More than a decade has passed since Indonesia embarked on the transition from authoritarian rule to building democratic institutions. This week, CommGAP met with Santoso, Managing Director of KBR68H, a Jakarta-based radio news agency founded in 1999, at the dawn of the country’s democratic transition. In addition to its long roster of domestic and international awards, KBR68H is the first media and Southeast Asian organization to receive the King Baudouin International Development Prize, named after the former king of Belgium (click here for a video on KBR68H prepared by the prize sponsor).
Here’s an excerpt from the citation for the 2008-2009 prize:
KBR68H “… supplies information to a network of hundreds of local radio stations throughout the country. In just a few years, KBR68H graduated from a small group of individuals who lacked any experience in radio into a highly respectable professional organization offering a reliable source of information to tens of millions of Indonesians throughout the archipelago, and to millions more throughout Asia… Citizen participation is thus encouraged, thanks to a better understanding of the issues… This helps make citizens more aware of how society functions… information gathered indicates that this project effectively contributes to forming independent public opinion, that it fosters citizen participation and religious tolerance, and helps connect Indonesia’s dispersed regions and open up the most remote parts of the country to information.”
The news agency’s programming includes shows that focus on legal reform, regional autonomy, environmental protection, religious tolerance, human rights, civic education, and democratic development. Talkshow formats are interactive with a toll-free number for call-ins and dozens to hundreds of SMS/text messages received per program, a number of which are read on the air by anchors. But the news agency goes beyond collecting, packaging, and disseminating high quality news and information. It also supports the work of the Indonesian Association for Media Development in the following areas: training of journalists, radio technicians, and business managers to improve the quality of news and supporting media freedom through the upgrading of skills in running media as independent enterprises. Another area of work is the rebuilding stations destroyed by the 2004 tsunami in Aceh and 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta. KBR68H also runs a Radio Loan Fund, a low-interest facility that has extended access to information in far-flung areas by supporting the establishment of close to 50 stations.
The group which arranged our meeting with Santoso included representatives from the Embassy of Belgium, King Baudouin Foundation, and the Indonesia Country Program of the Media Development Loan Fund. In addition to the topics mentioned above, our discussion revolved around the persistent challenges of keeping media organizations independent from undue political and economic influence; the need for the decriminalization of libel (a carryover from the Dutch colonial period); and the viability and replicability of various business models that enable the sustainability of independent commercial media as well as community media.
In developing countries like Indonesia, traditional media with wide reach, such as radio, in conjunction with new technologies with high levels of penetration and use, e.g., SMS, are critically important for the wide dissemination of information and providing modes of participation crucial to the cultivation of active citizenship and better governance. Despite continuing challenges, the Indonesian media enjoy much more independence compared to a decade ago, and occupy a space vital to continued democratic transition and reform. It is important to recognize that the media themselves contributed to opening up this space.
Photo credit: Media Development Loan Fund, taken from http://www.mdlf.org/en/mdlf/newsroom/1072/, with the accompanying description: "The Belgian king presented Indonesian radio news agency KBR68H with the 2008-2009 King Baudouin International Development Award at a ceremony at the Royal Palace in Brussels on 19 May."