In 2009, we found that certain fundamental Western-style journalism values—such as accuracy, balance, and professionalism—were the gold standard to which Indonesian journalists aspired. But the latest findings underline the fact that, as we have found in the Arab world and Pakistan, notions of fairness and balance can often be shaped by the political and social milieu in which journalists operate, dictated by business realities, political pressures, and cultural or religious outlook.

The mission of Indonesian journalism embodies a socially engaged agenda, which has not changed since the last survey. “Educate the public” and “give voice to the common people” are at the top of the list of what Indonesian journalists see as their primary mission, followed—as before—by “support national/regional development,” “analyze complex issues,” and “support political change.” And while they aspire to fairness and balance, the majority still believes they should be allowed to take part in political protests.

Meanwhile, Indonesian society has become more conservative in recent years, and that also appears to be true among its reporters and editors. Even though fewer journalists identified themselves as “religious” versus “secular” Muslims, their views on a range of religious issues have shifted to the right since 2009. Support for sharia (religious) law increased from 37 percent to 45 percent, and the number of journalists who believe women should wear the jilbab head covering and those supporting polygamy both increased by about five percent, with close to half supporting the jilbab and about a quarter in favor of polygamy.

Most striking, the journalists exhibited intolerant views on a range of new questions. Some examples:

• 70 percent agreed with a law that effectively bans Islamic groups that diverge from orthodox teachings;

• 59 percent agreed that one such group, the Ahmadiyah, should be outlawed;

• Almost half agreed with a religious fatwa calling for a ban on pluralism, liberalism, and secularism; and,

• About the same number concurred with another fatwa warning that Shia Muslims pose a threat to Indonesia’s Sunni Muslim majority.

But beware of generalizing: More than half were against a measure making it more difficult for Christians to build churches. And the percentage who said the government should allow the existence of mass organizations that espouse radical Islamist views plummeted—from half to less than 10 percent.

Meanwhile, just 7 percent agreed that terrorism stems from “disillusionment with the Muslim condition” and a majority criticized the government’s failure to protect Shia Muslims and members of the Ahmadiyah sect from attacks by Muslim militants.

That underlines the fact that, while the influence of conservative Islam may be on the rise in the Indonesian newsroom, to most Indonesian journalists, those who carry out violence in the name of religion are anathema.


Lawrence Pintak is founding dean of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University; a former CBS News Middle East correspondent; and creator of the free online Poynter course, Covering Islam in America. His most recent book is The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil.