Jun 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:50 AM, Jun 24, 2024

Alternative press challenges information blockade

Published: Sep 30, 2007


The term 'alternative press' emerged suddenly after the banning of Tempo, DeTIK and Editor on 21 June 1994.A great number of publications sprang up, all calling themselves alternative.Yet before that Indonesians were never too taken with the word 'alternative'.Before the 21 June bannings, people used to divide the press into three categories: those with a publishing licence (SIUPP), those with only registration (STT), and those lacking either.

The first category is generally considered the professional press - newspapers such as Kompas, Suara Pembaruan,Jawa Pos and so on.The second category covers campus newspapers, and publications such as Pancasila Abadi containing propaganda material of the mass organisation Pancasila Youth.For campus newspapers, the rector or deputy rector usually has the position of advisor.In the case of organisations, the chairperson acts both as advisor and 'protector' in case of legal problems.

All publications lacking any form of permit are grouped into the third category.This covers student papers, bulletins of non-government organisations or magazines of professional associations.

New category

In fact the new category of 'alternative press' is not all that clear.People rather too easily group as alternative all unregistered publications, lacking SIUPP or STT.To the government, the alternative press is 'the wild press' that undermines government authority and must be put in order. Indonesian pro-democracy groups, meanwhile, say the alternative press is the voice of the people, the medium for struggle.Who is right?As yet there is no agreed definition of the alternative press.However, it would be incorrect to liken it to an underground press such as existed in France during World War II.

The term alternative press only emerged in the '90s, especially after the 1994 bannings.In the '80s people referred to it as the student press, the study group press, or generally the 'critical press'.Some define it as a press outside the mainstream.It operates beyond the state censor's supervision of all reporting.Many are convinced its news, straightforward and without mincing words, often exposing the evils of the state, promotes the democratisation process.

An edge

Unlike the professional press, which works under the 'guidance' of the Directorate-General of Press and Graphics Publications within the Information Department, the greater freedom enjoyed by the alternative press gives it an edge in presenting information.Everyone knows that the mainstream press not only operates under restrictions on reporting matters to do with regionalism, religion, race or class conflict, it is also not permitted to print news about the business interests of the Presidential family.Or the killing of civilians by the Armed Forces, Abri.

Many regulations are far from clear.Yet if they are broken the media concerned could be banned instantly.In the euphemism of the New Order, the word is 'not banned, but to have one's SIUPP cancelled'! Tempo magazine proved this when it was banned for writing about a conflict between Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie versus Defence Minister Edi Sudradjad and Finance Minister Mar'ie Muhammad on the purchase of East German navy ships.


From the circulation point of view, the alternative press is quite interesting.Print media labelled 'for limited circulation only' (to evade licensing requirements) are actually the ones that circulate without limitation.Papers printed only in their thousands generally become the master for photocopying and resale.

A striking example is Suara Independen.This was previously known as Forum Wartawan Independen (Fowi) and had a circulation that reached 15 000.Fowi was banned by the Attorney General in March 1995.Two staff members and an office boy with the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) were jailed.Suara Independen that appeared to replace Fowi now reaches a circulation of 8000.However, tentative surveys indicate that the paper has 250 000 readers.In September 1995Suara Independen won an award from the London-based Index of Censorship.


Next in line is probably the bulletin Kabar dari Pijar. Less than 1000 copies are printed, yet it circulates widely, especially in Jakarta.Unlike Suara Independen, which is run by journalists experienced in news gathering and field investigation, Kabar dari Pijar is worked by youth and student activists.But its appearance lacks nothing in comparison with media run by journalists.This bulletin of Pijar Indonesia has also produced a victim.Its chief editor, Tri Agus Susanto, 30 years old and a graduate of the Jakarta Teachers College, is currently in Cipinang jail in Jakarta.

Most prominent among the campus magazines are Aspirasi produced by the Economics Faculty at Brawijaya University in Malang, Arena of the state Islamic institute IAIN Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta, and Balairung andBulaksumur both produced by the Student Senate at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta.Not only their layout is outstanding, but also their contents.They have several times brought out cover stories on national politics and the succession issue.

Al Fikr

Another interesting magazine is Al Fikr.This paper produced at the Nurul Jadid Islamic institute in Paiton, Probolinggo, adopts the slogan 'Knowledge, Religion, Student life, Society'.If other campus papers have only their own students as reporters, Al Fikr has correspondents in Kuala Lumpur and Baghdad.

It looks quite flashy, even though it has no formal publishing permit.The cover just says 'STT in process at the Information Department'.In its July-August edition of 1995 Al Fikr had a cover story entitled 'Clashes of Islamic democracy', which included an interview with Arief Budiman under the heading 'Arief Budiman: all prophets break with authoritarian rulers'.On its cover, against a background of a street demonstration, was a photo of Arief Budiman and the musician Ria Enes.The cover was framed in red reminding readers of the now deceased Tempo magazine.

In its January-February edition this year, Al Fikr added the words 'An alternative and independent magazine' to its cover.It carried a main story entitled 'The political elite in tension, Islamic scholars disturbed', and an interview with a dissident religious scholar from Yogyakarta under the heading 'Cak Nun: Mr Suharto will step down if he has a guarantee'.As a university publication specialising in religious studies, Al Fikr indeed represents an alternative, not only for students but for the general reader who is probably fed up with news that does nothing but admire the New Order powers.

Other outstanding student papers are the tabloidGanesha of the Student Senate at the Bandung Institute of Technology, SAS magazine of the Literature Faculty at Jember University, and Merdeka tabloid of the Student Senate at Darul Ulum University in Jombang.All three papers were banned by the authorities on their own campuses because they were considered too vocal.SAS was banned for carrying an interview with Pramudya Ananta Tur.


This does not mean the alternative media has no weaknesses. A shortage of funding, a lack of journalistic skills, inability to bring out investigative reports, unbalanced, frequently biassed reporting, and the use of bombastic language at the very least slightly reduces the credibility of the alternative press. However, many people make allowances for all that.Indeed, professional journalists often include the alternative press among their reference sources for understanding the absurd world of Indonesian politics.

The alternative press, together with other alternative media such as the arts, attempts to open up some space for healthy democratic discussion.The government continues to put up blockades.But the alternative press continually attempts to break through them.In today's Indonesia, a discussion about SIUPP and STT is hardly considered relevant any more.

Stanley is a journalist and author working in Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 48: Oct-Dec 1996

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