Under the New Order, society was conditioned to support development projects, many of which affected the lands and livelihoods of indigenous people.
Imprisonment and enforced disappearance were among the penalties faced by the critics of government policy. People were even branded “communists” for going against the government.
Various terms were used to identify indigenous people – “isolated communities”, “economically backward communities”, “tribal communities”, “inland communities” and “primitive tribes”.
These terms embedded centuries of discrimination and harassment of indigenous groups. Until today, this discrimination and harassment is reflected in the media, where indigenous people are portrayed as primitive. In Indonesian, “primitive” means having no culture, or having a low level of culture, revealing a glaring lack of media sensitivity about the issue.
Recently the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of Nusantara (AMAN) protested against the Trans TV television station for its “Primitive Runaways” program. Typically, habits and customs were used as ribbing material on the weekly program featuring celebrities. The program ended and the station apologized.
Along with progress in information and communication technology (ICT), indigenous people, including those under AMAN, have utilized ICT where a person can serve both as a consumer and producer of information, which can be disseminated through multiple information channels simultaneously (websites, community radio and online video).
The development of ICT has created new ways for indigenous activists to fight for their interest by striving to offset news dominated by media conglomerates in Jakarta.
Facebook groups discuss or exchange information about indigenous people, such as those representing AMAN across Kalimantan, along with their youth and women branches.
The ease of blogging is also utilized by indigenous people to review various cases, or the diverse aspects of their lives. Online petitions through change.org are often used to put pressure on the government, corporations or the police for specific cases.
An example is a case in Ketapang between indigenous people and an oil palm company, which resulted in the arrest of two residents.
Petitions were addressed to the police chief of West Kalimantan to release both residents. There was also a petition to the government to immediately implement a Constitutional Court ruling stating that indigenous customary forests were no longer state forests.
Government policies related to ICT are weakening the people movement and should be reviewed.
First, defamation under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE Law) has criminalized several citizens and can potentially do the same for indigenous people or their representatives, especially when their interest collides with the that of large capital owners.
Second, the ICT convergence bill. Convergence would potentially eliminate the rights of indigenous peoples to communicate by utilizing media convergence. The bill has the potential to preserve indigenous people’s inequality of access to information.
Unequal access to ICT has become a serious issue in indigenous resistance to the dominant discourse of the conglomeration of media convergence. Citizens outside Java, especially in most central and eastern parts of Indonesia, find it difficult to offset the domination of conglomeration-owned media discourse — through blogs or citizen journalism — if they lack access to ICT.
Data in 2010 from the Communications and Information Ministry revealed that 65.2 percent of fiber optic backbone infrastructure was concentrated in Java, followed by Sumatra (20.31 percent) and Kalimantan (6.13 percent).
The same is reflected in Facebook and Twitter users in Indonesia. As written in the Saling Silang Report (a snapshot of Indonesia’s social media users) in early 2011, Facebook was dominated by Jakarta residents (50.33 percent), followed by Bandung (5.2 percent), Bogor (3.23 percent) and Yogyakarta (3.09 percent), compared with Facebook users in Jayapura (0.12 percent) and Ternate in North Maluku (0.03 percent).
Similarly, Jakarta dominated nationwide tweets with 16.33 percent, followed by Bandung (13.79 percent), Yogyakarta (11.05 percent), Semarang (8.29 percent) and Surabaya (8.21 percent), compared to tweets from Palu in Central Sulawesi (0.71 percent), Ambon in Maluku (0.35 percent) and Jayapura (0.23 percent).
The centralization of mass media and ICT infrastructure in Java, while indigenous people mostly live outside Java, has lead to Jakarta-biased news.
This is the further challenge of movements advocating for indigenous peoples who often face natural resource conflicts involving the capital owners of big mass media organizations in Jakarta.
The writer is a communications officer with AMAN.