In early February 2023, the Indonesian government announced that a Presidential Regulation on Publishers' Rights is nearly completed. This new regulation involves two key changes: (1) media outlets will receive payments from digital platforms or aggregators that carry their content, and (2) Indonesia’s Press Council (Dewan Pers) will have more room to control, supervise, and mediate mass-media platforms.
The reason behind this new regulation is easy. While in the past people mainly got their information from traditional media (newspapers, radio and television), today it is a different story. With the rise of the Internet (and particularly the social media platforms) many people get their information from these platforms.
The Indonesian government is reportedly inspired by similar legislation in Germany back in 2021, following an EU copyright dispute over media contents which resulted in Google signing a deal with a number of German media outlets on payments for the use of their content online. A similar publishers’ rights law was imposed in Australia in early February 2021 (called the News Media Bargaining Code) which mandates the tech platforms to compensate media outlets when they use or link their content in news feeds or search results.
However, regarding point (1) in the first paragraph, it is not clear to us in what way the spread of traditional media content on the big tech-platforms actually harms the traditional media. After all, when we see a link of – for example – an article of Tempo on Facebook, then we are redirected to the website of Tempo to read the full article. So, the presence of traditional media’s links on the tech-platforms is actually a sort of (free) advertisement, enabling the article to reach a much larger audience. But it is true that the traditional media have seen a significant decline in advertisement revenues (because many players in the private sector now prefer to pay Google or Facebook to advertise their products).
Meanwhile, we did also detect that governments (in particular in the West) became nervous seeing a new (and huge) flow of information outside of the traditional state and traditional media channels; one that reaches a very large audience. While these platforms certainly give room to unfounded hoaxes, they also give room to founded criticism on government policies that we do not find in the traditional media. For example, during the COVID-19 we were surprised to see few criticism in mainstream media on government policies, while there was plenty of reason to critically follow government policies. In fact, on various occasions, the public was misinformed on these mainstream channels that –rather ironically– claim to offer quality journalism (for example, on matters such as COVID-19’s infection fatality ratio, and the efficacy and safety of the new COVID-19 vaccines).
With this in mind, it is also important to emphasize that democracy does not work if populations are inappropriately informed (one-sidedly or misinformed altogether). This is exactly why there exists the need for an independent institution that offers people access to a great variety of facts, interpretations, information, analysis, and opinions. Social media started acting as this institution in the 2000s. However, that seems to be the reason why governments have been trying to increase their control over social media platforms, including curbing the spread of information. From the viewpoint of democracy this does mean ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ because despite all unfounded information and speculation that exists on the web, there is also a lot of valuable information that is important for the people to know before voting in elections.
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