Every ninth of February is celebrated in Indonesia as National Press Day. It marks the day the first Indonesian journalist association, Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia (PWI), was established in Surakarta, Central Java, in 1946, the year after the country proclaimed its independence from the Dutch. Journalists at the time shared one common concern, fighting colonialism including by spreading information about the country’s declaration of independence proclaimed on August 17, 1945 and backing the struggle to prevent the return of the country’s former colonial master.
While at the time of PWI’s inception, journalists were busy helping the struggle to defend the country’s independence, the concerns were now radically different. Indonesian journalists were now fighting a hard battle to ensure the sustainability of their media and also that of the country’s media industry. This was one of the points contained in the speech of PWI Chairman Atal Depari when addressing the main ceremony to mark National Press Day 2022 in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi. PWI has also been and continues to be, backing efforts to help media companies survive the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fundamental changes taking place in the media world, including by seeking incentives from the government.
Journalists nowaday were increasingly facing the threat of losing their job as their media companies were forced to streamline themselves to keep their efficiency in the face of rising competition and changes in the ways news and information were being consumed. The increasing spread of digitalization in the world, including in the media industry, has also given rise to mounting cut throat competition from new sources of news and information beyond those of the main traditional media. The proliferation of these new sources has been marked by a tendency to go for speed and clickbaits at the expense of deeper, reliable and accurate reporting. President Joko Widodo in his address at the same ceremony also stressed this unfortunate situation.
“In the past two years, the national press industry has had to face extraordinarily harsh pressure, because of the pandemic, the digital disruption and the giant foreign platforms that are all undermining economic potentials and the mainstream media,” the president said in his speech that was relayed virtually from the Bogor Presidential Palace.
The president also added that the stiff competition in the current media landscape has given rise to a number of complex issues such as the rise of alternative information sources and the trend of putting the priority on the number of clicks and views. The president aired his hope that the media, especially the mainstream ones, could be more innovative in presenting information and not fall into the tempting trap of click baits and numbers of views.
A sustainable media industri also is highly dependent on its field journalists who are the key elements of a media. It was therefore important that the health and safety of these journalists became the subject of reflection on this National Press Day. Many journalists were among the millions of people infected by Covid-19 across the world. The field nature of their work made them exposed and more vulnerable to the virus. Journalists, like medical and health workers, are at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic.
Chairman of the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Sasmito Madrim, noted that 381 journalists were infected by the Corona virus between March 2020 and June 2021 in Indonesia. The figure, he added, might even be higher as many journalists, or their media, were not reporting the cases among their ranks.
Yasir Nene Ama, a reporter of Kompas TV, for example, contracted Covid 19 while reporting a natural disaster in Waiburak village of Eastern Flores in East Nusa Tenggara province last year. Yasir became infected despite his strict adherence to health protocols. “It is undeniable that physical fatigue when reporting from the location of natural disasters has made us vulnerable to infection, even though as much as possible we complied with health protocols,” said Yasir. The East Nusa Tenggara native said that journalists who were exposed to the risks inherent in information gathering in the field and even broadcast them on site, should receive the support of the institution or media company where they work. Not only moral support but also support such as the provision of protective equipment, vitamins and also a work system and work hours that should not be too hectic.
At the end of the day, there were a lot of complex issues related to a sustainable media industry. But the common thread lays in ensuring the health and safety of journalists and other media workers, both those on the field and in newsrooms. Physical health was also not the only prerequisite to a sustainable media industry, the reporting should also be healthy and so should the company’s financial condition. The president had his own tips to help ensure the survival of the media amidst the pandemic as well as the tight competition in the industry: innovation, integrity and independence.
Happy National Press Day!