Regional media in RI comes to life

Dr. David T. Hill, a professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University in Australia, is on sabbatical at National University of Singapore. Dr. Hill, who likes to call himself a student of Indonesian studies with an interest in the Indonesian media, spoke with The Jakarta Post's Harry Bhaskara in Singapore about his recent research on the media in Manado and Jayapura.

How do you see the development of the media in Indonesia?

The most interesting development in Indonesian media in the past few years has been not so much in the capital but in the regions, which up until very recently had largely being ignored by analysts and academics. The loosening up of the government regulation concerning the press and the media had seen a tremendous explosion in both the volume and the quality of the kinds of media products available. This is where the most dynamic development will take place in the future.

Could you give an example?

In Manado, we had an economy which was to a large degree independent or semi-independent of the Jakarta national economy. The production of export crops, which enabled the region to survive the economic crisis of 1997, meant that there were funds available for investment in the media very quickly after the liberalization of the media.

Now we have three daily newspapers of varying quality but still in a town of perhaps several hundred thousand people. To have three reasonably healthy papers is a tremendous achievement compared to Australia, for example, where we have a very heavily concentrated media ownership and where a town of the same size as Manado may not have any newspapers.

Are these newspapers effective?

The media has responded to local demand. Formerly, I suspect the people in Manado may well have felt that the news that was important to them was not covered by the Jakarta dailies, just as people in Australia feel when they live in a small town. The national papers which are owned by very few people don't pay attention to local politics, local news.

How do you see this in the framework of the 2000 law on regional autonomy?

What we are seeing in Indonesia is a part of all these shifts to regional autonomy. Recognizing the importance of regional economies, we are now seeing a more buoyant or vibrant media at that local level. Manado is just one example, but I think it is also a good example because we see in Manado not just the print media but also the electronic media.

During the latest pilkada (regional elections) there were two private television stations covering local political events. Politicians, candidates going out to speak with community groups, were able to get their message to the local community without having to go through Jakarta and kind of come back to their own community.

What is the significance of that?

I think that is a really important foundation. For a healthy local level democracy, you have to have a local media, and you should also have a local political life and a relationship between media and politics.

How does it relate to the growth of democracy?

If you have one or two papers, one or two television stations, it doesn't mean you will automatically guarantee a local democratic climate, but it is very difficult to have a democratic climate if you don't have a wide range of views circulating in that local context.

So that is one of the reasons why the local media is important for Indonesia's future because it is important in encouraging democratic institutions, a democratic culture not just in the parliament in Jakarta.

Why did you choose Manado and Jayapura?

Up until a few years ago my concentration has been on Jakarta and on the national print media, and my research partner Professor Krishna Sen from Curtin University and I decided that we needed to be able to compare the national situation with other examples. We had spent the 1990s in Yogya so we thought we already had a reasonable comparison with one town on Java.

Manado was very different in a number of ways, very different ethnically and religiously. It was also interesting because it was on the periphery physically, almost as far from Jakarta in a sense.

We chose Jayapura partly because it was what we call a border area and again precisely because we anticipated that it would be so different to Java as well as Manado.

I suspect the kind of dynamic that we can observe in Manado could also be observed in, let say, Makassar or Banjarmasin or Padang.

How did you find Manado and Jayapura?

They are very different. In Jayapura there is still no commercial television, there are some radio stations, but more modest, and the print media, I think, are subject to economic and political pressure.

One of the features, for example, in Jayapura, in the print media, which we see also to a degree in Manado, but functioning in a slightly different way, is the importance of government funding. If we open a newspaper in Jayapura, there are about half a dozen with a variety of different views, most of those newspapers are quiet heavily dependent on advertising, which is exclusive advertising, or sponsorship, which is sometimes explicitly stated and sometimes less evident.

Sometimes it is simply an article which was written about a government policy actually paid for by the local government, but that kind of income is so important to the newspapers that there is that possibility that the local government can manipulate the content of the media very directly. I am not sure if it is happening, I am just speculating this is a potential venture.

What challenges do you see facing journalists in the regions?

I think it is a much harder struggle for the journalists in the regions. Their salary is very low, in a sense they get very little support, they don't have the same kind of model of professional behavior. In Jakarta, for example, the journalists have exemplary models of how to be a good journalist. You have people like Goenawan Mohammad or Rosihan Anwar.

The journalists in Jakarta, if they want to go and cover some events, they also have the model of the international journalists. The AJI (Alliance of Independent Journalists) does exist, but it has a handful of people. I think the AJI in Jayapura has something like 18 members.
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