Restriction of media and civil freedom in Jokowi’s Era suspiciously similar to New Order restrictions

Due to the large number of hoax photos, videos and other contents, the Government is forced to temporarily limit the access to content publishing in social media in several regions. (photo: Google Images)

IO, Jakarta – The Government has restricted social media access during the 21-22 May 2019 protests. Coordinating Minister of Politics, Justice, and Defense Wiranto stated that the Government was forced to restrict access to social media sites and apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, for national security reasons. “Due to the large number of hoax photos, videos and other contents, the Government is forced to temporarily limit the access to content publishing in social media in several regions,” he said during the press conference in his office in Central Jakarta on Wednesday, 22 May 2019.

Wijayanto, Political and Media Researcher from Diponegoro University’s Department of Politics and Government, Semarang, believes that the current restriction of the freedom of the media and civil citizens – i.e. the restriction of social media forums WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and Line – show indications of policies resembling those of the New Order Era. It is a serious obstruction of democratic principles in Indonesia. “It is unusual for a democratic country to do something like this. We have imitated Iran, China, Bangladesh, and Turkey by doing so – countries whose freedom index is lower than ours. There was also the threat of imprisonment for abstainers, while they are given space in other countries,” he said in the Economic and Social Research, Education, and Information Agency (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan, dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial – “LP3ES”) discussion themed “Comparison of Liberal Democratic Practices in 1955 and 2019” held in Jakarta on 28 May 2019.

Furthermore, the three-day social media restriction also caused IDR 681 billion worth of lost sale transactions, because 60% of our sale and purchase transactions take part on social media platforms. “Let us not return to the times when freedom of opinion and media are restricted. Let us not respond to public communications in the same way – nowadays, discussions are prohibited, books cannot be published, films cannot be played. I think that it is an additional concern,” Wijayanto said.

He further recalled that during the liberal democratic era circa 1955, Indonesia underwent a great wave of political passion among the public: they showed great attention to political objects. Currently, we are undergoing a similar situation. The situation in 1955 finally devolved into authoritarianism, as at the time, Soekarno thought that too much freedom of opinion and media was unsuitable with our national characteristics and limited them, a limitation continued in the Soeharto era. “At the start of the New Order, Soeharto, as the newly inaugurated president blocked all media except for Berita Yudha newspaper and the national radio station, Radio Republik Indonesia (“RRI”). He cited national security at the time, similar to what Minister Wiranto stated as his excuse for the restrictions,” he said.

Wijayanto then refers to Jamie Mackie and Andrew MacIntyre’s theory on the structure of the New Order. The theory stated that Soeharto was initially close to the press and the civil society, but ended up repressing them as his developmental powers grew. Similarly, Wijayanto thinks that Jokowi was democratic at the start of his rule or before he ruled, as Jokowi’s campaign promises include promises to resolve corruption cases and to guarantee civil and media freedom. But later, Jokowi became more pragmatic: the limitation of freedom, including the prohibition of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) is something the public noticed. In the future, Jokowi would construct infrastructures even more aggressively, and it is highly possible that media and civil freedom, as well as corruption eradication, will be set aside to concentrate on this.

“Jokowi today is similar with Soeharto. At the beginning, both of them were close to the civil citizenry and the media, fighting to eradicate corruption. However, when he started to need money to construct infrastructure, he imitated Soeharto and seeks finance in every way he can. He is ending up authoritarian, and later he will fall off from power. Nowadays, Indonesia has not gone that far, but it might. We are concerned that in his second term, Jokowi no longer needs to be elected and will be more aggressive in his construction of infrastructure, which will mean that pro-democratic agendas will be set aside. I certainly hope I am wrong,” Wijayanto said. (Eka)