2014 report card: Bad journalism is bad for business
October-December 2014
By: Endy M Bayuni

If democratic elections are supposed to produce winners and losers, then the Indonesian media must be counted among the biggest losers of 2014. The highly partisan way that many mainstream broadcast and print outlets covered the general and presidential elections has eroded the trust that the Indonesian public put in the media industry and the profession of journalism, leaving long-term although not necessarily irreparable damage.

The losing political parties in the April 9 legislative elections, as well as losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, will likely pick up the pieces, start playing the opposition role and prepare for the next elections five years down the road. The road to recovery for the media, unfortunately, will be much harder and possibly longer.

By taking sides in 2014, some blatantly and shamelessly, the media shot themselves in the foot. One could argue that this may be generalizing too much since surely some media outlets remained independent in their election reporting. But as far as the public is concerned, that may be irrelevant. The public perception is that the entire Indonesian media took sides. (I am not making a judgment here about my own newspaper’s coverage, and I remain a neutral voice as I no longer have any role in its daily editorial decisions.)

Appalling behavior

This perception was more widely felt or apparent during the July 9 presidential election, which saw a bitter campaign between Prabowo, the former Army general, and Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo that polarized the country. The virtual absence of a middle ground during the election campaign was one strong indication that even the media were divided. Rather than keeping the public space open, major newspapers and television stations helped to drive the nation further apart. This is the sad reality about the current state of affairs. The news media are rapidly losing credibility, and they only have themselves to blame.

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