Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Human Cost of Media Bias in Indonesia

A scene from the new documentary ‘Behind the Frequency,’ which was released last week.(Photo courtesy of Ucu Agustin)
After the end of the New Order, Indonesian press became free from government control. Anyone can now run and publish their own news without a permit.

While this freedom should lead to an increase in progressive media, the global phenomenon of consolidating media outlets into massive conglomerations is instead becoming a new means of controlling what the public is reading and watching. Giant companies are buying up news outlets to enlarge their media groups — a worldwide trend. In Indonesia, most news outlets are controlled by just 12 media groups, many owned by prominent politicians and other powerful figures.

The new documentary “Di Balik Frekuensi” (“Behind the Frequency”), by Ucu Agustin, follows two big issues related to media ownership in Indonesia. In the film, Ucu focuses on national television stations that are broadcast over the public frequency.

The first story she examines is the case of Luviana, a Metro TV reporter who was fired after trying to establish a union at her workplace. The second story tracks Hari Suwandi, from Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java, who was a victim of the Lapindo Brantas mud volcano disaster that has been ongoing since May 2006. Hari walked all the way to Jakarta to demand that Aburizal Bakrie, owner of TVOne, pay reparations promised to him and other Sidoarjo victims.

Director and writer Ucu began following the cases in December 2011 with her cameramen Affan Diaz and Darwin Nugraha. The film features footage taken by Ucu and her cameramen, as well as news clips and other footage to complete the stories.

Ucu, whose previous documentary “The Conspiracy of Silence” bravely explored the issue of malpractice in Indonesian hospitals, told the audience after the premiere screening in Jakarta on Thursday that making issue-based movies has proven a challenge, testing both her creativity and skill as a filmmaker.

“The same problem arose in making both ‘Conspiracy’ and ‘Frequency’ — it was how to be creative about the issue and keep people following the case,” Ucu said, adding that following both cases for more than a year resulted in hundreds of hours of footage. The final edit of the film runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Ucu said the two cases presented in the film deal with different issues. Luviana is a journalist fighting for her rights, and Hari is a peasant fighting for fellow Sidoarjo victims. It certainly feels like there is a big jump from Luviana’s case to Hari’s, but in the end, both stories show how media owners abuse their power. Ucu demonstrates how each TV station presented the news differently to benefit their respective owners. She said she hopes that “Di Balik Layar” will make people more literate about media ownership in Indonesia.

Luviana worked at Metro TV for 10 years before the news station fired her in June 2012. Luviana had been criticizing the management about the working conditions and tried to establish a workers union. Metro TV first asked Luviana to resign from her position in January 2012. Six months later, Luviana was fired from her job, just a couple of weeks after speaking with Metro TV owner Surya Paloh. Ucu, Affan and Darwin recorded Luviana’s struggles, including her meetings with Metro TV executives and Surya, and included the footage in the film.

At the Thursday premiere, Luviana said she is fighting against what she refers to as “the giant wall,” especially given the prominence of media owners. Surya is the founder and chairman of the National Democratic Party (NasDem), and wields a lot of influence among his colleagues. But Luviana has been able to keep fighting for her rights, in part due to assistance from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Solidarity for Luviana (SOVI) activist group.

“I have nothing but friends, and we decided to go on,” she said.

The film gets even more dramatic with the other case, about a struggle that turned into betrayal.

When Sidoarjo victim Hari decided to walk to Jakarta to bring his protest to Aburizal, his friends and family offered their full support. Ucu and friends followed his journey using footage taken by Hari’s friend, Harto Wiyono, who accompanied Hari on his month-long journey, helping his friend by carrying all his supplies on a motorbike. However the journey did not end well. Hari betrayed his friends by going on TVOne to give a live apology to the Bakries for what he called his false demonstrations.

Harto, who attended the premiere, said that he never saw Hari again after his friend went to apologize on TVOne.

“I went back to Sidoarjo and nobody had seen him and his family,” he said. “I heard he receives big money each month.”

For Harto, it is a precious life lesson. He is not sure if he would help other people with campaigns similar to Hari’s in the future. “Hari is a long-time friend, and we put up this fight together for a long time,” he said.

On the day of Hari’s apology, Harto said both he and Hari received protest messages on their phones and social media accounts.

“They thought we were only trying to get an advantage from this demonstration, it does give a bit of backlash to our struggle,” he said.

Harto was going to delete the Facebook group that he created to support Hari, but Ucu suggested otherwise. Harto agreed, saying that it should be an online artifact to the betrayal.

For this case, Ucu makes a cameo, meeting Aburizal and asking if he had met with Hari. The tycoon simply said Hari is a person seeking sensation and denied he was a victim of Lapindo.

Ucu said she is unsure whether Indonesian cinemas will be willing to show “Di Balik Frekuensi.” Producer Ursula Tumiwa said they will go on the road to screen the film in five cities to reach audiences at universities, social groups and film communities. Ucu remains optimistic that the film will help people grow more knowledgeable and critical of the mainstream media. “For me, if this film manages to make people reconsider their choices in watching TV stations, it means it is already a success,” she said. Jakarta Globe

No comments:

Post a Comment