Indonesia`s head-to-head presidential race and media coverage

In Indonesian Journalists` Code of Ethics, the "cover both sides" principle is emphasized, but during this election, several media are openly taking sides with either one of the two candidates.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - For the first time in Indonesias history, the countrys presidential race between two rivals has triggered sharp polarizations affecting the media, laborers, teachers, farmers, artists, academicians, and social media users, to name a few.

The presidential election, which will be held nationwide on July 9, 2014, will be contested by two pairs of presidential and vice presidential candidates, Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa and Joko Widodo (Jokowi)-Jusuf Kalla (JK), as compared to five candidate pairs in the 2004 election, and three in the 2009 election.

Prabowo Subianto is a retired military general and the founder of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), while his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, is a former coordinating minister for economic affairs and the chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Jokowi is Jakartas governor and a cadre of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), while his running mate, JK, is a former vice president and a senior politician of the Golkar Party.

The Jokowi-JK pair is supported by PDIP, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), the Peoples Conscience Party (Hanura), the Justice and Indonesian Unity Party (PKPI), and the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) which is founded by Surya Palo, the owner of Metro TV and Media Indonesia daily.

The Prabowo-Hatta duo is supported by Gerindra, PAN, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party (PPP), the Moon and Star Party (PBB), the ruling Democratic Party (PD), and the Golkar Party whose chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, is the owner of TV One.

"One is the humble, approachable guy with the common touch and the guy whom you would like to be your companion versus the guy who is strong-willed and promises to be a strong leader, and he will get things done, and he knows what he is doing, so the Indonesians have a choice between these two," stated Jakarta Globe columnist and foreign policy observer Jamil Maidan Flores while describing Jokowi and Prabowo during an interview with

These two diverse personalities have created divisions not only among the Indonesian public but also in the media.

According to Sabam Leo Batubara, a lecturer at the Dr Soetomo Press Institute, the polarization of the media in reporting on the presidential election is becoming sharper. He expressed concern that this polarization in supporting their respective candidates has the potential to create conflicts.

Batubara reminded that the media, which released negative reports, even on sensitive issues, should also provide verifications and clarifications.

"The press should cover both sides," he asserted.

In Indonesian Journalists Code of Ethics, the "cover both sides" principle is emphasized, but during this election, several media are openly taking sides with either one of the two candidates. Media Indonesia is one of the newspapers that is openly supporting Jokowi.

The Jakarta Post English daily has even declared its endorsement to the candidacy of Jokowi as president in its editorial titled, "Endorsing Jokowi" published on July 4, 2014.

Another Indonesian English daily, the Jakarta Globe, however, stated that neutrality was needed to provide "critical coverage of the government for the benefit of the Indonesian people."

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has called on the media to be independent and neutral in reporting presidential race campaigns.

The electronic media, in particular, should promote political education for the public, KPU Chairman Husni Kamil Manik recently noted in a statement.

Earlier, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) remarked that it was still evaluating the content of television programs and news reporting concerning campaign activities ahead of the presidential election.

KPU Commissioner Fajar Arifianto Isnugroho stated that the KPI had reprimanded managers of TV One that supported Prabowo and Metro TV, which endorses Jokowi.

The KPI was currently evaluating the programs of two television stations, he claimed.

Isnugroho hoped that the Ministry of Communication and Informatics will impose sanctions on them if they did not change their reporting format.

Isnugroho quoted data from the KPI that on May 19-25, 2014, Metro TV broadcast 184 news stories on the presidential candidate Jokowi and his running mate, JK, and 110 news stories on their rivals, Prabowo Subianto and Hatta Rajasa. The broadcasting duration for the Jokowi-JK pair was 37,577 seconds, while only 14,561 seconds for the Prabowo-Hatta pair.

TV One broadcast 77 news stories on the Jokowi-JK pair with a total duration of 18,731 seconds, and 153 news stories on the Prabowo-Hatta pair with a total duration of 36,561 seconds.

Recently, hundreds of supporters of the PDIP sealed the Yogyakarta office of the private TV station, TV One, for allegedly broadcasting a report that linked the party with communism.

PDIP is the main political party of the coalition that has nominated Jokowi as the presidential candidate.

Besides sealing the TV One office, the protesters also painted graffiti expressing their pique and anger, saying that the PDIP cadres were not communists.

On the next day, PDIP supporters went to the TV One office in Pulo Gadung, East Jakarta, for holding a similar protest.

"But, the media has caused provocation. It is the medias fault for being provocative. Therefore, dont trigger provocation. Do not ever blame the volunteers," Jokowi remarked during the press conference held following the protests.

Jokowi added that he did not have complete control over the activities of the volunteers and sympathizers, although he claimed that he has always reminded them to be patient during every campaign activity. He referred to his supporters as volunteers and sympathizers.

The Press Council decided that TV One has violated the code of ethics when it reported that the PDIP was linked to communism, and hence, the station was requested to apologize to the party and also the audience.

In another dispute, Jokowis team of lawyers had filed a police report over the libelous "Obor Rakyat" tabloid.

"The tabloid contains black campaign. This is a criminal act. That is why our team of lawyers has filed the police report," Jokowi claimed.

He remarked that the tabloids contents have discredited him and his running mate, JK. Jokowi further reiterated that he can differentiate fair news items from the unfair and libelous ones.

Previously, vice presidential candidate JK had urged the police to immediately arrest the publisher of "Obor Rakyat" tabloid.

"The police must arrest the perpetrator. This is dangerous for the nation. Later, people may easily spread slanders (unless the action is not stopped)," Kalla remarked during a campaign tour in Gorontalo, Sulawesi, in June.

Under pressure from many parties, the national police finally named on July 3, two Obor Rakyat editors, Setyardi Budiono and Darmawan Septiyossa, as suspects following a complaint from Jokowis advocacy team.

"They were named suspects on Thursday night (July 3)," noted Brigadier General Herry Prastowo, the director of general crimes of the criminal investigation department.

Herry reported that the police had two pieces of evidence against the suspects. The suspects have been allegedly charged for violating Article 9 of the Press Law as they had no license to publish the leaflet and as a result will be penalized Rp100 million.

Herry said he was not yet sure whether the two will also be charged with violating criminal law, saying that the police are still conducting their investigation.

The Obor Tabloid had issued two editions that were distributed in several Islamic boarding schools and mosques in Central and East Java provinces during the pre-election campaign period that started on June 4, 2014.

The headline published in the tabloids first edition was "Puppet Presidential Candidate," while "1001 Image Building Masks" was published in the second edition.

As for the Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa camp, Fadli Zon, the secretary of the duos Election Campaign Team, recently filed a police report over a libelous news item that had recently published.

"The complaint has been filed with the police alleging that the news website has violated the Information and Electronic Transaction Law. The investigation process is underway," the Prabowo-Hatta pairs lawyer, Mahendra Datta, noted here on Monday.

The had intentionally published the allegedly libelous news that Fadli Zon had circulated money at the Bulu wet market in the Central Java city of Semarang in connection with the presidential election campaign rally, Datta pointed out.

The campaign period from June 5 to July 7 has ended. But, the battle between supporters of the two candidates on the social media has continued fiercely.

The real contest will be on July 9 when more than 188 million Indonesians, excluding two million overseas voters who have earlier cast their votes, will go to 486,866 polling stations set up across the country, to decide who will lead the worlds third-largest democracy for the next five years.(*)