Indonesian Journalism Censorship

Ideally, western journalists would be impartial or having non-partisan position. They are reporting and presenting factual news without taking any sides.
While in Indonesia, journalists had gone through some stages. In the 50s-80s, they were politically involved, aligned with certain political parties. They were called activist journalist. In 80s-90s, they were more into business and economic system, and news media was seen as business organization. In 2000s, activist journalists are back, and they are adopting western standard.

New Order

The Indonesian Press has been very closely linked with the political situation and power at the time, ever since the nation’s declaration of independence through the radio by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta in 1945, who became the nation’s first President and Vice-President respectively. The following year the nation’s journalistic agency, PWI, was born. The PWI’s main goal is to address the problem of political bias and provide norms and guidance for professional journalistic practices. However, in the 1950’s most newspaper could be directly or indirectly classified as mouthpiece to various political and ideological parties. To counter this, President Sukarno then abandoned the liberal western democracy and adopted the guided democracy system and demanded PWI and the press to act under government direction and to promote Indonesian ‘values’ and the Pancasila ideology. Various government regulations were issued to eliminate opposition and to instruct journalists to support Sukarno’s political manifesto.

In 1966 General Soeharto launched a take over, signaling the start of a new political order which lasted for 32 years. Under the New Order, government control over the press became even stricter by using the Department of Information to exert control of the press and PWI; newspapers and all publications were closely monitored and controlled, crushing what little remains of the press freedom. During this time, PWI membership became mandatory to all journalists and only approved members can become editors or publishers. There were widespread corruption and unethical practices within the press community, such as the ‘telephone culture’, where editors of publications received a warning telephone call from the Department of Information if they published unflattering articles about the government or Soeharto’s family; and then there is also the ‘envelope culture’, which is basically monetary bribe given by government officials to journalists to publish or cover a story supporting the government. These two cultures have been a thorn within the press community because they impede the quality and integrity of journalists, however more often than not; the press community has to participate in order to survive, especially with the ‘envelope culture’ where the salary of a journalist can barely cover daily needs. Many journalistic organizations were disbanded by the government, until only PWI remains; and with its structure dominated by governmental people, PWI became the mouth piece for the government.

In June 1994, three major news publications, Detik, Tempo, and Editor, were permanently closed and their licences revoked by the Department of Information for publishing controversial articles which were critical towards the government. These closures provoke protests and demonstrations from various non-governmental organizations and from the society. Seeing the PWI as failing to stand up for the press community, a few weeks after the banning, a group of 85 journalists and intellectuals created a rival organization, AJI. This new organization, AJI, is fundamentally different from its government-controlled counterpart. Officially PWI serves as association of journalists, but many of its members are also members of political parties, mainly Soeharto’s political party Golkar, and acted as political agents against differing ideology such as communism. AJI is mainly a journalistic organization with no affiliation with any political ideology other than that of the freedom of the press. Since the government only recognize one official organization, AJI, operated illegally. The government and PWI continually put more pressure on AJI, arresting many of its members and threatening anyone or any publication that sympathizes with them, such as the case where PWI withdrew its support for the editor of D&R magazine for employing AJI members. Under heavy pressure, many AJI members were forced to resign from their jobs or transferred to distant position and location, and some were arrested for spreading anti-government views and distributing unlicensed publication. However some AJI journalists managed to continue to work and write using different name, and many of its members also found a loophole in the form of internet publishing.

Post New Order

After the collapse of the New Order regime, the political situation is much more hectic, with many differing political parties vying for power and influence. The Indonesian Press community, especially PWI, is also busy to adapt with the newly received freedom and to re-establish its image as an agent of change for the society instead of as an agent of stability for the government. In October 1998, PWI elected new executive and senior editors to try to separate itself from the New Order image. Different ideologies started to emerge and voicing their values through any media publications willing. Rules and regulations on media journalistic industry were reviewed, and AJI was officiated. Private tv channels are now more transparent, not controlled by Soeharto’s family anymore and media licensing to set up and publish newspaper, radio station and tv station is more public.
Because of these changes, though government is more lenient, it is now the community groups (religious group, ethnicity group etc) that have the voice. Self-censorship comes from these particular groups.


  • Heryanto, Ariel and Adi, Stanley Yoseph. ‘Industrialized Media in Democratizing Indonesia.’ Media Fortunes, Changing Times. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: Singapore 2002.
  • Hill, David T. and Sen, Krishna. The Internet in Indonesia’s New Democracy. Routledge: London and New York 2005.
  • Hill, David T. and Sen, Krishna. Media, Culture, and Politics in Indonesia. Oxford University Press: New York 2000.
  • Xiaoge, Xu. Demystifying Asian Values. Marchall Cavendish Academic: Singapore 2005.
  • Xiaoming, Hao and Datta-Ray, Sunanda K. Issues and Challenges in Asian Journalism. Marshall Cavendish Academic: Singapore 2006.
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