Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has not yet signed the planned presidential regulation on media sustainability, and it will only take effect later this year once he does, but it has already created controversy.
Modeled after the Australian media bargaining code, the regulation will require big tech companies to pay media firms for news published on their platforms.
If the current iteration comes into force – the result of three years wrangling among the government, media companies, the Press Council and major tech platforms – it will require tech giants to prioritize legacy media outlets and those sanctioned by the Press Council in their search results.
These two stipulations, if implemented effectively, would be a game changers for legacy media outfits like ourselves, as not only would they give newsrooms a new lease on life, they could also help restore faith in the media ecosystem, which has been flooded with disinformation, hoaxes and click-bait sensationalism in recent years.
The changes would be so far-reaching that the planned regulation has caused a backlash.
At least one major tech platform has responded strongly to the current draft of the regulation. In a blog post published last week, Google said the regulation could deprive the majority of the public of a wide variety of news sources, as the required algorithm would grant primacy to a limited number of media outlets.
Google also expressed concern that the planned regulation would shut the door on content creators, citizen journalists and personalities who publish their work through channels not sanctioned by the Press Council.
A major YouTube personality took to social media to express the same concern, that independent voices on social media could be sidelined.
There's also chatter that a US business lobby group will lodge a formal complaint with the Indonesian government calling for the media sustainability regulation to be watered down.
Within the media itself, the planned regulation has created a rift.
Late last week, 15 media outlets, mostly big brands and all based in Jakarta, resigned en masse from a cyber media association, citing their opposing views on the planned regulation.
Smaller online media organizations, meanwhile, which favor less stringent regulations, celebrated the major outlets' departure from the association, arguing that the media sustainability regulation as it stood would only benefit big media conglomerates.
We have seen this battle before. It is almost exactly what happened in Australia when former prime minister Scott Morrison's government tried to push through the media bargaining code.
In the case of Australia, we also learned that some big tech platforms threatened to pull out of the search business altogether.
In Canada, where the government recently passed a regulation requiring tech giants to pay for news, these companies decided to drop the news from their platforms entirely.
In both instances in Australia and Canada, we know that the government stood up for the media. The countries' leaders knew that democracy needed a healthy and sustainable media environment.
It is unthinkable for any nation to lose its trusted journalistic voices, but the diversion of advertising revenue to big tech platforms as a result of uneven competition could make the unthinkable a reality.
Serious journalism needs serious investment. Content creators may produce entertaining and sometimes informative content, and artificial intelligence (AI) may churn out some semblance of news, but journalism that cleaves to accountability, truth and insight cannot be so easily approximated, and letting it wither would cost our society dearly.
The planned media sustainability regulation could spur investment in credible journalism, and we need that more than ever in our democracy.