall)
This fact becomes even more troubling when considering that Indonesia’s top three media moguls are politicians: Golkar Party chairman and presidential candidate for 2014 Aburizal Bakrie, NasDem Party chairman Surya Paloh and former chairman of NasDem Party’s council of experts, Hary Tanoesoedibjo.
The Bakrie family owns the Viva Media Group which includes the all-news television channel TVOne, ANTV and the Vivanews online service.
Surya, a former Golkar patron chief, owns the Media Group that consists of news-based Metro TV and Media Indonesia daily.
Hary, who just left NasDem after a reported rift with Surya, runs an even larger media network. Hary is the CEO of PT Media Nusantara Citra (MNC), which runs MNC TV, RCTI, and Global TV, print media including Seputar Indonesia daily and SINDO weekly magazine, and radio stations like SINDO Radio.
TVOne and ANTV run daily clips promoting the electability of Bakrie while Metro TV and Media Indonesia daily praise the virtues of Surya.
Current President Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party also has its own media outlet, the Jurnal Nasional daily.
In addition, a number of senior journalists are heavily involved as political advisers to these candidates.
How can press freedom function in this kind of environment? Can journalists report on elections accurately when their own interests are so blatantly involved?
Earlier this month the Press Council of Indonesia addressed these questions, and while they did not deny that these huge media outlets could easily be abused by the politicians that own them, they did state that there was not much they could do about it.
“Our laws do not prohibit individuals or companies from having more than one media outlet. Multiple-ownership by an individual, be the person a politician or not, can be controlled by an antitrust mechanism,” Press Council chairman Bagir Manan told reporters the State Palace.
It is unlikely that Indonesian citizens will find that answer satisfactory, as unrest over the current media situation continues to grow.