Behind the Frequency : The First Indonesian Documentary about News Media and Critical Political Economy of Media


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“News media is an institution of interest. Then, media workers are the slaves of the news room  agenda setting ”. Those phrases came from Ucu Agustin, the director of “Di Balik Frekuensi” (Behind the Frequency). “Behind the Frequency” is the first Indonesian documentary about what behind the news media industry is. Ucu said that film was an alternative media to reveal the other actual reality which were hidden or ignored by the mainstream media. “Behind the Frequency” is a film to show the rottenness of the big news TV media in Indonesia. That film also tells about Luviana, a former  TV journalist whom dismissed by Metro TV, about her struggle to seek justice for her inactivation at Metro TV, the ignorance from the Metro TV owner,  and her dismissal from the Metro TV management. There is also some sequence depicting TV One and other Vivanews media as a form of media conglomeration from Aburizal Bakrie, the chief of Golkar, a big political party in Indonesia. It shows how news TV stations have been set up for a political campaign and how news framing and agenda setting for the political interest of Golkar and Aburizal Bakrie.

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Ucu Agustin and Luviana spoke about the corrupt internal system of news media in the road show and discussion about “Behind the Frequency” at Al Azhar University of Indonesia, Saturday March 23rd 2013. It was opened by Mr. Nanang Haroni, the lecturer of journalism at Al Azhar University of Indonesia. He gave an introductory speech about TV journalism and the advantage of the film to give knowledge and illustration to its audience about the reality in journalism. The discussion session was conducted by Edoardo Irfan, a film studies and semiotics studies expert and a lecturer in Al Azhar University of Indonesia. The road show and discussion was attended by at around 180s people.

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Speaking about media, ownership, and elite interest manifestation, communication-media studies calls it as political economy of media. Kevin Williams defined political economy as the production of media products – news, journalism, film, drama, popular music, and anything else – that is structurally constrained  by economic and political factors, especially the private ownership of media industries (Williams, 2003 : 56). While David Hesmondhalgh described critical political economy as an approach to see the fact that culture is produced and consumed under capitalism as a fundamental issue in explaining inequalities of power, prestige, and profit to serve the interest of the wealthy and powerful media organizations (Helsmondhalgh, 2007 : 34). Dan Laughey said that critical political economy as a process of ideological reproduction in economic context and social, political, and cultural frameworks that associated with media ownership and control, interlocking directorship in media industries (Laughey, 2007 : 134 – 135). For an easy common sense definition, political economy of media is an approach to understand how media industry serves its owner’s economic profit orientation and the power or political interest through its production.

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For example, I own a TV media. I produce popular and highly-rated programs. I get the profit from the advertisements placed on my programs, I get money from politicians who want to have positive reportage from my journalists, and I get money from the sponsorships for my reality show in my channel. Those are the economic interest. If I have a liberal political view, I can frame my journalists reports towards the pro liberal news. Then I join a political party, I have an authority to widespread my party’s ideology and subliminal campaign through my TV contents. Those are the examples of the political interest in media.

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That’s why Luviana said that the minds of Indonesian society or publics have been manipulated by the popular and profitable TV programs. Thus, she added that media conglomeration was as the extension of political campaign and as the production cost efficiency through its integration, concentration, and its cross ownership. What Luviana said about integration and concentration was the exact proof of Graham Murdock and Peter Golding’s political economy of mass communication theory. Murdock and Golding explained  that  media concentration and conglomeration were about a process of integration, diversification, and internationalization (Laughey, 2007 : 135).

Integration is a process media merger and takeover which has two types : horizontal and vertical. Horizontal integration means a consolidation of the some media in the same type under one control and ownership. Vertical integration means a merger and takeover of production sectors, distribution channels, and retail or exhibition of a media corporation.  For the example of horizontal integration is when I have a national newspaper, I buy some local newspapers brands and corporations of some towns in our country, then I manage and I control their contents. For the vertical one, you have a publishing, you employ some writers, you build your own printing manufacture, you settle your own distributors, and you have your own book stores to retail your print media products.

Diversification is a concentration of various media type and other business related to a share of investment as well as sharing the owner’s  particular influential interest. For example, you have a corporation, you order your kid to manage a TV station, you buy a major share of a radio station to be directed by your wife, you have your sister-in-law to lead a newspaper, you give your bestfriend a magazine company, you set your concubine to lead an infotainment website, and you manage a hotel and insurance company. All are in your one big umbrella of your corporation. While internationalization is when you expand your media companies by building branch station, setting your content interculturally, and making your website internationally customized to other countries audience and users.

In Indonesia, it is still just integration and diversification in general for its political economy of media cases and phenomenon. Here is the illustration of Murdock and Golding’s integration and diversification :

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In critical political economy, media conglomeration is not healthy for democracy especially for the diversity of content. Behind the Frequency is an alternative cinema as well as a counter hegemony to the mainstream popcorn movies. Like Edoardo Irfan said at the discussion session, “Camera is the weapon of reality and moments”. So Behind the Frequency is one of media literacy handgun for Indonesian society.

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For contact with “Behind the Frequency” aka “Di Balik Frekuensi”, we can follow their Twitter : @dbalikfrekuensi

References :

Hesmondhalgh, David. (2007). The Cultural Studies, 2nd ed. London : Sage.

Laughey, Dan. (2007). Key Themes in Media Theory. Berkshire : McGraw-Hill, Open University Press.

Williams, Kevin. (2003). Understanding Media Theory. London : Arnold.

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