APSN Banner

Proposed laws could revive Indonesia's media oligarchy

Indonesia at Melbourne - June 5, 2024

Muhammad Beni Saputra – The Indonesian public has been taken aback by two proposed changes to Indonesia's media landscape.

The first is a proposed revision to the Broadcasting Law that would impose a controversial ban on investigative journalism. The bill triggered widespread demonstrations across the country, prompting legislators to postpone the bill for now.

The second is the planned establishment of a social media council. This would serve as a government body responsible for 'mediating' online disputes.

If these regulations are enacted, it will go a long way towards restoring the power of Indonesia's traditional media oligarchs, whose influence has notably waned in the digital era.

The rise and fall of Indonesia's media oligarchs

Since the fall of Soeharto over two decades ago, the Indonesian media landscape has been dominated by a handful of powerful oligarchs. Prominent figures such as Hary Tanoesoedibjo (known as Hary Tanoe), Surya Paloh and Aburizal Bakrie have been happy to use their concentrated media influence for political purposes – a strategy that has been crucial to their own business and political success.

However, the 2024 presidential elections marked a shift away from traditional media towards new forms of digital and social media. Hary Tanoe, arguably Indonesia's most influential media oligarch, endorsed Ganjar Pranowo in the 2024 presidential election. But the poor voter turnout for Ganjar – who finished in last place – has cast doubt over the ability of his once influential media empire to continue shaping voter preferences.

What's more, this failure reflects a broader struggle Hary's media companies have had adapting to an evolving digital media market. This has hurt the profitability of his media empire. The newspaper Koran Sindo, part of Hary's media network, ceased publication in April last year, while his company PT Media Nusantara Citra Tbk. (MNCN), which operates several major TV channels, experienced a 15.7% decline in revenue in 2023 compared to the previous year.

Politically, Hary Tanoe has also faced consistent setbacks in the last two general elections. His party, Perindo, failed to secure parliamentary representation, generating only 1.28% of the vote, a 47.6% decrease from the 2019 election. In the 2019 legislative elections, his wife and three daughters failed to win seats. In the 2024 elections, Hary, his wife and all five of his children failed to win a seat.

The only member of Hary's family who has successfully transitioned into politics in recent times is his eldest daughter, Angela Tanoesoedibjo. She was appointed Vice Minister for Tourism and the Creative Economy in 2019, off the back of Hary's support for Jokowi in the 2019 presidential election.

Hary Tanoe is not the only media mogul in decline. Surya Paloh backed the failed presidential candidacy of former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan through both his political party, Nasdem, and his media empire, Media Group. Metro TV, owned by Paloh, has now become the least popular channel in Indonesia.

Similarly, Aburizal Bakrie, while aligning with the victorious Prabowo Subianto, has also seen his media empire, PT Visi Media Asia Tbk (VIVA), decrease in influence and revenue over recent years.

The influencer election

Indonesia's media moguls are no doubt concerned about the way Prabowo won the 2024 presidential election. His landslide 2024 election win was less the result of Bakrie's media endorsement and more a result of his innovative social media campaign strategy.

After announcing his candidacy in 2022, Prabowo actively cultivated relationships with Indonesia's leading social media influencers. For instance, he appeared several times on Deddy Corbuzier's popular 'Close the Door' podcast, with one episode garnering 20 million views. Similarly, Prabowo hosted prominent YouTubers Atta Halilintar and Andre Taulany – who have 3.1 million and 7.2 million subscribers respectively – at his home, generating millions of views.

Then, just three months out from the election, Prabowo invited top Indonesian social media influencers and celebrities to his office for a lunch meeting. They included Raffi Ahmad and Nagita Slavina, a husband-and-wife duo who have the second most followed Instagram account in Asia, with nearly 75 million followers.

Raffi's involvement was central to disseminating the "Gemoy" hype, a successful public relations strategy that helped rebrand Prabowo's image on social media from military strongman to adorable grandpa. Raffi stated after the lunch that people needed to know the other "gemoy" side of Prabowo, and he made sure they did.

Prabowo's strategy of leveraging social media influencers, rather than relying on television networks, proved highly successful. No television channel in Indonesia matched the subscriber count and engagement levels of influencers like Raffi and Nagita or Atta Halilintar on YouTube.

A recent survey shows that only 5% of Gen Z – the primary audience for the "Gemoy" campaign – watch TV, while 65% prefer online streaming platforms. Rightly or wrongly, influencer recommendations are also seen as more trustworthy than traditional media.

Reinstating the oligarchy?

Indonesia's young population means social media is not going anywhere any time soon. Lightweight influencer-driven social media campaigns of the kind used by Prabowo in the 2024 election will likely endure into the future. However, the proposed changes to Indonesia's media landscape would certainly restrict independent citizen-led journalism and grassroots activism in the online sphere.

With their influence waning, media oligarchs are likely to welcome the creation of a social media council, a government-backed institution with the power to suppress the online voices of ordinary Indonesians and civil society organisations.

Media oligarchs also stand to benefit from the proposed Broadcasting Law revision. The law would help them reassert control over political narratives by eliminating the influence of counter-narratives disseminated by investigative digital media outlets, like Project Multatuli and Watchdoc Documentary.

The suppression of critical online voices has the potential to tilt the scales back in favour of oligarch-owned mainstream media outlets, who are adapting their products to grow their online influence. This could again reinstate the bargaining power of media oligarchs vis-a-vis Indonesia's ruling elites and contribute to the further erosion of Indonesia's already eroded democracy.

The postponed revision of the broadcasting bill is a modest win for Indonesian journalism and democracy activists. But it will be crucial for Indonesians to continue to scrutinise media laws and policies to ensure the public conversation does not fall back under the control of Indonesia's media oligarchs.

Source: https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/proposed-laws-could-revive-indonesias-media-oligarchy