The mass media constitute the blood of democracy. The mass media delivers all of information needed by any part of democracy. The content of media is not only a communication from government to citizens and from citizens to government, but also from media to citizens and government. Since the power of media in society, mass media was expected to become neutral, factual, and balance.
However, the ideal form of mass media toward democracy is debatable. Some people argue that media will never be neutral due to economic and political interest. Instead of telling the truth, mass media constructs the reality, determines what the important issue which may different from the factual reality.
This paper illuminates a relationship between mass media and politics in constructing the reality during 1999 and 2004 election in Indonesia.
The Role of Media in Democracy
One of the important rights that is recognized in democracy is the right to information. Information is the basic need for citizens to improve their quality of life. As stated in Universal Declaration of Human Right article 19, that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/).
Based on that declaration, the right to information has two meanings. They are right to know, the right to seek and gain information or ideas in order to improve of citizen’s life, and right to expression which means the right to have an opinion fearlessly through any media. (Siregar, 2008:1) In fact, citizens need factual information to make a preference or argument as a public opinion (Keane, 1992). These two meanings of right to information is the material needed to build a public opinion, thus becoming a public policy in public sphere.
In the end of the twentieth century, democracy is in a risk-ridden society. Public opinions as an important matter of democracy are challenged by media monopoly. There are two main ideologies determine whom the media will side with. They are, commercialism which will lead media to produce a market-driven content, and authoritarianism that tends to support the status quo or the ruling class (Keane, 1992; McNair, 2000).
Furthermore, the increase of media technology and recent journalism activity prevail upon the political crisis in the public sphere. There are several trends that lead journalism into political crisis. First, political discourse becomes only a routine element of media. Since capitalism’s interest goes stronger, the banalities of media content become more common. Instead of giving a substantive political message, media inclines to become more instantaneous and sensational as infotainment. Second, a political information overload. The amount of information exposed in different media with the same information could make the audience be bored. Third, an utilizing of public relations technique or spin doctoring in political campaign. The other trends are elitism and “hyper-adversarialism” (McNair, 2000, p. 3-7).
However, in the term of journalism, media was deserved to be kept its freedom. As Meyer said that “ the journalism has been a major factor in keeping our politicians honest and our democracy working” (USA Today, Meyer’s emphasis).
Using Media on Political Campaign
Since its presence, media has played an important role in political life. Politicians use mass media to introduce their personality, ideas or political platform to their constituents. Laswellian defines politics as who gets what, when, how (Hamad, 2007). In other word, politics is about who has more power (channel) to persuade others what to think or what to do. Moreover, media is not only gives the factual information, but also constructs the reality.
Reality is socially constructed. Human create symbols of things to communicate among each other. Through a dialectical process in any media in the social world, human create a shared meaning about things, then it is called reality. Social construction of reality can be distinguished in three types of reality, that is, objective, symbolic and subjective reality. Through a holistic approach, which concerns both micro and macro levels of social life, the important role of mass media in constructing reality in social life can be understood (Adoni and Mane, 1984).
Based on a long historical media research, three theories which can be used to understand how media constructs the political reality on its audience’s mind. At least, there are three ways which can explain how media constructs the reality. First, media constructs by framing the news. Here, media packages the message from factual reality, emphasizes some facts, and hides others. Second, media constructs the reality by its coverage, usually called an agenda-setting function. Agenda setting function can be proven by asking a question about who (political party and candidate) or what issues were the most published. Third, media constructs the reality by a language or political symbol. Language is the basic need of constructing the reality. Certain language style in newspapers indicates a certain meaning (Hamad, 2007, p. 6).
Media in The Post-New Order Indonesian General Election
In early 1998, Indonesia began a new life. The fall of Suharto regime brought a reformation in social, economic and political lives include elections. Since the reformation era, May 1998, the number of political party and mass media were rapidly increasing. A hundred new political parties were declared, but only 48 party verified to participate in the 1999 election. In addition, the spirit of partisan media was also increasing by that time (Hamad, 2007:11).
Through a critical discourse analysis (CDA) toward 9 political parties of the 1999 election news in 10 national newspaper, Hamad (2007) points out that those newspaper have their own orientation on certain political parties by labeling (p. 11). For instance, Golkar party was labeled as pro status quo, unfavorable since Golkar had done something wrong in the past. In contrast, PDI-P and PPP were labeled as big parties who fight against the new order regime (Hamad, 2004, p. 115).
Related to media coverage, Hamad (2007) compared how media (printed or electronic), constructed a political image of party between 1999 and 2004 election. In the size and the time of news, both printed and electronic media covered big parties, which have a great mass, such as PDI-P, Golkar, PPP, PKB, PAN more than small parties. Yet, in quality and news direction, the coverage varied for each media.
In addition, a nongovernmental media watchdog and research group, the Institut Studi Arus Informasi (ISAI) monitoring indicates that during 1999 election, media gave more beneficial news coverage for Golkar party (Sudibyo, 2004). Sudibyo suspects there was a monopoly of information during the election process by big parties or media itself.
The monopoly of information occurred due to financial capability of party. For instance, during January – May 1999 before the election, Golkar spent 7.6 billion rupiah for advertising in mass media, PDI-P 5.8 billion rupiah, and PKB spent 2.3 billion rupiah (Sudibyo, 2004). Comparing with 1999 election, PDI-P spent 3.9 billion rupiah, Golkar 21,7 billion rupiah. In fact, those parties were included as big five majority in both 1999 and 2004 election.
Despite not many change happen in 2004 election, however some interesting fact emerged about media image and vote getting. Democratic Party (PD) and Welfare and Justice Party (PKS), as newcomers in the 1999 election, increased their vote in 2004. Indeed, PKS won the election in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, then PD in the second place. The PKS won the election because Jakarta’s voters regarded, mostly through media, as a clean and caring party. In other hand, PD becomes more popular because of the personal popularity of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the president from 2004 to the present (Sudibyo, 2004). SBY’s popularity, however, greatly increased after he resigned from Megawati’s cabinet. Further, his image was constructed by media as damaged by Megawati’s power, voters looked at SBY with sympathy.
The media construction of political reality allegedly affects the election winning. However, the mass media apparently has a great power to influence a public awareness and public opinion. Regarding the potential power of media, many parties involve the media in their campaign strategy. The media strategy seems to be promoted as the most used vote getter in the next election.
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