INDONESIA: Overcoming the Media Conglomerate Wall

Since the 1998 Asian financial and political crisis, the media industry in Indonesia has been opened up fully, and is now freer from government control than ever. The media inarguably plays a crucial role in Indonesian democracy by educating its citizens and informing them of government activity.

However, Indonesia’s media still has many obstacles to overcome.

In the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Indonesia was ranked 139 out of 179 countries, and, according to a report by the Alliance of Independent Journalists, there were over 56 cases where journalists were attacked, threatened or had their equipment destroyed in 2012 alone. In addition, the Legal Aid Foundation for the Press reported 96 acts of violence against journalists.

Another, and perhaps more worrisome, issue facing Indonesia is the global phenomenon of consolidating media outlets into massive conglomerates. Large corporations purchase small news outlets to enlarge their own media groups, and publish different variations of the same story, expressing only one mind-numbing perspective.

In Indonesia, one of the most populated countries, most news outlets are controlled by just 12 media groups, which are owned by prominent politicians and other powerful figures.

While the media freedom granted to Indonesia should lead to an increase in progressive media, it instead could become a new means of controlling what the public is reading and watching.

The new documentary “Di Balik Frekuensi” (“Behind the Frequency”), by Ucu Agustin, follows these issues related to media ownership in Indonesia. The film features footage taken by Ucu and her camera crew, as well as news clips and other footage to complete the stories.

At the premiere last week, Ucu herself said she is fighting against what she refers to as “the giant wall,” in regard to the prominence of media owners. She is unsure whether Indonesian cinemas will be willing to show her film, but remains optimistic that it will help people become more knowledgeable and critical of the mainstream media.

“For me, if this film manages to make people reconsider their choices in watching TV stations, it means it is already a success.”  We hope her film scales the wall.

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