LOANA BENJAMIN WRITES – On February 27, The Jakarta Post named Indonesia’s PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) “media darlings” for being mentioned in the press more than any other party in the previous month.
But given that PKS rivals own many of the media outlets in question, the accomplishment may just be a sign of the drubbing PKS has taken of late.
Politics has long controlled the press in Indonesia. During Suharto’s “New Order,” media was highly restricted and used primarily for propaganda. “Freedom of the press” was a utopian, far off concept. Today, as the country tries to democratize, and implements legal reforms to protect the media, journalists still face threats of violence from both the people and the state.
Late last year, the House of Representatives began drafting an amendment to the nation’s Press Law to restrict the media’s involvement in the upcoming 2014 elections. The goal was to increase neutrality of media outlets, most of which are owned by political figures who use it to promote themselves.
For example, Aburizal Bakrie, presidential candidate and chairman of the Golkar party, directs two major television stations in Jakarta, as well Vivanews, the country’s largest news portal.
Another prominent example is Hary Tanoesoedibjo, head of the People’s Conscience Party and a vice presidential candidate for 2014. He controls PT Media Nusantara Citra, which extends its influence to a large part of Southeast Asia and includes radio, TV and print media.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the new ‘darlings’ PKS were in full support of the proposed new legislation.
Tiffatul Sembiring, Minister of Communications and Information, and a politician of the PKS, encouraged stricter regulations on politically owned media outlets. While the fairly new party attracted praise after its creation, on the whole the press has grown more critical of its political leaders as the presidential election approaches.
Predictably, competitors have been trying to bring the darling down. PKS members have been the center of recent scandals, from the smuggling of meat to sex videos, allegations that have not been confirmed. So, though the PKS has taken much of the media’s attention, ‘darling’ is certainly an overstatement: “Target” may be more appropriate.