Friday, November 05, 2010

Media Enterprises: Can We Trust The Owner?

By Ika Karlina Idris

There was a big news for Indonesia’s media professionals on November 2005: Star TV, a Hong Kong-based satellite and cable operator, will buy 20 percent of the national network ANTV. Strong resistances came from ANTV journalists, professional, media experts, journalist associations, and academia. They do not want Rupert Murdoch –the global media mogul—dominates Indonesian mass media. That was the first time I heard about Murdoch.

November 2005, I was a last year student in Department of Journalism at Padjadjaran University, Bandung. My lecturer always told me the basic principles of becoming a journalist: write the truth comprehensively and proportionally, loyal to the public interest, do the verification process, and be an independent among the sources. Later on, I realized that all of these teachings were “external factors”. I know more deeply about the “internal factors” when I worked as a journalist. The “internal factors” are owner interest and competency of the journalist.

Indonesia press gains its freedom when Indonesian people successfully toppled Suharto authoritarian regime in May 1998. For example, press institution does not need publication license anymore and the Department of Information was abolished. At the same moment, Indonesia has taken great strides with respect to media credibility since then: new state institutions have been established to oversee the media, such as the Press Council and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (Piper, 2009)¹. The establishment of new watchdogs instigates an argument that the press freedom remains threatened. In fact, the pressures now come from the media itself: the owners or the investors. There is a suspicion that the journalist is more afraid to them than to the government bodies or the existing regulators.

It is even worse, the media owners now own more than one type of media, or crossed ownership, from TV and radio to magazine, tabloid, and website. Several influential media groups in Indonesia are Kelompok Kompas Gramedia (KKG), Trans Corporation, Jawa Pos Group, Media Nusantara Citra (MNC), Lippo Media Group, Mugi Rekso Abadi Group (MRA), Bakrie Group, and Surya Paloh Media Group. Therefore, media owners can be very powerful in influencing the public opinion on many issues.

In Indonesia, and most likely in other countries as well, media owners are always trying to influence the editorial policies. There have been several cases that occurred in Indonesia: Sumut Pos (Jawa Pos Group) finally stop their critical writings about corruption in the Bank Sumut after receiving lucrative advertisements placement from the bank, censorship by the owner of RCTI and Okezone’s in November 2008 on the report of allegations of corruption in the administration system within the Ministry of Law and Human Rights², or Bakrie-owned media outlets have been used to promote the positive images of the handling of the mud flow disaster in Lapindo

The entrance of Star TV, Rupert Murdoch's Asian broadcaster, to Indonesia in late 2005 could give the conglomerate a firmer foothold in Asia's third most populous country at a time when the Indonesian television advertising market is booming. The wholly-owned subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corporation had been scouting for some months for opportunities to buy a free-to-air network in Indonesia. But restrictions on foreign investment in Indonesia's media have prevented the Star TV from a direct control of an Indonesian television network – it cannot acquire more than 20 percent of shares in the national media (Greenlees, 2005)³.

Foreign ownership has always been politically sensitive in Indonesia. Foreign investment in the media has been facing increased scrutiny from politicians and public advocacy groups. Advisers to the Star-ANTV transaction have been concerned that Murdoch's high profile could spur public opposition to the deal. Moreover, the unlisted ANTV is owned by the family of Aburizal Bakrie, Indonesia's chief economy minister (at that time), even drawing more attention to the deal.

In an effort to head off potential opposition, ANTV has promised to improve the quality of news broadcasts and secure its independence stance. It has already poached one of Indonesia's most respected news directors from a rival network. ANTV executives said that control over programming, particularly news content, would remain in the Indonesian hands.

"This is good for both parties, good for the country," said Anin Bakrie, who heads ANTV and is the eldest son of Bakrie. "Star is bringing in a lot of experience from the international market." He added however, that Star was intentionally supporting the growth of "local expertise and content." Star intended to be a "low-key" investor and that "control” remains with ANTV (Greenlees, 2005)⁴.

No longer after that (November of 2008), the media professionals’ suspicion has ensued. ANTV discontinued “Republik Mimpi” program, one of the best parody talk show programs according to Indonesian Television Journalists Association (IJTI). The program was initiated by Effendi Gazali, also known as a political communication expert and Head of Political Communication Graduate Program in University of Indonesia. The program was ended because Brad Cox (representative of Star TV in ANTV) felt offended by Gazali’s statement: "Foreigners should not be head of television editorial content in Indonesia."

According to the Law No. 32/2004 on Broadcasting, Article 16 paragraph 2, foreigners should not be a board of private broadcasters in Indonesia, except for technical and financial affairs. Star TV website, noted Cox as Head of Programming in ANTV (Mulkan, 2008)⁵. "Istilahnya, mati berkalang tanah daripada dijajah orang asing (I prefer to die than colonized by foreigners)," said Gazali at that time⁶

In Mid-2009 there was a rumor that Murdoch get out from ANTV, so there will be no Star logo in ANTV. According to ANTV, Star didn’t understand Indonesian viewer so that they often make a bad programs. Disharmony between the two sides was reflected by the reduction of Star stock portion and professionals in ANTV. Some rumors said that Star will move its shares in the holding company of Bakrie Media Group (ANTV, TVOne, and Star will not totally leave because the business climate in Indonesia media enterprises is still promising until ten years ahead⁷.
In the globalization era, foreign investments were inevitable. In Indonesia Negative Investment List 2005 (Daftar Negatif Investasi/DNI), the Indonesian government opens foreign investment in media enterprises, but they closed it again in the 2007 negative list. Until now (March 2010), DNI 2010 has not been released yet. In Indonesia, media owners are like retailers who collect pennies because its difficulties in getting bank loans. Even if they do, they depend mostly on the company cash-flow to repay the loan. Domestic banks do not trust their sustainability due to its uncertain future: media companies can be closed anytime just because of one bad program or news report (Siregar, 2008)8.

However, I wondered, are those developed countries really interested to invest in Indonesia media business? Why is that Star TV investment quite short? Is it not profitable compare to other development countries or else? And then, if foreign investments do come to Indonesia, could they guarantee that they won’t bring an ideology in its editorial content that might not be compatible with the local and national customs? Related to the press freedom, what can be done to free the journalists from the owners’ influence? Would the companies sell some of their shares to the employees?

Another thing that’s interesting to explore is about the development of new media in Indonesia. If major American newspapers just could not resist the flow of news sites, what about Indonesia? How many years needed before the traditional paper-based media going out of business in Indonesia?

¹ Don't Shoot The Messenger: Policy Challenges Facing The Indonesian Media by Tessa Piper, published by USAID and DRSP (Democratic Report Support Program), November 2009.

² Wajah Retak Media: Kumpulan Laporan Penelusuran, published by Independent Journalist Association/ AJI, May 2009.

³ˉ⁴ Star TV buys into network in Indonesia By Donald Greenlees. The New York Times, September 29, 2005.

⁵ 'Republik Mimpi' Tinggal Mimpi by Nusantara HK Mulkan., December 3, 2008.

⁶ Republik Mimpi Tolak Intervensi Pihak Asing. Jawa Pos, December 6, 2008.

⁷ Perceraian Bakrie-Murdoch Tinggal Menanti Talak by Cheppy A. Muchlis, Kontan Weekly. May 15, 2009.

8 Dari Pers Perjuangan ke Globalisasi: Menjelang Modal Asing Masuk Industri Pers Indonesia. Ashadi Siregar (2008).

* I wrote this essay in September 2009, to apply a position as a three-months-fellow-researcher in Columbia University. Unfortunately, I did not get it. Yeah, maybe next time.

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