While the mass media monster may appear to be growing stronger, fed on the fat of advertising and corporate sponsorship, new species of independent media are popping up in Yogyakarta. Angry about their lack of access to mainstream politics, and empowered by the 'do it yourself' philosophy, people are expressing their authentic thoughts and feelings by the cheapest print medium available, photocopied zines.
Debu is a brand new zine launched in November, 2001. It is put together by an organisation of street musicians called Serikat Pengamen Indonesia (SPI), among whom is Ibob. SPI began creating their own media under the New Order regime. Before 1998, they made political pamphlets criticising the government and military and announcing actions. These were distributed as widely as possible at bus terminals and train stations.
Ibob recalls this was a 'very repressive period... we could hardly move.' Underground media were being produced, but in a much more restricted form and not nearly in the quantities that they are today. SPI experienced constant intimidation from the military. As a protective mechanism, their material did not contain names or addresses which could be linked back to the group. The fall of Suharto in 1998 was a significant turning point. SPI now feels able to produce Debu, which openly identifies names, addresses, and contact details.
However, intimidation still occurs. Members of SPI recently experienced violent repression from the military again, which leaves Ibob uneasy that this apparent 'opening up' of the political environment will not last. But while it does, Ibob sees alternative media as crucial for expressing radical ideas. 'We must take advantage of this opportunity while we can. Debu is is an expression and affirmation of our political strength and an assertion of our rights as urban poor.'
Exi is part of a collective called anakseribupulau which makes a zine about environmental issues. He says that because there is no profit motive, alternative media can address important issues the mainstream media will not touch. Anakseribupulau (Children of a Thousand Isles) is produced with whatever money the collective can scrounge together at the time. No one is paid for their work or their time. There is no advertising, no business sponsors and no editorial selection. Although the result has more spelling mistakes than glossy photos, and has a circulation of just a few hundred, it is totally open to contributions. 'This,' Exi says proudly, 'is a free, independent medium.'
Emma makes a zine about gender equality called Kotak Komik. It is distributed through women's collectives as well as student and other activist networks. 'Mainstream media always support the status quo of capitalism and patriarchy. They never print writings or education directed toward ordinary people,' she complains. When asked whether mainstream media have the capacity to address issues of gender inequality, Emma was adamant that under a capitalist system this would be impossible. 'Under this system,' she goes on to say, 'ordinary people don't have access to the mainstream mass media because it is controlled by capital. So we must create our own media.'
Emma sees zines as not only an alternative to the mass media, but to academic textbooks. She is unsatisfied with a lot of writing from the Left in Indonesia because it fails to encourage debate and criticism. Emma doesn't wish to put her energy into media which are out of the reach of most Indonesians.
Ibob, Exi and Emma all agree, the problems with mainstream media are inseparable from those with gender inequality, the environment, and social injustice. Zines are a forum to educate ourselves about how we can live together on this earth without destroying it or each other. By creating media such as Anakseribupulau, Debu, and Kotak Komik, anybody who wants to, has the power to contribute to the debates which affect us all. When asked about the importance of alternative media in Indonesia today, Exi's response was emphatic. 'When faced with so much oppression, inequality, and injustice in the world, we have no choice but to speak out, in whatever way we can.'
Michel Foucault once remarked, 'We are subjected to the production of truth through power, and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.' Dissatisfaction with the mainstream media in Indonesia essentially reflects a rejection of the centralised powers which produce it. The emerging zine scene in Yogyakarta is an exciting development in a growing culture of resistance and criticism.
Emma, Ibob, and Exi can all be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com , and firstname.lastname@example.org. Alexandra ('Sasha') Crosby (email@example.com) was a student in Yogya with Acicis. She and her friends produced a zine called 'Arus'.