Monday, February 12, 2007

Preserving worker's right in the media industry

kompas inside
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Ignatius Haryanto )*

Recently a big case happen to Paulus Bambang Wisudo, a senior Kompas journalist, who was ransanked in this mid December for his struggle as workers activist in Indonesian biggest daily. Bambang wanted to ensure workers right in having 20% shares of the newspaper company, and for his struggle he and several of his friends were mutated to remote area.

Alhtough the mutation was claimed as part of the normal rotation for Kompas journalist, but many can suspect this act was part of the revenge action by the newspaper management over their workers. This act can be seen as an act against Indonesian Labor Law, when a company ransacked or turned down the union activist, they can get some punishment.

This big case reminds us that journalist, although many claim as special profession, but in the eyes of the media owner or media management, journalist are still workers by definition, since they don't own the media. What Bambang and his colleagues struggle for is part of the legacy from Harmoko's era as Minister of Information.

Harmoko, during the New Order era, proposed an idea that media workers should have collective shares in the media industry, as part of increasing journalists welfare effort. The intention of his idea was actually good, but in reality, is quite complicated to be enacted.

Part of the problem is that there's no such control from the Ministry to check whether the 20 % workers share were happened in many press industries at that moment, and in reality, Harmoko himself, put his own interest in having the share, in stead of the workers themselves. So part of Harmoko's legacy remains problematic for today, when the state actually is not as strong as the New Order era. So, the state cannot intervered to media management to check whether the 20% policy was still enacted, or what happen to journalist welfare, as Harmoko was struggling about twenty years ago?

Let's put aside the problem, whether journalist should or would have 20% of their company share, but let's go to another question, do the journalist have their rights to be involved in journalist union in order to protect their rights? In the New Order era, answer to this question would be very vague.

Yes, journalist also have their rights as media workers, but on the other hand, this argument mention that journalist is different than any other profession, because they are professionals, and not the same with other workers (for instance, manufacture workers, and so on).

So in line with this argument, that journalist association was prohibited to connect with workers association, and they can form an instititution in the media company, to preserve their welfare, but this institution should be managed through family cultures and values ("sikap kekeluargaan").

But on the other hand, the opponent to this argument raised an issue that journalist is the same as other workers, although they were working in different sectors, but the basic idea is the same; they are workers, they didn't take part in the decision making processes in the company, they cannot control the company owner, and they are not owning the company.

By looking at fragile situation faced by the journalist, it is necessary, for this opponent view, that journalist should, and could build their own union.

Looking at the economic crises situation several years ago, where many media companies flourished, and banished at very short time (from three to six months), it is very critical for journalist in those media companies to preserve their rights, especially when journalists were having low salaries, and not having compensation after the media was bankrupt. Some cases even went to trial, and some cases showed that the media workers were win over the media owner.

In the era where hypercommercialism was raised, and the media company was turned into a purely business entity, this case was not suprising to happen. Forget the old adagium when the press industry was perceived as part of the institution for struggle, and many writers (eg: Christianto Wibisono, Daniel Dhakidae, David T. Hill) had already shown us the shifting from the press struggle paradigm to business struggle paradigm.

Remember, that we are now living in the very tough competition in the media industry, not only among media groups, but also competition in the media formats (Television versus print media, radio versus internet, etc.)

What happen to press idealism, in this shifted situation? Are we still facing great idealism created by most of the press founder, or are we now facing a more business friendly or a entertainment type of news that reduced political and economic risks?

Are we easy to find indepth and thoughtful articles in the papers, or watching insightful programs in television? Or we just can say we find more rubbish news or program than before? If this happen, who can balance the situation? The government? The Public? The Journalist themselves? Or Who else?

I still believe that in this situation, the public, and journalist have their chance to increase and to improve media performance today. Taking this responsbility to the government will backlash us to the New Order situation, when the state control over everything in the press.

But giving a chance for public (in this sense; the readers, the viewers, the media watch groups) to control the media, is more a healty situation, when there is an interraction between media producers, and media consumers, to create a situation when hypercommercialism can be negotiated. And giving this chance also to journalists themselves is also a good effort, so that they feel responsible to the society, which they owe their support to the media organisations.

In this stance, I would say, that preserving journalist right to be involved in the union, is the basic rights, basic needs, and also basic strategy if the media companies, still wanted to get support from public.

Media companies which undermines their workers will get bad image from the public. And taking adagium from the second wave of feminist activists, the media company should also notice : "the personal is the political", means that what happen inside the media company cannot perceived only as a matter of their internal problem, but it is also part of the larger interest of the public.

When the media intrude union activists, it gives signals that the media in itself is undemocratic, and the public will consider this act as part of the media hypocricy when the media publish many good articles and news about democratic values, but in reality, the media itself was undemocratic to their workers. (*)

12-12-06

)* Ignatius Haryanto,
a researcher at Institute for Press and Development Studies, LSPP, Jakarta




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