There have been a number of developments related to the press in Indonesia since the reformation era in 1998. The enactment of the Press Law no. 40/1999 and the establishment of an independent Press Board recognize press freedom and free expression as basic rights.
Growth of online media, rise of hoax
Traditional media organizations are no longer the only sources of news. Now, people get and share information from online and social media. On the one hand, this is positive because we get information very fast and easy from all over the world. On the other hand, the internet is full of falsehoods and inaccuracies.
The rise of hoax has become a threat in Indonesia as in other countries. In simple terms, hoax is false news or information intended to deceive, trick, and/or fake.
The Telecommunication Society of Indonesia (Masyarakat Telekomunikasi Indonesia) released a research on 13 February 2017. Most were annoyed with hoax, and 75.90 percent of the 1,116 respondents agreed that hoax disturbs the unity of Indonesia as it is very dangerous. The government formed the special “Task Force Anti-Hoax” and also a Cybercrime Unit and Multimedia Bureau in the Police of the Republic of Indonesia to address the issue.
According to media obeserver J. Anto, hoax stories in Indonesia started during the presidential elections of 2014. He said that the mainstream media are losing their functions of education and social control. Citizen journalism proliferated because of online and social media and breathed new life to the practice of the right to information. Even the mainstream media make use of the public’s reports. Information shared on social media have a strong impact. For example, a social media user – who writes a critique of a hospital dismissing poor patients – could push the mainstream media to check and report about hospital services.
It is easy to create identities in the internet should someone wish to provoke or fabricate stories. Such was the case during the regional elections for the governor of DKI Jakarta Province. The hoax by highlighting issues on religion and race triggered further division not only among Jakarta people but all Indonesians.
Nowadays, it is hard to distinguish news which are based on facts or hoax. Freedom of expression is compromised. Ahmad Taufan Damanik, who is a political observer and a lecturer at the Social Sciences and Political Faculty of the Universitas Sumatera Utara, said that the problem is very serious and does not distinguish the economic classes and education levels of people as they lose their logic and rational mind believing or spreading hoaxes. The Indonesian people must be careful of this global trend’s impact and potential to disturb national stability.
Syahril Effendy, who is an Information Technology (IT) and Communication lecturer at the Universitas Sumatera Utara and an IT practitioner, said the pace of the cybercrime unit in supervising and handling hoaxes is not as fast as the spread speed of hoaxes on the internet. The application of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law has not been very effective yet. Head of the Information Bureau, Public Relations Division, Police of Indonesia Brig. Gen. Pol Rikwanto said that only 400 of the 4,000 reports on hoax cases have been handled. It is very slow because of the limited number of police investigators.
Generally, Indonesia respects the freedom of expression. But the surge in number of cases has caused the government to create rules on blocking of websites that contain hoax, pornography, terrorism, religious tension, hate speech, and others that could potentially disturb the stability and peace of the country. The Communications and Information Ministry of Indonesia has blocked more than 800,000 websites and launched a website (www.turnbackhoax.id) to check the validity of news stories and photos.
The efforts of the government to provide solutions should be acknowledged. But the government tendency to block websites without investigation or confirmation is unacceptable. Several parties have opposed these incidents citing its negative impact to free expression and minimizing the possibility of the government to target websites, which are not on their side. There are approximately 43,000 online media – of which 500 were recorded, and seven verified and certificated by the Press Board.
Only a small group of companies and people own the mass media enterprises as print, television, radio, and online in Indonesia. Some of these media owners have positions and interests in political parties. They tend to use the media as tools during campaigns and elections. They are also involved in the news rooms influencing the products. The direction of journalism in the country has been toward capital and political interests instead of the nation’s. Thus, the media have been slowly losing its neutrality and function of social control. Therein lies the danger when information is key to a country’s development shaping the history of its people and culture.
Violence against journalists
Media conglomerates affect how journalists report the news. In certain media outlets, journalists have limited access to stories and experience violence. The Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI, Alliance of Independent Journalists) reported 78 cases of threats to and attacks against journalist in 2016, and not a single case of prosecution.
Apart from the issues of safety, journalists in Indonesia also face other challenges — welfare and benefits. They have low wages and are not insured.
The government should guarantee free expression, particularly ensure the access to information. In this regard, arbitrary blocking of websites should not occur.
IT literacy for the society is a must. The government, IT professionals, schools and universities could take part in this program. This is necessary for media users to understand and check information, especially those distributed online.
Improve the Electronic Information and Transactions Law and its implementation, particularly to better address hoaxes and deter its spread;
Promote awareness on the issue of misinformation and disinformation by encouraging fact checking and projects like the Turn Back Hoax;
Support journalism, especially the media and press that practice ethics and professionalism;
Provide protection for press freedom, media and news organizations, media practitioners and journalists, primarily addressing the issues of safety and impunity
Utilize the International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC), which is “the only multilateral forum in the United Nations system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries.” Forum Jurnalis Perempuan Indonesia (FJPI, Indonesian Women Journalists Forum) proposes projects that discuss media ownership and journalists’ working conditions.