January 2016, journalists in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta chatted about a
doctor who had left her husband, moving to Kalimantan Island and joining a back-to-the-land
movement called Gafatar.
working for various Indonesian media outlets reported that her husband had
filed a “missing person” report with the Yogyakarta police, saying she’d been
“abducted.” They darkly portrayed Gafatar as having “deviant teachings” against
Islam, suggesting the movement tricked her into joining. Some journalists even
looked for other “disappearance” cases.
journalists predictably helped to generate public hysteria around Gafatar.
15, 2016, mobs armed with sticks, clubs, and machetes threatened Gafatar
farming communities with violence if they did not leave Kalimantan. Government
officials and police officers visited their communities to pressure them to
comply. Three days later, Malay militias attacked the Gafatar farms. A cell
phone video shows police officers and military personnel standing by as a mob
damages property and burns down eight communal houses.
violent mobs and government officials finally evicted 2,422 families — 7,916
people, including many children — between January and mid-February. At the peak
of the crackdown, Indonesian authorities were detaining more than 6,000 Gafatar
members who’d been forcibly evicted from Kalimantan.
3, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), a powerful Muslim body, issued a fatwa
against Gafatar, declaring it a heretical organization. It wasn’t long before
the police began to arrest Gafatar leaders.
Decline in Journalism — and Democracy
intolerance plagues post-Suharto Indonesia. Minorities including Christians,
Hindus, Buddhists, Ahmadiyah, and Shia Muslims, as well as native faith
believers and followers of new religions like Gafatar, face discrimination,
intimidation, and violence. There is also widespread discrimination against women
and LGBT people.
occasion, journalists have borne witness to large-scale sectarian and communal
violence in which a total of about 90,000 people have been killed, ranging from
sectarian violence in the Moluccas islands to the turmoil in East Timor after
the United Nations-organized referendum.
are moments when journalists are confronted by a sensitive subject, like the
Gafatar back-to-the-land movement, that test their notion of professionalism.
2016, a Jakarta court sentenced a former Jakarta governor, Basuki “Ahok”
Purnama, a Christian, to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. More
than 150 people have been sent to prison for blasphemy in post-Suharto
Indonesia, a huge increase from only 10 cases previously. The 1965 blasphemy
law punishes deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially
recognised religions — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism,
and Confucianism — with up to five years in prison.
The rise of
conservative Islamism poses an increasingly significant challenge for
journalists in the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country. Harassment,
discrimination, and violence directed at religious minorities are facilitated
by a legal architecture, established in 2006, that purports to maintain
“religious harmony.” In practice, it undermines religious freedom. And some
Indonesian journalists find it difficult to separate their religion and their
grows in silence, but it can grow quickly in many sectors, including
journalism,” said the Muslim scholar Rumadi Ahmad.
has also proved problematic for women’s rights. Since 2007, the National
Commission on Violence against Women has listed more than 420 local regulations
that discriminate against women. And that’s similarly reflected in the
country’s media landscape.
Instagram accounts, “Lawan Patriaki” (Smash Patriarchy) and “Magdalene
Indonesia,” screen Indonesian media’s misogynist reporting. They often use the
hashtag #wtfmedia. And a 2016 analysis of Indonesian media by Partnership for
Governance Reform, Arus Pelangi, and OutRight Action International found that
Indonesian mainstream media is generally “hostile” toward LGBT communities.
problem is the dwindling popularity of traditional media due to the arrival of
the internet: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. These
companies have changed how Indonesians follow the news. Indonesian consumers
are still learning the difference between reporting from a credible source and
propaganda from an interested party, and how solid journalism is really made.
are no longer gatekeepers who decide what the public should and should not
know. The individual is now his or her own circulation manager and editor.
Indonesia’s Press Council calculated that Indonesia has now 47,000 media
of “fake news” has created social, economic, and political problems. “Media
consultants” are always available to serve their clients — and these days, that
might even involve creating fake accounts and spreading propaganda.
companies, especially Google and Facebook, have also redirected advertising
away from traditional media, depleting the limited budgets of mainstream media
and pressing their reporters to survive with smaller salaries. Taking bribes, a
practice since the Suharto era, remains common among Indonesian journalists.
all powerful ingredients contributing to a serious decline of quality
journalism, and thus democracy, in Indonesia.
for Better Journalism
2003, journalism guru Bill Kovach visited five cities on Sumatra, Java, and
Bali islands, launching the Indonesian translation of The Elements of
Journalism, which he co-wrote with Tom Rosenstiel.
Rosenstiel identified the 10 essential principles and practices of journalism:
+ Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth;
+ Its first loyalty is to citizens;
+ Its essence is a discipline of verification;
+ Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover;
+ It must serve as an independent monitor of power;
+ It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise;
+ It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant;
+ It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional;
+ Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal
+ Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the
often told that those 10 principles are extremely difficult to implement. He
acknowledged the difficulties, stressing that those principles are like “stars
in the sky… to help sailors navigating.” Kovach and Rosenstiel wrote that what
journalists should pursue is “journalistic truth” to help people and society to
operate on a day-to-day basis — obviously not “Islamic truth” or other
Indonesian journalists should use as their guiding reference is the Indonesian
legal system — most importantly the 1945 Constitution, which explicitly
guarantees religious freedom and the rights of assembly, association, and
expression of opinion.
also gives too much space for lower jurisdictions to abridge those rights. Now
there are hundreds, if not thousands, of problematic laws, regulations, and
local ordinances — including those 420 ordinances — made in the name of Islamic
sharia, ranging from discriminating against non-Muslim minorities to making
mandatory hijab rules.
has also ratified eight core international conventions on human rights. These
provide even stronger standards that Indonesian journalists should follow in
pursuing the functional truth in their reporting.
soul-searching review of where Indonesian journalists have failed in reporting
on religious intolerance leads us back to equipping journalists with better
training on the 1945 Constitution and many human rights conventions. Such
training would hopefully avoid the problems of journalists stirring up
religious tensions as they did against Gafatar members.
Headline: Indonesia’s Journalists Grapple With Islamism
Source: Counter Punch