Following decades of government monopoly on news and information broadcasting, four major developments have taken place in the Indonesian radio scene since Suharto was deposed. These are: 1. the production of news by commercial stations, 2. the rise of community radio, 3. training and production activities of non-government radio news agencies, and 4. attempts to transform government radio into genuine public radio. These are new and revolutionary developments.
During Suharto's New Order (1967-1998), state radio and television (RRI and TVRI, respectively) implemented their own interpretation of development journalism. Developed during UNESCO meetings and other international discussions on communications since the 1960s, development journalism is intended to function as a 'watchdog of the government and champion of the public good.' In RRI and TVRI's interpretation it was close to government propaganda, however, and was used to support Pembangunan, the state development project. Only since the era of political and social reform, so-called reformasi, have broadcast media been allowed to engage in other, government-critical, aspects of development journalism, or develop completely different journalism concepts.
A 1998 Information Minister's decree permits Indonesian commercial radio stations to produce and broadcast their own news programs. These radio stations have since provided their audience with information that involves their listeners as critical, active and mature members of civil society. Interactive talk shows, which are currently extremely popular on the Indonesian airwaves, are an important aspect of this agenda. These talk shows discuss politics, the economy, culture, health, religion and other topical social issues. Listeners can take part in the discussion by phoning in or visiting the station in person. Some news bulletins give listeners the opportunity to report on topical events or situations they have encountered in their daily lives, and become journalists themselves. In this way, the Information Minister's decree has also enabled radio stations to explore the profitability of a new market segment.
Community radio expands interactivity beyond program content into program production and station management. Since Reformasi, international donor organisations and local NGOs have actively promoted community radio as an alternative to government radio and commercial radio. The community as a whole is responsible for ownership, organization, funding, editorial independence and credibility. Community radio is supposed to be open to various communal groups and interests, and pays special attention to minorities and marginal groups. In Central Java since the late 1990s, several community radio stations have represented the interests of farmers' groups. Campus radio stations, which operate in several Indonesian cities, are another form of community radio.
After the fall of Suharto, both commercial radio and community radio have made use of two non-government radio news agencies, Kantor Berita Radio 68H (Radio News Agency 68H, or KBR 68H) and Internews Indonesia. These agencies produce radio programs, but do not broadcast themselves. They distribute their programs to clients through the Internet and satellite technology. Besides news production, they also organise broadcast journalism courses for radio workers.
KBR 68H provides an important contribution to multi-culturalism and mutual understanding between different groups in society. The news agency incorporates these values both in its programs and its institutional structure. The journalists involved in KBR 68H constitute a community out of shared professional and ideological interests. This community is organized along multiple lines of ethnicity, religion, gender, status and political affiliation. Thus it provides a model for a new, democratic and multi-cultural organization of Indonesian society as a whole. The news agency's multi-cultural character is enhanced by its exchange of programs with radio stations from different regions and with different identity policies. A disadvantage of KBR 68H's nationwide network is that it may lead to the homogenisation of news and information, as well as journalistic ideas and practices.
The activities of Internews Indonesia -which is part of the United States non-profit organization Internews Network Inc.- include training courses, a television project, broadcast production and a media law program. The news agency also makes technical equipment available to local radio stations. While Internews offices in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union focus on television, and other offices in Southeast Asia on the print media, Internews Indonesia's main medium is radio. Internews Indonesia considers radio the most appropriate medium for disseminating ideas, because of its oral character and relative cheapness. Internews Indonesia currently has a nationwide network of more than 50 radio partners that use its services.
In discussing these new types of radio activity we should not lose sight of the dynamics of older media institutions, such as the state-operated RRI (radio) and TVRI (television). Both RRI and TVRI have already become semi-autonomous, and are supposed to be transformed into real public media, free from restrictive government control, in the near future. Their excellent broadcasting equipment and extensive regional networks mean these institutions could potential become important contributors to the democratization of the Indonesian public sphere. In short, for the Indonesian mediascape to be a real force for democratic reform, it must incorporate diverse media activities and outlets.
Edwin Jurriens (firstname.lastname@example.org)is a postdoctoral fellow of the Indonesian Mediations Project (IMP), Leiden University.