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

The lack of trust in Indonesia’s mainstream media left a void that was quickly filled by a new and mainly online media. It is relatively easy to set up a website in Indonesia, including by those who claim to produce news. The government closed down several websites that produced provocative news content before the December 2016 anti-Ahok rally, yet new ones quickly popped up in their place.

The problem is that Indonesians believe in “new media,” which is often questionable in its reporting but fits people’s personal beliefs. This new media has made millions of dollars producing fake news and feeding hatred, some pocketing even bigger profits than the established media, according to a report by Tirto, an online media site.

Last August, the Indonesian police broke up a syndicate called Saracen, revealing a network of people who wrote fake news to incite hatred and spark online debate. This fake news mostly followed the theme of a grand conspiracy against Islam in Indonesia and the looming threat of Chinese investment or foreign workers in the country. From his 2014 campaign until now, President Joko Widodo has often been accused of being pro-China and a communist.

A polarized press is not unique to Indonesia. As more media are owned by conglomerates, reports are influenced by an owner’s commercial or political agenda. However, in Indonesia, religion is tapped as a powerful tool for mass mobilization, an efficient one at that.

In Indonesia, press freedom should mean that the press is free to report what it wants. Freedom of religion means people are free to worship according to their beliefs. Yet today, where fact and faith are intertwined, people choose facts according to their own beliefs. It is not “you are what you read,” since many Indonesians are not really keen on reading anyway. For many educated yet illiterate Indonesians, it’s “you read what suits who you are.”

Please login to leave a comment