Indonesia remains a nation in flux. So, too, its journalism. Fifteen years after the country’s long-time strongman and president, Suharto, was overthrown and press restrictions were eased, Indonesian journalists continue to face a host of pressures: The pay is still lousy, the challenges still complex, the physical dangers still real.
But there are encouraging recent trends, too, including that significantly more journalists today believe that they have more freedom to do their job than just three years ago, up from 29% to 44%. And some simply interesting trends, also. For example: Like their nation as a whole, Indonesian journalists are becoming more religiously conservative—even as they staunchly oppose religious militancy.
These findings are from a comparison between two surveys I supervised, one in 2009 and one conducted last year, both in partnership with the Pantau Foundation, an Indonesian journalism group. The surveys are part of a study of journalists across the Muslim world. As I wrote in CJR in 2009,
Media drives public opinion. And in Indonesia, that public is being buffeted by, on one hand, a government that is arguably the most successful model of democracy in the Muslim world, and, on the other, the forces of Islamist militancy.
That remains largely true. In that first survey, we asked 600 journalists scattered across the vast archipelago questions aimed at better understanding the state of journalism in the world’s most populous Muslim country, and the attitudes of reporters and editors on a range of political and social issues.
We recently went back and asked many of the same questions of another 600 journalists. We found a mix—for the journalists and the publics they serve—of good news and bad.
Good News: Although control of the media by a handful of powerful business oligarchs still ranked the second greatest challenge to the industry, the number of journalists citing it as a critical problem was marginally down, by about 5 percent.
Bad News: Roughly the same number of journalists (about 43 percent) cited government control as the greatest challenge to their industry.
Good News: The percentage worried about “poor journalistic ethics” dropped by 8 percent, the perception of corruption among journalists was down 15 percent, and marginally fewer (6 percent) were concerned that a lack of journalist professionalism was undermining the industry.
Bad News: The figures for all those categories are still off the charts: Ethics (79 percent), journalistic corruption (53 percent), and lack of professionalism (84 percent).
Good News: Concerns about pressures from violent religious groups and business tycoons were both down slightly, by single digits.
Bad News: About half say physical violence remains a major threat, almost as many point to religious militants as the source. And almost a third still complain of pressures from business tycoons.