Power in shadow

The internet has shaped the way foreign media portraying Indonesia.

AFTER the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, not only does the internet provide alternative medium for communication, it contains of abundant news and information from around the country and the world for Indonesian. The internet has become major channel for critical communication and free flow information among those who opposed the dictatorship (Sen and Hill, 2000).

Unlike during the dictatorship, the press freedom is now far better. If radio was the major communication medium in order to broadcast Indonesian independence in 1945, then, among other communication medium, according to Sen and Hill, “the internet might well vie for top billing in the fall of Suharto dictatorship in 1998.”

The internet makes information available and cheaper for most people. The medium enables number of Indonesian to develop online and new media due to free hosting. Because of communication technology development and growing number of affordable mobile phones and multimedia gadgets, it enables everyone to be a journalist.

According to Ignatius Haryanto, director of LSPP (Lembaga Studi Pers dan Pembangunan or The Institute for Press and Development Studies), internet has changed media landscape in Indonesia since the information is delivered almost without time delay. His argument refers to the growing population of internet user, which is dominated by young generation, and inexpensive mobile device from China. As these both are believed to continue in the years ahead, news organizations are contend for a large audience of this market.

The new media

The emergence of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace, and the emergence of Youtube, internet changes the ways in which people acquire news and information, from passive news consumer to active news producer which is widely known as citizen journalist.

Meanwhile, the internet, new media and citizen journalism might challenge foreign correspondent’s performance. Yet, all the three has also benefited the media and its correspondents. In the large extent it reduces cost of reportage of the foreign correspondents, and helps the correspondents gather information.

Unlike during the end of Suharto dictatorship, foreign correspondents are now benefited by the presence of citizen journalist. The latter provides the correspondents with sort of initial reports through new media. One of the most recent examples is a Papuan activist killing by a group of Indonesian police. The final moment of the killing was recorded by one of the police members using a mobile phone camera. Unknown person then uploads the footage into Youtube.

In addition to the footage, Al Jazeera news channel airs the killing story which heating the tension between Papuan and government of Indonesia. Instead of leaving to Papua which is hundreds of mile from Jakarta, the Al Jazeera correspondent, Step Vaessen, interviews several key sources such as the widow of the victim, police chief in Papua, a top human rights activist, and Sidney Jones, senior advisor of International Crisis Group for Southeast Asian region.

Although the footage is publicly published on the Youtube, it is difficult to find the story on national media. Although government of Indonesia promises to uphold freedom of speech, in practice the government limits local reporters to do reportage. For years it also effectively restricts foreign correspondents to freely cover the region.

Even though the reporter can not reach the region, still she can phone the police chief to verify the blatant human right violation by its member. The news channel plays as the voice of voiceless when the correspondent interviews the victim’s widow. Moreover, it monitors the power, government of Indonesia, and substitutes local journalists when they afraid of reporting the military apparatus committed the crimes.

Same tool, different angle

An interesting point with regard to the Papuan activist killing is how the news channel uses the footage from Youtube which is recorded using mobile phone camera and contains disturbing graphic. Yet, Al Jazeera’s reporter dug out more facts and interviews for the story and decided to take another angle so that the killing is relevant to the tension in Papua in which the Indonesian government must end the grave conflict and human rights violation in the region.

It perfectly showed the power of citizen journalism and internet in the hand of foreign media correspondent. The internet has shaped the way of foreign correspondents gathering story for and from Indonesia. It has helped foreign coverage in portraying Indonesia. In most cases, however, it did not drastically change the way the correspondents cover the issues and portray the country development.

The emergence of new media and citizen journalist has been forcing foreign media to do serious international reporting through in-depth and investigative reporting along with deep analysis. The foreign correspondents, however, use the medium as multi-purpose tool to gather and select information from the ground. Using the internet, the foreign media still covers rare but important issue within the country that criticize the government. In this respect, foreign coverage maintains its role to inform and to help educate Indonesian with relevant information. END

1 Comment

Filed under Media

One response to “Power in shadow

  1. mirna

    Blogs and social networks are becoming an increasingly important part of media consumption for internet users (not just foreign media).
    The hybrid of multimedia and social media, which we call “social multimedia”, has great potential to change how we communicate and collaborate.
    And.. that’s your turn as a power in shadow.

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