A new criminal code which, among other things, bans publishing insults against the president became law in December 2022. The new law has been described by human rights activists as a significant setback for Indonesia’s reputation for press freedom.
Bans on extra-marital sex and cohabitation attracted widespread international attention when they were introduced late last year. But when it comes to news, media, and journalism, it was 17 articles in the country’s new criminal code which drew criticism from human rights activists and from the independent Indonesian Press Council. The new laws, they said, had the capacity to threaten press freedom because they included bans on insulting the president, the vice-president, state institutions, the flag, and even the state ideology (known as Pancasila). Beh Lih Yi, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia programme coordinator, said the new law 'could cause members of the press to be jailed for simply reporting the news'.1 International organisations such as Human Rights Watch have joined the Indonesian Press Council and the Alliance of Independent Journalists in condemning the move.
After the toppling of Soeharto in 1998, Indonesia had become a regional model for press freedom. The new code, combined with a rise in conservative social policies, reflects changes in public opinion which many worry could presage a tilt back towards authoritarianism.
Indonesia’s media environment, however, continues to be diverse, with independent outlets expressing a wide range of views. Despite this diversity, powerful media companies owned by tycoons, some with political aspirations, dominate the media landscape. Foreign ownership of broadcast media is banned, but there are few restrictions on news production and distribution for Indonesians.
The past few years have, however, witnessed encroachments on digital freedom of expression. The 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law (ITE) contains criminal penalties for those found guilty of distributing, transmitting, and/or making electronic information containing libel accessible to the public. Although the law was intended to regulate e-commerce, it contains a number of vague and imprecise offences with penalties including arrest and detention. Any kind of electronic communication – including social media – is fair game under the law, as are all manner of ‘insults’, including blasphemy.
Also worrying to advocates for press freedom is Ministerial Regulation 5 (MR5), which was introduced in 2020 by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to govern the functioning of private ‘electronic systems operators’ (ESOs). This includes social media platforms, search engines, e-commerce platforms, games, and communications services, and applies both to Indonesian services and to multinationals such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and TikTok.
Granting the government authority to regulate private ESO activity, MR5 gives authorities access to user data, and provides for sweeping notice and take-down orders. In June 2022, the Ministry of Communications announced a July deadline for online actors to register with it or face consequences.
WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are extremely popular among users in Indonesia, and between a third and half of Indonesians report getting their news from these platforms. Because of this popularity, much attention has been directed to social media’s role in spreading disinformation, political propaganda, ‘hoaxes’, and hate speech. COVID-19 led to a flood of misinformation, and the presidential election scheduled for 2024 has likewise prompted widespread concern about the use of automated accounts and paid commentators, locally known as ‘buzzers’, to promote various political interests.
In response to the prevalence of disinformation on social media, Indonesia is home to the Indonesian anti-hoax community, Mafindo, a multi-stakeholder NGO with more than 15,000 members. Along with Cek Fakta, a collaborative organisation devoted to fact-checking, Mafindo offers citizens a means of stopping dissemination of disinformation on social media.
Indonesian media continue to suffer a loss of advertising revenue. The newspaper Republika, founded in 1993 to serve the Muslim community, stopped its print edition in December 2022, going online only. The BBC World Service ended its Indonesian-language radio broadcasts in September, although its digital presence remains. Podcasting is a growing area, with many newcomers following the lead of the country’s most popular podcaster, Nadhifa Allya Tsana. However it’s not a hunger for news which is behind the growth. Research by PodNews2 indicates that it’s actually Gen-Z’s desire for wellness-related content which is driving the sector – Tsana’s background is in writing romantic novels.
Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs, George Washington University
Online and social media remain the most popular sources of news in Indonesia with our more urban sample, but TV and radio remain important for the millions of people who are not online.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall trust in news remains stable at 39% for the third year in a row. The five most trusted brands – Kompas, CNN, TVRI, Liputan6, and Detik.com – have remained stable over the past three years, with Kompas (69%) edging out CNN (68%) as the most trusted brand for the first time since the Digital News Report began tracking in 2021.