The Rise of Secular Nationalist and Islamic-Based Populist Communication Strategies: New Threats to Indonesian Media and Journalists' Freedom

The Rise of Secular Nationalist and Islamic-Based Populist Communication Strategies: New Threats to Indonesian Media and Journalists' Freedom

Nyarwi Ahmad
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1298-2.ch008
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This study aims to examine the impacts of secular nationalist and Islamic-based populist communication strategies advanced by Jokowi and Prabowo on the Indonesian media and journalists' freedoms during the presidential elections of 2019. To address this topic, this study uses the qualitative methods of document review and in-depth interview of four senior editors of Indonesian news channels including Kompas TV, CNN INdonesia, TV one and INews TV. This study uses thematic analysis to analyse the qualitative data.
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The idea of this work comes from certain observations. The Freedom House reports that not only structural factors that undermine journalists’ freedom and safety has been prevailing, the freedom of media across the globe has been continuously declining for the past decade (Repucci, 2019, p. 3). Such trends so far, have been seen as being insperable with global crisis of democracy, which take place along with the rises of populist leaders and authocratic governments (Repucci, 2019, p. 4). However, while increasing numbers and powers of populist leaders and authocratic governments have been considered as influential factors that jeopardize the media freedoms and journalists’ safeties across the globe (Repucci, 2019, p. 4), knowledge regarding the impacts of populist communication strategies advanced by political parties’ politicians in the Asian democracies, such as Indonesia, especially those who run for the national and local elections, on the media and journalists’ freedoms and safety has been under-developed.

Freedom of the media remains a crucial issue in Indonesia’s democracy. Reporter Without Borders chroniclesthat Indonesia’s rank in the 2019 World Press Fredom Index is 124. The country’s rank is lower as compared to it was in 2010 (117) and 2005 (102). Indonesia’s ranking is a little bit better as compared to 2016 ranking (130). However diverse threats to the Indonesian journalists and violence against them remain prevailing (See Masduki, 2017; Robie, 2017; Blades, 2018). Particularly, violence against the Indonesian journalists was visible during their coverage of events and issues related to elections this year.

In between 21 and 22 May 2019, twenty Indonesian journalists were assaulted while covering the outbreak of post-the 2019 presidential election protest, which was taking place in Jakarta, a capital city of Indonesia. The attacked journalists were associated with CNN Indonesia TV, RTV, Gatra, Tribun Jakarta, MNC Media, CNN, MNC Trijaya Radio, Tirto,,, INews TV, TV One, Net TV, Kompas, Tempo, AP and ABC News. The Indonesian Independent Journalist Alliance reported that they were intimidated and ambushed not only by the Indonesian police, who were incharge to handle the public’s protest, but also by individuals who were taking part in the protest (Haryanto, May 24, 2019).

The protest was organized by Prabowo Subijanto’s supporters. It occurred dramatically soon after the Indonesian General Election Commission declared that his rival, Jokowi Widodo, an incumbent presidential candidate publicly acknowledged as Jokowi, had won the 2019 presidential election. An increasing polarized political sphere had shaped within a few months before the election was held (Nyarwi, 2019). A few months before the public’s election protest took place, Prabowo had so many times launched criticisms to the the Indonesian media and journalists, especially those who were reluctant to report the 212-reunion rally organized by the Islamic middle-class communities at Monash Jakarta on 2 December 2018. He highlighted certain points while attending campaign event organized by by his campaign team and supporters on 5 December 2018. Plenty of Indonesian media misleaded the public with inaccurate facts while reporting on Prabowo’s campaing. Most of the media outlets claimed that they had kept upholding objectivity and responsibility as main principles in defending our democracy. In reality instead, they manipulated facts and turned to be manipulators of (Indonesian) democracy (Putri, December 5, 2018).

Unlike wise to Prabowo, Jokowi named Erick Thohir, an owner of multinational and national corporations, including the mainstream media, such as Jak TV and Republika, an influential newspaper that serves majority of Indonesian Islamic readers, as a chairman of his campaign team. This occurred few months after he had appointed his running mate, Makruf Amin, an influential Indonesian Islamic cleric and a supreme leader of Nahlatul Ulama, the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia. Despite of that, he successfully approached the Indonesian media barons including Harry Tanoesoedibjo and Surya Paloh. The first is a chairman of Perindo Party and an owner of MNC group that include RCTI, Global TV, INews TV and SINDO Newspaper, while the second is a chairman of Nasdem Party and an owner of Media Indonesia newspaper and Metro TV (Apinino, September 8, 2018), which intensively marketed him as a populist figure during the 2014 presidential election and also in facing the 2019 presidential election.

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