Me generation unfriends politics
Despite a small readership Indonesian newspapers are setting the political agenda. Television and radio pick up print stories and amplify them. The issues then get into the social media and impact voters.
“I used to think it was the other way around, and that comments on the Internet determined the response of the mainstream media,” said US-educated political scientist Dr Djayadi Hanan (right).
“However further research has changed my view. Around 80 per cent of Indonesians still rely on national television for political information, though news and current affairs stations are not popular.
“For example, Metro TV (owned by NasDem Party founder Surya Paloh) attracts an audience on only three per cent. TV One (linked to Golkar chair and presidential hopeful Aburizal Bakrie) has five to six per cent. The popular channels are those that telecast sinetron (soap operas).”
Dr Hanan, 40, a lecturer in international relations at Paramadina University in Jakarta, was speaking at a forum on development and democracy held at the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand last week. (W/end 30 Nov).
His speech used statistics, which he said were reliable, up-to-date and compiled from surveys across the nation by his university and other researchers. He told an audience of academics, students and diplomats that only between 11 and 13 per cent of the population used the print media.
That number appeared to be declining. However on-line Internet sites run by newspapers were winning readers.
“The Internet is a democratizing and democratic media, but access is still limited, unlike television which is widely available throughout the Archipelago,” he said.
“This is largely because the administration of former President Soeharto put up the Palapa satellite,” he said. (Palapa One was launched in 1975)
“About 45 million are using the Internet, but few have high speed broadband outside Jakarta. Most have social media contacts, which is why President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono used Twitter to directly reach electors and comment on the Australian spying revelations.
“This is something Australian commentators, critical of a national leader using Twitter, could not understand. Fifteen per cent of global tweets are sent in the Republic, probably because we like talking about ourselves”.
The problem for politicians trying to get their names in front of the public is that Internet users are an exclusive group.
“Their Internet content includes opinions, expressions and stories of an urban middle-class culture, its lifestyle and problems,” Dr Hanan said. “Most Facebook groups are about brands and products, entertainment and celebrities – not politics.
“Social and political concerns exist but are event-driven and short lived. They mimic the taste and bias of the mainstream media. The more contact users have with politics the more they are alienated from politicians.”
Dr Hanan said he didn’t like to follow Australian political scientists and give “counsels of despair”, even though Indonesia did have serious problems with corruption and education; for example few students used the Internet at school or university.
However research showed almost 70 per cent believe democracy is the best system for Indonesia – though this support lagged behind public opinion in South Korea and Taiwan.
Although the public was generally satisfied with their experiences with democracy, that approval rating had slipped from a high of 75 per cent in 2009 to just over half this year.
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press were highly regarded with well over 90 per cent approval. Education and public health remained as the most important issues facing voters as they head into next year’s elections.
(First published in The Jakarta Post, 1 December 2013)