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Media foments intolerance, critics charge
Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Critics are accusing the Indonesian media of encouraging intolerance by failing to cover issues thoroughly.
Even when the media has tried to be objective in its reporting, it has often misled its audience through a poor understanding of religious terms, critics said. They added that the end result has been to justify or even inspire acts of intolerance.
The media “is taking part in triggering and exacerbating conflicts,” said Siti Musdah Mulia, secretary-general of the International Conference for Religion and Peace (ICRP). She was speaking on the sidelines of a discussion on media and diversity held here Monday by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).
Musda pointed to the example of the stigma attached to the Ahmadiyah religious group. “We could see the media frequently using the phrase ‘the allegedly heretical Ahmadiyah sect’ in their reporting on the group. If this is continually stated, the public will think that the group is truly heretical,” she said.
She also criticized the way the media depicted the Lia Eden community by focusing on its differences from mainstream religion. “We don’t need to highlight Lia Eden saying that she had left Islam and had told her followers to abandon the daily prayers and to eat pork, as this definitely provokes anger and strong feelings among Muslims,” she said.
She suggested that the media cover the positive sides of the two minority groups instead of trying to expose differences that could mislead the public.
Jalaludin Rakhmat, an expert from the Padjajaran University, said the media always elected to report on controversies because they considered them newsworthy, thus failing to support diversity. “Hardliners are definitely more newsworthy than pluralists,” he said.
The Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) found in a recent study, however, that people who had access to mass media were mostly more tolerant than those who did not.
LSI surveyed 1200 people in 33 provinces from Jan. 23 to 27. They found that 46 percent of those who read newspapers or watch television at least once a week said they didn’t mind people of other faiths building houses of worship in their neighborhood. Meanwhile, 36 percent of people who never read newspapers had the same attitude.
The survey also found that 71 percent of the respondents agreed with the mission of Nadhlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim organization, which promotes pluralism and tolerance.
Eleven percent said they agreed with the mission of the Indonesian Mujahedin Council (MMI), which favors imposing Islamic law in the country. Another 2.5 percent said they agreed with the mission of the Islamic Liberal Network.
The survey also found that Indonesians were mostly tolerant in dealing with ethnic differences. More than 90 percent of those surveyed said they did not mind living next to people of other ethnic backgrounds.
The survey found they became less tolerant, however, when dealing with religious differences. Of those surveyed, 42 percent said they disapproved of the establishment of houses of worship in their neighborhood by other faiths.
“They are more intolerant of homosexuals and transvestites,” said Iman Suherman of LSI. Sixty-one percent said they did not mind having transvestites as neighbors, while 43 percent were willing to live next to homosexuals.
The findings also indicated that the public is intolerant toward communists. “Sixty-six percent of those who had access to the media said they did not like communists or the Indonesian Communist Party,” said Iman. He added that might be fed by the annual television broadcast of a movie on the aborted 1965 coup every Sept. 30 on television.