When facts and faith are intertwined
January-March 2018
By: Devina Heriyanto

Much of the Indonesian media is owned by conglomerates, some of whose owners are involved in national politics. Two of the key players are MNC owner Hary Tanoesoedibjo and Metro TV owner Surya Paloh. The polarization and manipulation of the press was on clear display during Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, with the press not only exhibiting biased reporting but also producing starkly differing quick-count results.

In addition to the political polarization of the press, religion and faith also come into the equation. In 2016, Indonesia saw a series of rallies against the governor of Jakarta at the time, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Hard-line Islamic groups demanded Ahok be imprisoned or summarily executed for blasphemy against Islam. Due to its scale, a violent rally in November 2016 dominated the news, with every major news channel covering it.

During an even larger anti-Ahok rally in December 2016, some protesters lashed out at Metro TV and Kompas TV. Metro TV reporters were harassed while working and protesters threw rocks at their company cars. Protesters claimed the stations were painting Muslims in a bad light.

The violence, though limited and quickly contained by police, exposed the state of the media in Indonesia. Many conservatives, particularly those active on Facebook, refused to follow mainstream media because of their allegedly biased reporting on Ahok’s blasphemy case. The pinnacle was a debate over how many protesters were actually at the December 2016 rally: ranging from a few hundred thousand (mostly accurate) to several million (laughable). Any news report citing smaller numbers than those claimed by Islamic conservatives was quickly labeled as biased and not to be trusted. The only exception was the pro-opposition TVOne.

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