The news media are the main channel for public relations practitioners to get messages across to their publics. Getting their news or information materials used in the media is, therefore, a key professional responsibility for public relations practitioners. In an Asian country like Indonesia, this practice constitutes one of the more important parts of pubic relations practices.
However, there has been little research conducted on predictive factors, especially as concerns taking into account different factors together regarding Indonesian journalists’ uses of public relations news materials, since it is the largest nation in the Southeast Asian region. Public relations researchers and scholars have hardly explored Indonesia, the largest country in Southeast Asia. Now that more than 30 years of tight media control has come to an end (Sinaga, 1998), Indonesia presents a challenging setting for public relations studies in the face an explosive variety in journalism practices.
With greater freedom, as Nieman fellow Bill Kovach’s (2004) observed, in some quarters there was high interest in applying western journalism discipline to story verification and upholding journalism’s obligation to the truth. Kovach (2004), however, also noted that there was the same penchant for using unconfirmed information among Indonesian journalists. The enactment of a new law that enhances press freedom and the subsequent halting of the government’s licensing system in 1999 ended the news media’s fear of getting banned (Kitley, 2001).
The print media, in particular, have become more outspoken by reporting corruption cases and scandals involving businessmen and officials (Siregar, 2005). Freedom House’s ratings show scores for Indonesia’s political rights and civil liberties improved from 7 and 6 in the heyday of press bans in 1993 and 1994 to 3 and 4 in the years after 1999. Yet, Kovach noted that while the independent journalists organizations spread, Indonesian journalists continued to be plagued by pressures from officials, politicians and businesspeople, to be deprived of their freedoms, and to give way to “envelope journalism. The “envelope journalism” is the practices of giving bribes including money to win favorable media coverage. It has been embraced by many public relations practitioners (The Jakarta Post, March 21 2005). The persistence of this activity suggests that public relations practitioners in Indonesia find media outlets so crucial an aspect in their work that they may well resort to unscrupulous practices to achieve their goals. The fact that these practices have continued also suggests that Indonesian journalists do take advantage of envelope journalism (The Jakarta Post, March 21 2005).
The Jakarta Post, an English-language newspaper, quoted public relations practitioners as saying that; in fact, many journalists would not come to events or press conferences unless they were to receive gifts or envelopes. The newspaper attributed the problem to rampant corruption practiced by both the government and private sectors. Asia-wide financial crisis hit news organizations hard for several years beginning in 1997 (Sinaga, 1998). The crisis forced news organizations to operate with a more advertiser-oriented approach due to stiffer competition in attracting advertising.
Adding to the already cut-throat competition in the media market is the ending of the government licensing of the press that led to the opening of floodgates for existing media companies, individuals and other companies to launch new newspapers. Meanwhile, independent businesspeople and companies with little journalism experience but plenty of capital have made their way into television industry. This has ushered in a more complex media environment for public relations practitioners who now have to deal with more kinds of news media and more varieties of journalists.
Many were less experienced journalists who had to find their way amid the rapid changes in the political and media environment (Wisaksono, 2001). For decades, the print media were the only medium with the power to set the Indonesian public agenda (Sen & Hill, 2000). Newspapers based in Jakarta, the nation’s capital, were especially dominant, accounting for 67. 2% of total print circulation in 1991 and 71. 6% in 1996 (Sen & Hill, 2000). Since late 1980s, when the government first introduced media deregulation, television has been growing to become another dominant medium.
More Indonesians are already watching televisions regularly than reading newspapers and listening to the radio (Sen & Hill, 2000). However, today, the Internet continues to be crucial to Indonesia’s future, and is still regarded as an alternative medium for views and news that would otherwise remain unheard and unwritten. While Indonesian authorities are less strict on the media these days than they were during the Suharto regime, there are still reports that go unpublished and vital information that does not get to the people.
The Internet has thus continued as the one venue in which people can express the otherwise inexpressible and have access to information denied them in the mainstream media (Basuki, 2009). But there are indications that the Net may also evolve into a mainstream medium of sorts, especially now that the cost of producing print media has risen sharply. Newsprint now costs almost Rp. 9,000 (USD 1) per kilo. There are also the overhead expenses of editorial offices and other production needs such as film, batteries, electricity, telephone, and printing to consider.
Not cheap even during pre-crisis days, all of these now run astronomical tabs (Basuki, 2009). Although various forms of mass media have emerged recently, observers see this as merely an element of political euphoria. There is no doubt that the mainstream print media in Indonesia are under the threat of bankruptcy (Basuki, 2009). One means of ensuring their continued existence is to evolve into paperless media and go online. It is highly possible that Indonesian media organizations may yet find themselves competing in cyberspace and people will go online to look for news than using the other medias.
References Basuki, T. (2009). Indonesia: The Web as a Weapon. The Journal of The Dag Hammarskjold Foundation. Kitley, P. (2001). After the bans: Modeling Indonesian communications for the future. In Lloyd G. , & Smith S. (Eds), Indonesia Today: Challenges of History (pp. 256-269). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Kovach, B. (2004). Elements of a free press in Indonesia. Nieman Reports, 58(1), 86-87. Sen, K. , & Hill, D. T. (2000). Media, Culture and Politics in Indonesia.
Victoria, Australia: Oxford University Press. Sinaga, S. (1998). Indonesia. In Tan, A. , & Stehling, T. , B (Eds). The ASEAN Media Directory. Manila: Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Siregar, R. H. (2005). Setengah Abad Pergulatan Etika Pers (Half a century of the struggle for press ethics). Jakarta, Indonesia: PWI. Wisaksono, N. (2001, June). A PR Strategy for Indonesia: Mission Impossible. Paper presented at the Pinnacle Worldwide international meeting. Singapore.