Unspun was invited together with a few other bloggers and Danny Oei from Kaskus.us to a lunch with visiting US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero yesterday and the subject of online information flows and freedom of expression naturally cropped up.
One of the interesting points that emerged during the course of the conversation was how Indonesian journalists were using the content in social media as sources of ideas,tips and information for their news articles in the mainstream media. So we have the interesting situation in which the onliners are actually having to drive and help set the news, social and political agenda of the nation.
A point explained to Otero was also that the mainstream media was coalescing around business groups that more often than not inevitably linked to political parties or factions. Online media, in helping to drive the news agenda, helps to disperse some of the concentration of power and its particular agenda.
But unknown to us, and as we were speaking, the Alliance of Journalists was planning its own version of Wikileaks to prevent censorship from their own bosses (see excerpt below). This is yet another example of how the internet is helping to democratize the flow of information and this is something that perhaps should be adopted by other countries in the region, if it can be implemented properly and the anonymity of the contributors can be protected.
Otero correctly observed that much of the positive things that Indonesian onliners and bloggers have been able to achieve so far is the result of the freedom of expression that Indonesia enjoys at the moment.
That may be true said a blogger and while there is a need to be vigilant, attempts at restricting the free flow of information is less likely to come from political forces rather than religious ones. Observed one prominent blogger: Religious issues, such as the Draw Muhamed’s Face Facebook page, give the more extreme elements of Indonesian society an excuse to call for tighter control on the freedom of information and expression.
Seeking a media outlet free of the chains of corporate ownership, a group of journalists is planning to develop a Web site that will carry stories conventional news organizations dare not touch.
Wahyu Dhyatmika, chairman of the Jakarta chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), said he hoped the site could provide an alternative outlet for journalists to post sensitive documents or evidence deemed too “dangerous” to be published in their own media.
“In short, it would be similar to WikiLeaks,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday, referring to the Sweden-based organization that publishes sensitive material and protects the anonymity of its sources. “We hope that in the future, all Indonesian journalists can engage and really benefit from this Web site and that will eventually strengthen our independent journalism.”
The Web site, which AJI Jakarta plans to launch in early August to coincide with its anniversary, is supported by the group’s chapters in Denpasar, Semarang, Surabaya, Malang and Pekanbaru.
Wahyu and 17 other AJI members recently completed a three-week course at the Radio Netherlands Training Center on how new media can support independent journalism.
He said that although Indonesia’s media had enjoyed 12 years of relative freedom since President Suharto stepped down on May 21, 1998, it did not mean that the threat was gone.