Freedom of the press and the media
The freedom of the press is guaranteed in principle by law in Indonesia. In this regard, Indonesia is the country with the freest press in all of Southeast Asia. Yet press freedom is at risk due to many factors. For example, economic or political pressure is repeatedly exerted on the press in a targeted manner – and there have also been some unsolved murders of journalists in Indonesia in recent years. In the ranking of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, Indonesia (2020) ranks 119th out of 180 countries evaluated. Freedom House sees Indonesia as the country with the freest press in all of Southeast Asia.
Owners of important newspapers are often also active in politics at the same time, which prevents independent reporting. The same applies to the currently 16 (as of 2018) private television programs broadcast nationwide. There are also two state television programs.
Censorship takes place, for example, on publications that question the official writing of modern history. Censorship sometimes also takes place in the case of written or film publications which, in the opinion of Islamic circles, represent pornography, blasphemy or heresy. On several occasions, Indonesian authorities have blocked websites which, from the government’s point of view, disseminated offensive or terrorist content.
With the help of the Suharto dictatorship law against insulting the president and the “Electronic Information and Transactions Act (ITE) ” passed in 2013, more than 215 people were indicted between 2013 and 2017.
In recent years, there have also been an increasing number of cases in which foreign journalists and political scientists who are based in Indonesia no longer have their work visas issued or renewed.
Unpleasant reporting, especially about old elites, can also mean that the relevant media and journalists are covered with complaints that can be dangerous for them. In conflict regions in particular, critical reporting on sensitive topics such as resistance, torture or environmental crime can pose great danger to the life and limb of the reporting journalist.
According to ehealthfacts, the free reporting from West Papua, originally announced by the President for May 2015, repeatedly fails in practice due to strong resistance from interest groups that are not interested in reports on human rights violations there.
At the moment, there is also growing pressure on media representatives to take conservative Islamic positions in their reporting.
But obstructing free reporting has become difficult even for the police. When an article about police corruption appeared in the news magazine Tempo in 2010, “unknown” buyers “bought almost the entire circulation before it was sold in retail outlets.
In recent years there has been an increasing effort to monitor the Internet in order to prevent visits to pornographic websites. In addition, a number of Islamist websites, some of which openly call for support for IS, have been blocked by the responsible ministry. Pages that are aimed at lesbians, gays and transgender people are also repeatedly censored. The Freedom House Report sees signs of improvement in the situation. Currently (2019), however, there are increasing tendencies to restrict the freedom of the press.
In rural and remote areas in particular, self-organized community radios are playing an increasing role. Since 2002, a broadcasting law has made it possible for them to broadcast legally, which activists have hailed as a milestone in freedom of the press. In practice, however, purchasing a license devours so much money that most of them have to continue to send illegally.
You can get a more complete picture of political developments by reading Indonesian print media. You can find critical coverage (already under Suharto!) In the English-language daily newspaper Jakarta Post.
The English-language daily Jakarta Globe has been published since 2008. One of the best Indonesian-language newspapers is Kompas. If you need further information on the political development of Indonesia, you can fall back on weekly magazines. The weekly magazine TEMPO, which is banned under Suharto due to critical reporting and which also publishes an English edition, provides the best information. However, numerous other weekly magazines are available (such as GATRA).
The English-language program of Al-Jazeera reports regularly with in-depth analyzes and current articles from Indonesia and makes these articles accessible online.
Deutsche Welle produces a one-hour Indonesian-language program with topics from Germany and Indonesia every day (available on the Internet).
If you would like to round off your picture of domestic and foreign political, social and cultural events through non-Indonesian print media, reading various Southeast Asian daily newspapers, such as the Bangkok Post or the Straits Times from Singapore, is recommended. In order to diversify the range of information as broadly as possible, you can also fall back on international weekly magazines, such as The Economist, Wall Street Journal or Time, which report regularly and in detail on Indonesia. The magazine “Inside Indonesia” provides deep insights into social interaction in Indonesia.
The Watch Indonesia e-mail distribution list provides you with regular background information, press reports and analyzes on the political, social and economic situation in Indonesia. You will also find continuous reporting on Indonesia’s foreign and domestic policy in the articles by Indahnesia.