Indonesian press mass suicide (II)

74
Hersubeno Arief
Senior journalist, media and political consultant

IO – Mainstream media, along with big powers behind it, are setting a hidden agenda. The signs that the Indonesian press are performing a mass suicide have become more obvious. How the mainstream media reports the 212 Reunion held in Monas on Sunday (2/12) shows us what they have been trying to cover for a long time. Co-opting by those in power, combined with ideological, political, and business interests have caused the press to perform their two standard moves: “framing” and “blacking out” of news. The big event that even international media put under the spotlight was found to be “uninteresting” and not newsworthy for most of the national media published in Jakarta.

A number of Kompas daily readers were surprised on Monday (3/12) morning, as the national newspaper did not publish the news that millions of people gathered in Monas. Kompas’ front page for that day contained absolutely no photos, let alone news of this significant event. The headline news was “Polusi Plastik Mengancam” (“The Threat of Plastics Pollution”). There were two articles about plastic, and a picture of a child swimming in a pool of large-sized plastic wastes. An annoyed Kompas reader even made a brief, to-the-point post containing only two words: “Garbage Newspaper!”

After careful perusal of the daily, we found the major news slipped in casually on page 15. Titled “Reuni Berlangsung Damai” (“Reunion Held Peacefully”), the article only garnered a quarter-page five-column space in Kompas, or about 2,500 characters. There were absolutely no photos of the sea of humanity gathering in a large crowd in Monas and surrounding areas. Kompas daily did not find the event to be important – they consider it to have no news value. Page 15 is part of the supplementary pages with no specific topic. You only put in news that are considered to be “might as well included” there, so long as it’s featured. That’s why it’s called “Features”! We should consider ourselves lucky that at the end part, Kompas added the statement that “Further reportage and pictures can be found on Kompas.ID.”

The front page of Media Indonesia daily, which belongs to the General Chairman of the National Democrat Party Surya Paloh, is also clear from all news and pictures of the 212 Reunion. Their headline was titled “PP 49/2018 Solusi bagi Tenaga Honorer” (“Government Regulation No. 49 of 2018 A Solution for Contract Workers”). Sindo daily belonging to the General Chairman of the Indonesian Unity Party (Partai Persatuan Indonesia – “Perindo”) Hary Tanoe had a headline of “Pesona Ibu Negara di Panggung G-30” (“The Charms of the First Lady on the G-30 Stage”) featuring huge photos of her. Tempo newspaper had a headline titled “Menuju Ekosistem Digital” (“Towards a Digital Ecosystem”) that took up the entire page.

Only Rakyat Merdeka and Republika newspapers published news and photos of the 212 Reunion on the front page. Rakyat Merdeka’s article was “212 Makin lama, Makin Besar Kenapa Ya?” (“212 Gets Bigger All the Time, Why Is That?”). Republika menulis Judul “Reuni 212 Damai” (“212 Reunion Went Peacefully”). Warta Kota oddly enough titled huge pictures of the scene in Monas after the Reunion is finished “Ketua RW Wafat Usai Reuni” (“Head of Community Association Died After Reunion Ended”).

Agenda Setting
By observing the front pages of mainstream print media, we can deduce what is going on. They are setting an agenda with the help of the big powers behind them. They create a scenario that seeks to bury the fact of the 212 Reunion, or at least make it irrelevant.

Such an operation can only be performed by major powers, who can also afford to spend great amounts of money. The primary target is a total blackout: the news must be kept completely out of the media. For this first category, it seems that no mainstream media actually get so brash and ignore common sense: the 212 Reunion is too large to be swept under the carpet. This is on a different scale and league from the protests staged by the Indonesian Executive Council (Badan Eksekutif Media Se-Indonesia – “BEMSI”) and by the thousands of temporary teachers at the Presidential Palace recently. They succeeded in blacking out these two protests.

The second target: if blacking out is impossible, the news must be made to be unimportant and irrelevant. What Kompas and Media Indonesia did is included in this category.

The third target: published with a flat, ordinary tone, such as what Republika did. Even though the newspaper is owned by the Head of Jokowi-Ma’ruf’s National Campaign Team, the newspaper originally belongs to the ummat, the Islamic flock. It is not possible for them to place the news item in the inside pages, let alone black it out. Can you imagine what would happen if Republika has the nerve to take a stand like Kompas does? Even when Erick (Thohir) decided to agree to become the Head of Jokowi’s Campaign Team, many readers threatened to cancel their subscription. Imagine if they dare to black out and negatively frame the 212 Reunion. “Bye, Felicia.”

The fourth target is to continue reporting, but by framing the news in such a way that it seems negative, for example saying that the Reunion caused some people to be victimized. For example, Warta Kota said that “Head of Community Association Died After Reunion Ended”. This news is too obviously enforced and awkward. One single person died amidst a crowd of millions is “interesting and important news”? Are you stupid or something?

We notice the same trends in online and television media. Only TV One attempted to hold on to their common sense. They granted a sufficient news portion and even Monas. You don’t need media experience to realize that there is something funny going on across all of Indonesia’s mainstream media.

The gathering of millions of people from various cities in Indonesia, and even the world, at Monas Square, especially during campaign period, is obviously big news. There is no reason not to publish it, let alone to ignore it. All media should consider it to satisfy all requirements for being newsworthy. No matter what aspect you use to view it, no matter what journalistic theory you use, even Judgment Day or Outer Space journalism (if such things exist), 212 Reunion is clearly qualified. Its magnitude, proximity, actuality (novelty), impact, human interest, and unusualness are such that it cannot be ignored. These are all the standard ruling for all journalists.

The games organized by these media owners and managers who conspire with those in power cannot be allowed. They are not aware that they are playing a dangerous game: they are destroying the short-term credibility of the media. The people will lose trust in mainstream media and abandon them. With the rapid and continuous drop in the readership of print media, this is akin to suicide. Ignoring such major news will only accelerate the death of print media in Indonesia. Even worse: damage to media credibility and loss of our control over the people in power would ruin the democracy that we have been fighting to build for decades.

The public, activists, fellow journalists, and journalistic institutions such as PWI, AJI, IJTI, agencies such as the Indonesian Publishing Commission and the Press Council cannot let this slide. The price this nation will have to pay for allowing its mainstream media to fall into conspiracy and coopting is simply too high.