(Paper for "ASIA 95" Lunchtime Seminar on Friday, 7 April 1995, 1-2pm organized by the Centre for Asian Studies of the University of Western Australia, Perth)
Thursday, 9 and 16 March 1995 have become dates that are hard to forget for the embryonic opposition in Indonesia, because those were the days that the security apparatus in Indonesia began cracking down on the alternative media in Jakarta. On March 9, 1995, the editor of Kabar dari Pijar, Tri Agus Siswomihardjo, was arrested by Jakarta police and military who visited the office of Yayasan Pijar, a student based NGO in Jakarta. And a week later, again on a Thursday March 16, a party of AJI, the nationwide alternative journalist association was busted by security agents, and two AJI functionaries Ahmad Taufik, Eko Maryadi were detained by the policemen. Eko Maryadi was the editor of Independen, AJI's magazine, while Ahmad Taufik was the organization's presidium chair.
Until last week, demonstrations by students and other activists against the arrests of Pijar and AJI leaders were still taking place in Java. They have reinstated the alliance formed last year, when three mainstream or commercial newsmedia were banned called SIUPP (Solidaritas Indonesia untuk Pemerdekaan Pers). And although Eko Maryadi and Ahmad Taufik are still in the police detention centres, Independen is still being published. This epitomizes the current pro-democracy struggle taking place in Indonesia: the David versus Goliath struggle of mostly young Indonesians, armed only with bulletins versus the military-backed oligarchy in Indonesia, which often answered public protests in East Timor and Indonesia with bullets.
In my 1993 thesis on the media coverage of the Kedungombo dam dispute, I divided the printed media which covered the dispute simply into the mainstream media and the non-mainstream media. These "non-mainstream media" is what I now call the "alternative media". These non-mainstream media I divided into three groups in my thesis, namely the religious media; the anti-capitalist media and the student press.
The religious media constitutes the various magazines issued by full-time professional publishers, which aim at spreading their religion and upholding of their religious values. Obviously, the Islamic press constituted the majority of the religious media.
Then, what I call the "anti-capitalist media" are bulletins which are published by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that employ fulltime reports and editors. These bulletins with circulations of only 500 to 1,000 copies regularly covered the experiences of the groups in the Indonesian society who were marginalized or victimized by the capitalistic development strategy, such as laborers, consumers, victims of environmental degradation in urban and rural settings.
Finally, the third type of non-mainstream media which played an important role in covering Kedungombo was the student press. These student bulletins have as small a circulation as the NGO media mentioned earlier, and lack the fulltime management and journalism that characterized the publications issued by the more professsional NGOs, since their reporters and editors were still pursuing their university education.
However, the student media played an important role in educating their readers about the dispute that was taking place at Kedungombo, and were influential in radicalizing those readers in taking action on behalf of the displaced villagers.
So much about the form, and now about the content. In my thesis I had shown that despite its unwritten mission to challenge the official policy of the government, most of the bulletins followed the government's official policy in building large dams, and only challenged the way that policy was carried out. Hence, my doubts, which I raised in some earlier articles, before I finished my thesis, whether the NGOs student based and otherwise could really become a "counter-hegemonic force".
The banning of three important news weeklies in July 1994 blowed a new life in the non-mainstream media. However, from the three subgroups which I delineated earlier, a distinction needs to be made between the religious media and the two others. With an increasing targetting of Habibie, Indonesia's R&T Minister who also chairs the Soeharto-established Islamics scholars association, ICMI, a rift began to develop between the Islamic media and the two other "branches" of the non-mainstream media, which is taking a more and more oppositional stance towards the ruling elite in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Islamic media has become more and more worried about the socialist sympathy within the growing campus-based opposition in Indonesia.
Let us now return to the more oppositional alternative media in Indonesia. As I mentioned earlier, the banning of Tempo, Editor and DeTik became a blessing in disguise for the alternative media in Indonesia. Senior journalists form Tempo and DeTik who did not receive new licenses (SIUPP) from the Department of Information, began to align themselves with AJI's bulletin, Independen. So did younger journalists who were fired from the remaining mainstream media, or who were still trying to carry out a kind of "dual function" between earning their living in the mainstream media while exercising their more genuine freedom of expression and their moral obligation to inform the public, by writing in and for those more radical bulletins.
The more oppositional alternative media, especially Independen, began to move from campuses to readers on the buses and airplanes. Members of the educated elite began to subscribe to Independen, as in the case of some of student newspapers in the beginning of the New Order era, when Harian Kami and other student newspapers were sold in public places beyond the campus walls.
Content wise, the attraction of those alternative media lies in the fact that they dared to cover the vested interest of the ruling elite, or the oligarchy which the mainstream media could not cover. The vested interest of the information minister, Harmoko, whose family members control shares in at least 30 print and electronic media became known to the public.
The birth of Independen, and the increasing popularity of other alternative media, such as Kabar dari Pijar, which had began publishing before the emergence of Independen, indicates a re-birth of "political journalism", which Daniel Dhakidae, buried in his 1990 thesis on the media in Indonesia. There are some parallels though, with the current re-birth of political journalism and the political journalism of the 1970s described by Dhakidae. Namely, these bulletins emerged together with the re-appearance of student demonstrations in the streets of Jakarta and other major cities in indonesia. In other words, political journalism "feeds" from political student activism.
There are also some differences between the political activism of the 1970s and the 1990s. One, in the 1970s, the students made some alliances with segments within the military, and their criticism against the regime were mainly addressed to Soeharto, who at that time had not made peace with political Islam in Indonesia. Now in the 1990s the students seem to be quite cynical of older dissidents who were seen to be quite close with some military officers. Their criticism is not only addressed to Soeharto's nepotism and vested interest, but also at the "security approach" of the military, an euphimism for the military's dual function.
On the other hand, however, Soeharto, through his two most faithful right arms, Habibie and Harmoko, in addition to his newly appointed army chief of staff, Hartono, has made peace with political Islam, thereby weakening the political muscles of the embryonic opposition in Indonesia. And both the army as well as political Islam are still allergic to the pro-socialist rhetoric of the newborn young opposition in Indonesia.
Hence, we still have to see, how solid and persistent this newborn opposition in Indonesia is going to develop, and how far they will communicate with the public at large with their bulletins. Because without a solid mass-base among the urban working and middle classes, as well as with the rural peasantry and the revolting masses in the geographical peripheries, they will become easy prey for the the hawks.
That is why good bulletins are so important, as proven in history by Antonio Gramsci's workers paper, l'Ordine Nuove in Turino, Italy, or Soekarno's nationalist paper, Pikiran Rakyat in Bandung, Indonesia.