Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged the country’s media organizations on Tuesday to respect the need for balanced coverage of the presidential election campaign, as incidences of favoritism continued to chip away at the overall picture of fairness in the country’s TV political reporting.
“I hope the press and the mass media will produce constructive and accurate reporting,” Yudhoyono said at a meeting in Sentul, Bogor, to discuss preparations for the July 9 election. “The mass media belongs to the public and is in the interests of the public — not just the capitalists.”
The jab at some of Indonesia’s media oligarchs is unlikely to upset the broadcasting status quo at this stage in the campaign, which is most clearly typified by a tug-of-war between Metro TV and TVOne, owned by Surya Paloh and the Bakrie family, respectively.
Surya was the first party leader to join Joko Widodo’s coalition and made no secret of the fact that he would marshal his resources and those of his National Democrat Party (NasDem) to bolster Joko’s candidacy. “We’ll conduct land, sea and aerial attacks to win the hearts and trust of the people,” Surya said in April after announcing NasDem’s support for Joko.
TVOne, on the other hand, has focused its coverage mainly on Prabowo Subianto, whose coalition includes the Golkar Party, chaired by Aburizal Bakrie. In the days running up to the April 9 legislative election, Ardi Bakrie, Aburizal’s youngest son, wrote to the editorial board of news portal vivanews.co.id, which is part of TVOne’s media empire, criticizing the editors for placing a story, perceived to be pro-Joko, front and center on the website.
Incidences of favoritism have crept into the broadcasters’ coverage in support of the respective candidates.
When Prabowo and Joko arrived at the General Elections Commission (KPU) office last Sunday to draw their respective ballot numbers, TVOne led with images of Prabowo, while the Metro TV lens was trained almost entirely on Joko — an example Yudhoyono alluded to in his comments on Tuesday.
“The press is divided in 2014,” Yudhoyono said. “The obvious example is Metro TV and TVOne — even in the legislative election the mass media was skewed.”
Television is by far the most widely consumed form of media in Indonesia. According to data collected by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2012, 91.7 percent of Indonesian watched TV, while 18.6 percent listened to radio and 17.7 percent read newspapers or magazines.
In addition to questions over the neutrality of stations’ editorial content, activists such as SatuDunia, a non-profit organization focusing on democracy, have accused networks of offering advertising discounts to favored candidates, exacerbating the problem.
The 2012 Election Law stipulates the length of political advertisements and how often they may run — 30 seconds for TV commercials and one minute for radio packages, with a maximum of 10 advertisements per station or channel per day.
During this year’s legislative election period, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) cited eight television stations for violating campaign advertising regulations: ANTV, Global TV, Indosiar, Metro TV, MNC TV, RCTI, Trans TV and TVOne.
Election bias in Indonesia’s media — by regional standards relatively open and unobstructed — is not a new issue. Several complaints have been filed with the KPU and the KPI about biased coverage of the election, with some media activists saying that ownership had become concentrated in too few hands. RCTI, Global TV and MNC TV — three of Indonesia’s most popular channels — are owned by Hary Tanoesoedibjo. Hary was a vice presidential candidate for the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) under former Army general Wiranto. The pair had announced their candidacy in the middle of last year, and Hary’s stations were running wall-to-wall advertisements with the pair beaming their WIN-HT candidacy in front of Hanura’s trademark sallow color.
In February, Hary’s MNC media group was sanctioned for a pro-Hanura bias under Indonesian equal-time laws.
After Wiranto gave up his bid to endorse Joko, Hary shifted his allegiances to Prabowo.
Prabowo, whose campaign is bankrolled by his businessman brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, was understood to have been scouting for media acquisitions, but his need for direct control of media has arguably diminished since his coalition allies have begun to fill this void.
For Yudhoyono, his position on balanced election coverage is made easier by virtue of the fact that Indonesia’s media landscape counts only Dahlan Iskan as a Democratic Party cheerleader among the country’s media moguls. Dahlan — the winner of the Democrats’ futile search for a presidential candidate — owns Jawa Pos and Indo Pos, among many other newspapers, as well as a dozen regional TV stations. Yudhoyono does have an interest in the newspaper Jurnal Nasional, but the paper’s circulation does little to trouble the country’s established publishers.
The president has, however, been linked with Chairul Tanjung, recently appointed the chief economics minister. Chairul owns Trans7, Trans TV and speed news site Detik.com. It remains unclear whether this is due to genuine political kinship or expediency on the part of Chairul.
The president emphasized on Tuesday that press freedom had been a hard-fought battle after the transition to democracy post-1998, indicating that Indonesia should have no further room for consolidation in its media market.
“I will not stop voicing my opinion — even when I am no longer a president — that our press should be fair and constructive,” he said, “and that Indonesians should not be victims of inaccurate and tendentious news reports.”