Journalists in Southeast Asia face various obstacles when reporting on general elections (elections). Starting from limited access to election data, intimidation, to acts of violence allegedly committed by groups of supporters of candidate pairs and the police. In Indonesia, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) recorded 75 cases of violence against journalists during May 2017-2018. Of the dozens of cases, 24 were committed by the police.
Meanwhile, this year, there have been 26 cases of violence committed by Tribrata members up to August 2019. Including 10 violence against journalists who covered the demonstrations last September 23-24. Not only did they experience intimidation and beatings, the journalists' work tools were also confiscated before deleting recordings, both photos and videos.
In addition to the issue of violence against journalists, restrictions on journalists' space for movement in Papua and the rubber article in the Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (UU ITE) are also an issue for press freedom in Indonesia. Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENet) Indonesia recorded at least 381 cases of the ITE Law which ensnared both individuals and institutions during 2011 to 2019. Most cases were crimes related to insult and defamation or defamation, Article 27 paragraph 3 of the ITE Law. In second place is the case of hate speech which is contained in Article 28 paragraph 2 of the ITE Law.
That's because, Reporters Without Borders in 2018, the index of press freedom in Indonesia was only ranked 124th out of 180 countries. While Freedom House in 2019, it said Indonesia was in the yellow category, which means it was not too free. Executive Director of the Nusantara Media Development Association (PPMN), Eni Mulia, admitted that he was concerned about the low index of press freedom. In fact, according to him, press freedom is a prerequisite for the democratization process in Indonesia.
“Journalism and elections are the most important instruments in democracy. So that journalists who cover the election must be given freedom and protection so that they can work well in producing quality journalistic reports, "said Eni Mulia at a regional conference entitled The Role of Journalism in Supporting Democratic Elections in Jakarta on Tuesday, November 26 2019.
In this Southeast Asian conference, Chief Editor of the Kompas General Daily, Ninuk Pambudy (Indonesia); Khaosod English senior journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk (Thailand); Executive Director Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); and Hong Kong Baptist University Professor Cherian George was the speaker. They explained the democratization process in their respective countries, especially those related to general elections.
Award recipient International Press Freedom Award 2017, Pravit Rojanaphruk revealed that until now the White Elephant country has not maximally implemented a democratic electoral system. This is because the people are not allowed to directly elect the prime minister. In the election that took place in March 2019, voters were only allowed to choose parties that had the right to enter parliament. Meanwhile, the position of prime minister will be determined by the party that has the most votes in parliament.
That way, according to Pravit, democracy in Thailand is like orange juice in a glass. Even though there was an orange taste when drunk, he did not know how many oranges were squeezed in the glass.
"So what happened in Thailand is still just a sense of democracy. There is a parliament and there is a system that resembles a democracy, ”said Pravit.
Furthermore, Pravit explained, press freedom in Thailand is hampered by a regulation known as Lese Majeste aka the patron article of the royal family. With this regulation, the kingdom can impose criminal sanctions on anyone, including journalists and mass media who are deemed to have insulted the king.
BBC Thai - the Thai language BBC news service has been a victim of these regulations. The reason for this is the article which contained the profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on December 12, 2016. The Kingdom finds the coverage of private life written by BBC Thai offensive. Apart from reporting the spreader of the article to the local police, the Thai Ministry of Digital Economy also blocked all news broadcast by BBC Thai.
"I don't know which other countries have such rules. In Thailand if anyone insults the kingdom, even if you are not Thai you will be subject to prison for up to 15 years, "said Pravit.
According to Pravit, this regulation has not changed since the first criminal law was implemented in 1908. After the military coup in 1976, this regulation was later revised to strengthen the position of the king.
“The king must be placed on the throne in a position that is laudable and must not be defiled. No one may convey accusations or actions of any kind against the King, ”read the revised law.
This then makes Thai people afraid to show expressions and express opinions. In fact, not a few of them chose to leave Thailand.
“People are exiled because conditions outside Thailand are better. Some went to America, France. Even neighboring countries which are only one hour away from Thailand, such as South Korea, "he said.
Under these conditions, the role of the media in building a better democratic space in Thailand becomes important. Unfortunately, according to Pravit, a number of media in Thailand are currently not critical. They are more unfazed when they see the involvement of politicians and political contestants in corruption cases. "To the extent that there are also (the media) that feel it is better to support the leaders of the Junta," said Pravit.
Meanwhile, media observer from Hong Kong Baptist University, Prof. Cherian George believes that the democratic system in Southeast Asia is in critical condition. It would be a disaster if the mass media in each country did not take a role. Mainly in general election coverage. Cherian reminded that the role of journalists in a democratic party is not limited to reporting the results of general elections, who will win and who will lose, as often revealed by sports journalists. According to him, journalists need to reveal their background and act critically towards all candidates.
"More broadly, election reports can orientate people and tell the public what they need to know. It's not what the candidate wants to convey, "he said.
In this regard, Cherian appreciates a number of mass media which have won the award for the best election coverage in the event Excellence in Election Reporting in Southeast Asia (ExcEl Awards 2019). ExcEL Awards are awards for journalists organized by RESPECT — a regional program supported by USAID-Washington DC in which the Association for Archipelago Media Development (PPMN) and the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) are the initiators.
This award is given to the best journalistic work related to elections by journalists in Southeast Asia. The committee received more than 100 journalistic works by journalists from Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and the Philippines. Those who received awards included Agnes Theodora (Kompas General Daily, Indonesia), Brita Putri Utami (Solider.id, Indonesia), Khalida Meyliza (Kompas TV, Indonesia), Arkhelaus Wisnu, Danang Firmanto (Koran Tempo, Indonesia) and Karol Ilagan (PCIJ Philippines).
Koran Tempo won the first award in the in-depth coverage category. The coverage entitled "PPP Requires Legislator Candidates to Deposit Rp. 500 Million" was written by the Tempo Koran Team in the October 15, 2018 edition. This coverage tells the story of the United Development Party (PPP) which allegedly obliged legislative candidate number 1 at the DPR (DPR) level. to deposit Rp. 500 million as witness fees in the 2019 Election. Meanwhile, the Philippine PCIJ was awarded the best investigative coverage award when highlighting the procurement of voter vote verification tools. (Abdus Somad)