Indonesia Elections 2014: Media owners get airtime advantage

Indonesia Elections 2014: Media owners get airtime advantage
Supporters gesture along with Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

JAKARTA - Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo is the most popular presidential contender but you wouldn't know that from watching television in the capital.

The major television stations in Jakarta routinely ignore him in their coverage. They do, however, run political advertisements accusing him of abandoning Jakarta after less than two years as governor of the city to be the presidential candidate of the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P).

In the battle for the hearts and minds of millions of Indonesian voters in the legislative elections next week, politically inclined media owners are milking their control of television, whose reach extends to the remote corners of Indonesia, from Sabang in Aceh in the west to Merauke in Papua in the east.

Even before the start of campaigning on March 15, television stations were carrying advertisements of their bosses who are contesting the presidential polls in July, featuring them on talk shows and providing longer airtime for their campaigns.

Regulators have already issued a warning letter to eight stations, namely RCTI, MNC TV, Global TV, TV One, ANTV, Metro TV, SCTV and Indosiar. The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) on Monday cited these stations for devoting too much airtime to parties aligned to their owners.

KPI deputy chief Idy Muzayyad said the stations breached the rule disallowing more than 10 slots a day to any one party and were "being counter-productive" in carrying hostile ads. One example is the leaked videos of presidential contender Aburizal Bakrie on holiday on the Maldives with two starlets, each separately holding teddy bears, broadcast on two TV stations linked to his rivals. To many observers, they were not so much a news expose as a politically motivated smear campaign.

Media watchers cite two television stations that have blatantly campaigned for their owners: TV One, controlled by Mr Aburizal, who is Golkar chairman, and news channel Metro TV owned by Mr Surya Paloh, chairman of the National Democratic Party (NasDem), which was established in July 2011.

TV One devotes more airtime to Golkar and Mr Aburizal compared to other parties and presidential candidates. Similarly Metro TV lavishes airtime on Mr Surya, who also aspires to be a presidential contender, and his fellow NasDem politicians. The channel splashes longer footage of NasDem rallies daily and holds talk shows with NasDem politicians on the panels.

Meanwhile, MNC television network, owned by the Hanura Party's chief patron and vice-presidential candidate Hary Tanoesoedibjo, is busy promoting the party and its presidential candidate Wiranto.

MNC spokesman Arya Sinulingga said its newsrooms are independent and that "we report news about all political parties every day".

The print media is equally partial to its owners. Media Indonesia, owned by Mr Surya, reports widely on NasDem, while the Rakyat Merdeka daily gives a positive spin on its owner, Mr Dahlan Iskan, a presidential aspirant from the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"These two newspapers always report favourably about their owners," said Mr Muzayin Nazaruddin of the Media Care Society at a discussion on the media at the Indonesian Press Council on Wednesday.

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