APSN Banner

Democracy needs its free press

Jakarta Post Editorial - May 3, 2024

Jakarta – When Prabowo Subianto takes office as Indonesia's eighth president in October, it may be worth restating this was made possible because of the free and fair democratic elections in February and that this would not have been possible without the free press playing its part.

As we mark World Press Freedom Day today, we should remind ourselves why the presence of a free press is indispensable to a democracy and to the elections it holds.

This year, more than half of the global population will go to the polls to elect their national leaders, some in a democratic setting, others probably less so. Whatever circumstances it operates, a responsible free press should carve a role to ensure a credible electoral process and a credible government. The press owes it to society that much.

The press globally has been coming under a lot of pressure because of the massive disruption caused by the internet, particularly the rise of social media, which transformed the news landscape. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way journalism works. The legacy media outlets that continue to practice journalism have lost the dominance and influence they enjoyed just two decades ago. Not only are they losing audience to new players, but many are struggling financially too.

All of this makes a poor excuse for the media, and their journalists, not to do what society expects of them. They must work harder to stay relevant and contribute to the workings of democracy and the periodic elections.

It's not hard to imagine what a society looks like without a free press by looking at countries, many in our region, where the press is controlled and journalists are prevented from doing their job. Those old enough would remember the human rights atrocities and unchecked corruption that went on under the Soeharto regime when the press was very much suppressed and controlled.

The post-Soeharto Indonesia further attested to the indispensability of a free press to the workings of democracy. News media outlets, and their journalists, have kept the public fully informed about the country and kept in check those in power – the government, legislature, judiciary and also big businesses. Even with its diminishing role in the news ecosystem, the press remains instrumental in creating space for public discourse on important public issues.

When it comes to elections, and we have had six since 1999, the free press has helped voters make informed choices about who should lead the nation. Prabowo, and all the four presidents preceding him including the outgoing Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, were the products of democratic elections where the press could proudly claim to have played its part.

Those working in the press should be the first to admit their own imperfections and shortcomings. They recognize the challenges they face both internally and externally within their profession and the media industry.

They should continue the struggle to push the lines of freedom, not only related to their work but also the wider quest for freedom of expression for everyone, amid growing signs of shrinking civic space both online and offline. The various legislations affecting their work, from the laws on the press, broadcast media, the internet to the penal code, need to be constantly improved and challenged to ensure that they have the freedom to work effectively.

They should carve a niche in this somewhat chaotic media landscape by staying true and loyal to the disciplines of journalism, to build their credibility and to win over the public trust as the media to go to amid the proliferation of misinformation.

On Word Press Freedom Day today, journalists and their media should remember that society has given them a special role in society with all the privileges that come with it, including the freedom to operate.

On this day, they must renew their commitment to give back to society.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/03/democracy-needs-its-free-press.htm