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INDONESIA: Media told to expose candidates' track records

Survey examines print media's coverage of presidential election issues considered important to the public

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, June 11, 2009

By Dicky Christanto

A survey has called on the print media to air not just the platforms of the three presidential hopefuls, but also their track records, to present a more complete picture about those vying for the country's top seat.

"We expect that by publicizing the candidates' track records, voters will be able to make a more reasoned decision on the candidate and what they stand for," Ahmad Faisol, media watch coordinator at the Institute for the Study of Free Flow Information (ISAI), said Wednesday at a press conference to present the study's results.

The study was conducted between May 16 and June 5 this year, and was aimed at scrutinizing media coverage by 12 print media of several issues within the presidential election considered important to the public.

It found that of 2,963 stories published during this period, only 44 touched on the candidates' track records, while stories on public perception of the general elections were the most popular, accounting for 342 stories.

A total of 322 stories reported on the General Elections Commission's (KPU) abysmal handling of the polls, and 296 focused on the competition between the three presidential candidates.

Endy M. Bayuni, chief editor at The Jakarta Post, agreed there was a need for more coverage of the candidates' track records, which he said readers needed to gauge who they would vote for.

"Information on the candidates' track records is important because we can learn about the candidate's character [from it] and later we can also find out whether they can handle the current economic crisis based on the character they exhibit," Bayuni said at the press conference.

However, he added, it was difficult to find pertinent and well-documented information on the subject of track records.

"It's the job of the media people to find out who the candidates really are. We should make it a critical point to study their track records, to prevent voters getting the wrong idea about the candidates," he said.

Nurjaman Mochtar, deputy chief editor of TV One, who also attended the meeting, said TV journalists, by contrast, had not skimped on providing viewers with reports on the candidates’ track records, albeit implicitly.

"We insert the information about the track records in questions that we ask during interviews," he said.

Commenting on this, media expert Atmakusumah Astraatmadja admitted the Indonesian media's coverage of the profiles of public figures was not as extensive as in the EU or the US.

"Maybe it's because we haven't progressed all that much from the 1998 reform era, so we still find the occasional reticence on the part of the media to gather information on public figures' track records and present it clearly," he said.

"But of course we shouldn't continue in this vein.

"I really expect the media will come through with strong words related to the candidates' track records to remind voters of who these people really are."

The same study also showed that of the three candidates, the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was showered with more attention by the media, with a total of 478 stories covering him, while Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri came in second and third.