The cost of getting the truth: Don’t shoot the messenger

Sirikit Syah , Surabaya | Fri, 02/12/2010 10:17 AM | Opinion The Jakarta Post

The freedom of the press in Indonesia has never looked as successful as it does now. Sensitive issues, like the detention of two Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) executives, the notorious Bank Century bailout and the Rp 2 billion palace fence have been nakedly presented to the audience’s eyes.

We know directly the characters of those on the House of Representatives’ Bank Century Inquiry Special Committee. Their speeches, gestures and body languages are broadcasted live without editing. We see their intelligence, conduct, maturity and wisdom. They cannot hide, thanks to the free press.

And yet, when it is so clear about the who’s who of the special committee membership, some observers still attempt to convince people that the committee is impotent.

They predicted that the parliamentary inquiry will end in a confusing mode as all committee members are dishonest and only pursuing individual political agenda.

Anyway, let’s not get easily provoked by those statements. Let us think positively that not all politicians are merchants.

Or, that many of committee members are genuine in seeking the truth. What is so wrong, or so difficult, about seeking the truth, anyway?

At the extreme end, when being unable to pinpoint the weaknesses or mistakes of the committee members, some observers then point their fingers at the media. “The mass media has gone too far.

“They are destroying the public trust in our state leaders. They defame the reputable Ibu Sri Mulyani and Bapak Yudhoyono.” This accusation seems right if we look at the facts that indeed both reputable figures are being targets of protests throughout Indonesia. But is it right to blame the media?

About half a century ago, a media veteran named Marshall McLuhan became a loved-and-hated celebrity for his controversial statement that “the medium is the message”.

He meant that the medium determines the substance of communication. In other words, the substance is less important than the medium.

In our present world, what the public understands about an issue depends on what medium disseminates that issue.

So, if we watch Metro TV, for instance, we may think that — whatever substance the news brings about — it is about Golkar.

Or, if the public want to believe that Aburizal Bakrie is a good entrepreneur, who fulfills his duty to the Sidoarjo mudflow victims, they’d better read Surabaya Post or watch Anteve.

Tired of seeing SBY being attacked by the protesters and the media? People can read Jurnal Nasional and whatever the content of this daily newspaper, they can feel better about the President.

In these 11 years of free press, people’s opinions have been divided in two different clubs. First, there are those who always say that the press is not free yet and journalists are not adequately protected.
They also see that there are too many challenges and attacks towards the press from the business communities and political leaders. Second, those who complain a lot about the lack of responsibility of free press.

The press is too free that it goes beyond limit. They fear that it may endanger harmony in society.

Regardless of whether you agree with the first or the second, is it right to shoot the messenger? In the New Order era, state leaders would have killed press organizations if the latter published or broadcasted something “improper” for the harmony of the society.

In our era now, press bans or censorship are against the law. That’s why, although President Yudhoyono complains too much, everything is just okay. The media can (and have) ignored him and do business as usual (selling conflict and bad news). They can even mock the President as being “weepy” and “weak”.

No Indonesian president has complained about media coverage as frequently as Yudhoyono. Gus Dur was badly attacked by the media in his time, but he took it easily by commenting: “Emang gue pikirin?” (Am I bothered?) Meanwhile, Yu-dhoyono — being very sensitive and reactive to criticism and protests — always makes time to address the topic of “media coverage on him” in meetings.

Still, we should be optimistic with the Indonesian media. Not only it is better than 10 years ago, it is also even better than media in neighboring countries. It goes far ahead of the press in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam — countries that have no press freedom until today.

We should also be appreciative of President Yudhoyono that during his term there has been no ban imposed on the Indonesian media and no journalist detained. In the era of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, several editors were jailed for defaming her.

So, let the President be “weepy” or “weak”, as long as the media can be independent. The media have the freedom to be concerned with the President’s complaints or can consider the complaints as unbinding inputs.

Now the House’s special committee is working towards the end of their task, we expect the media to keep an eye on this issue. Certainly there are other significant issues to be covered, such as the ATM scandal, the Antasari trial and the Press National Day.

But the Bank Century scandal is more than significant to us. Sri Mulyani has said that the decision to bail out the bank was helpful for the Indonesian public in general. But “helpful” in what way?

The media needs to continue to get the true information as Rp 6.7 trillion is a lot of money. The reasons why the fund was disbursed to save a failed bank are very significant for the public to know.

There may be more bitter facts uncovered, more trust destroyed and reputable names in question. Let that be if that is the cost of getting the truth. Let’s not blame the messenger.

As the critics of McLuhan, the humanists, say, we are not powerless puppets that are influenced and shaped by the media.

The remote control is in our hand. If the medium gives a misleading or inconvenient message, switch the channel. Enjoy freedom, get mature and be responsible.

The writer is a lecturer and observer of mass media and journalism living in Surabaya


Perihal LKM Media Watch
Mass media are watchdogs. But who watch the media? Let's do it together. Watch this very powerful entity, for better journalism, better Indonesia, better world.

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