THE MASS MEDIA AND OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS - AN INDONESIAN PERSPECTIVE


Satrio Arismunandar

It is a great pleasure in this occasion to share with you my little knowledges and experiences of the role of the mass media. I would like to express my gratitude to CIDES in giving me a honour to be involved in this international conference.
As an opening statement, I would like to stress that the mass media can contribute to our future generations, and it implies recognizing the power of mass media itself in influencing people and in shaping events.

As I understood, the mass media are all the channels of communications that carry messages to the general public. In this paper I'd like to focus on news media, like newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations.
The contemporary mass media, like succesfully demonstrated by CNN (Cable News Network) coverages on the Russian coup attemp (August, 1991) and the Gulf War (January, 1991), are not just deliver information and make news, but also influence the dynamics of events and even -- to a considerable degree -- shape those events.

Electronic media like CNN, by broadcasting news live, have been participating on what so-called "the history in the making" and turning us -- the viewers in 150 countries -- into instant witnesses of history. The very definition of news had been redefined -- from something that has happened to something that is happening at the very moment we are hearing of it. To a considerable degree, momentous things happened precisely because they were being seen as they happened. A social theorist Marshall McLuhan, a generation ago had written: "We now live in a simultaneous happening."

Contemporary man is a product of the communication and information revolution, which has wrenched him from his traditional environment into a wider world. Growing geographical, social and cultural mobility and the free flow of information, ideas, and value systems have expanded the horizons of human awareness, and he becomes part of a complex system encompassing the entire planet.

Before discussing the role of mass media for our future generations, I would like to describe what kind of future generations I like. In Indonesian political context, I would like to see the growth of an open society, based on its own values, who braves dialogues with other societies. In the process, the society may be redefine its own values, and by more dialogues the process will go on and on.
In discussing our future, however, I think I would like to discuss a kind of uncertainty, since there is a lack of transparency in Indonesian political scene. The second reason is that the future should reflect not only the experience of the past, but also the achievements of the present and the potensial achievements of the future.

The paradoxical pictures

News media or the press, as an institution, has always been positioning and balancing itself in the midst of major trends and structures of its society, and in the interrelation with other institutions, like the government. We should concede that the press can only function by sharing if only the other institutions are playing their roles. The press is also being influenced significantly by major trends and structures of its society.

The Indonesian press still is developing. The Indonesian press began its history as the political papers delivering political messages with a lot of values. Basically, Indonesian press are the serious ones. The history of Indonesian press is marked by the struggle to uphold truth and justice as well as to oppose all types of oppression, first by opposing Dutch colonialism and nowadays by defending the ideals of the independent nation. But is it still relevant to conclude that the press is still carrying on its idealistic role? Its an interesting matter to discuss.
In discussing a specific case of Indonesia means facing the realities rather than merely the ideals, and it means we should take into consideration an environment the news media have to work in.
Some observers claimed, currently Indonesia is one of Asia's economic tigers and a potential economic locomotive in Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia is portrayed as a developing country which has accomplished its development programmes, among them rapid economic development, a successful birth-control programme and the attainment of food self-sufficiency.
But Indonesia still has some crucial problems and it wracked by a sense of fragility. There are inherent tensions in trying to integrate a nation of almost 200 million people, with more than 300 ethnic cultures and hundreds of languages and dialects, spread over 13,667 islands in a 1,9 million square-kilometers area. Outwardly, the strong qualities of Indonesia's economic performances masked political problems which many believed, if not addressed in time, could launch Indonesia on a path to chaos and instability.

Indonesia presented paradoxical pictures since the start of the 1990s. On the political fronts, there were apparent attemps to present a face more acceptable to the contemporary political mood in the country, raise its international profile, and outwardly conform to the obstinate democratic proclivities of its major trading partners. The government embraced the popular slogan keterbukaan or political "openness", but it was not an evident component of policy. Beneath the impressive array of its economic reforms, which seemed to invite social and political change as well, lay an imposing conservative edifice remarkably resistant to corrosion.

While Indonesian journalists and government officials alike tout small steps toward a more open and robust press, they concede that each step is painfully deliberate and subject to instant reversal. The bannings of three magazines -- Tempo, Detik and Editor -- on June 21 this year had underlined that notion.
The director general for press and graphics of the information ministry said, Tempo was closed because of its news content, while the other two were shut on "administrative" grounds for what the authorities described as the publications' failure to operate under the terms of their business licenses.

The media environment

-- The Basic Press Law of 1982 supposedly protects the press from bans or muzzling. Unfortunately, it's not always the case. Considering many factors, Indonesian journalists must impose on themselves self-censorship under the "SARA doctrine", which forbids them to publish or broadcast any potentially controversial story dealing with ethnic issues (Suku), religious issues (Agama), racial problems (Ras), or conflicts among groups (Antar-golongan).

-- Newspapers must be licensed, and the number of licenses is limited. Practically, it is difficult to get a new license. Even if one can get the license, the government always have the free-hand to revoke the license for one or another reason, without giving the publisher an opportunity to put up a defense in a court.

-- All journalists must belong to the government-sponsored Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI). There is no room for other journalist organizations. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) -- an independent and alternative organization, founded by Indonesian young journalists on August 7, 1994, after the bannings of the three media -- is not recognized by the government. Even the chairman of the PWI was quoted by Antara as saying that any organization other than PWI "has to be abolished" in accordance with a decree from the information ministry.

In fact, it's the first time since the founding of PWI on February 1946 that the country has an alternative journalist organization, AJI. AJI believes in pluralism and clearly rejects the concept of a single compulsory organization for journalists, and also rejects any diversions from the law and legal regulations conflicting with the state-ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution (UUD 1945).

AJI places national unity and national priorities above individual and group concerns. But AJI reject one-sided information advanced for the benefit of individuals or groups in the name of national interests. AJI acknowledges freedom of speech, access to information and freedom of association as a basic right of all citizens. And its commitment are consistent with the principles set forth in Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. By establishing AJI, I think Indonesian young journalists have taken the right path and brave the challenges ahead.

-- Privately owned radio and television stations formally cannot air their own news programs, but instead must use the news programs produced by the government-owned networks. Currently, the government tacitly has allowed private TV stations to air their own news programs though only for very limited portions.
I am not blaming the government for all those shortcomings. I don't think it would be fair to criticize. Simply by assuming that the government should take all the responsibilities, won't solve the problems.

My standpoint is that we -- particularly as the developing society in the developing country -- are in the "never ending process of becoming." I mean that we should interpret the situation not as a static one, but as a dynamic one, moving along a continuum. Like driving a boat along a river.

In this dynamic situation, whether you like it or not, the ups and downs are natural and inevitable. You just need to continuously minimize the scale between the ups and downs, to safely guide your boat and finally to end your trip. And because we -- the government, the press and the other institutions -- are in the same boat, I think its quiet fair to share the responsibilities.

Like in some other developing countries, which are in the process of establishing and strengthening its institutions, the press freedom ebbs and flows, depending on the political climate. It's different with the situations in the developed countries whose institutions have been strong enough and stable, so on the practical terms the political climate have nothing to do with press freedom.

The East Asian and Indonesian news media are benefiting from an economic boom. The newspapers industry is booming as local economies grow and people become hungry for news and information. But we should note too that the economic progress itself does not automatically grant press freedom. It's democracy that makes a free press possible.

A free press ia necessary for a democracy and democracy certainly is necessary for a free press. And the role of the press is going to be crucial to the future of democracy in Indonesia. Indonesia adopts the concept of free and responsible press. But Indonesian news media could not be responsible without such a freedom, as a conditio sine qua non to pursue the role. It's our task to strengthen the press and at the same time strengthen our democracy. It's time for the younger generations to decide where they are leading this nation. ***

General References

1. AFP report, August 20, 1994
2. Article 19, An Open Letter to the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia), 1994.
3. Asian Wall Street Journal, June 22, 1944
4. Dye, Thomas R., and Harmon Zeigler, American Politics in the Media Age (Second Edition), Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, Monterey, California, 1986.
5. Far Eastern Economic Review, September 8, 1994
6. Oetama, Jakob, Perspektif Pers Indonesia, LP3ES, Jakarta, 1987.
7. Sirna Galih Declaration, The Alliance of Independent Journalists, August 7, 1994.
8. Surjomihardjo, Abdurrachman (Red.), Beberapa Segi Perkembangan Sejarah Pers di Indonesia, Deppen RI/Leknas LIPI, Jakarta,1980.
9. The Jakarta Post, October 19, 1994.
10. Time, January 6, 1992.
11. Toffler, Alvin (Ed.), The Futurists, Random House, New York, 1972.
12. Vatikiotis, Michael R.J., Indonesian Politics Under Suharto: Order, Development and Pressures for Change, Routledge, London/New York, 1993.
13. Voices from The East, The Freedom Forum, Arlington VA, 1992.

(Dibacakan dalam diskusi yang diselenggarakan ICMI, 1994)

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