In this episode, Bonnibel Rambatan and Widia Primastika will talk about the queerphobia media ecosystem in Indonesia, policies that forbid publishing news on LGBTQIA+, and where do journalist queer peoples stand.
Welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. I’m your host, Bonnibel Rambatan, Editorial Manager for New Naratif. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the ways we attempt to do just that.
If you’ve been following New Naratif for a while, you know that one of our key focus areas is on media freedom in Southeast Asia. This episode is part of a series called Media Freedom Voices, where we ask journalists across the region to talk about their thoughts and experiences on the state of media freedom in their country.
We’re kicking things off during Pride Month, so it’s only apt to talk about the intersection of media freedom and queer issues. Our country of focus for June is Indonesia, which doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Now, how much does this extend to news reporting and the state of media freedom in the country in general? Indonesian media often choose not to publish news on queer issues, unless, of course, it conforms to the negative stigma around the LGBTQIA+ community.
This is partly because the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission or KPI has officially banned broadcasters from publishing queer-positive content, and it regularly issues sanctions and warnings against media companies that distribute such content. On top of that, the majority of the news staff are queerphobic.
So what’s the state here? And how should we navigate this situation?
Hi, listener. I’m Widia Primastika. Now, I work as a freelance journalist.
That is Widia Primastika, one of our contributors for Media Freedom Voices. Tika is an Indonesian journalist who mainly writes about mental health and gender, focusing on women and LGBTQIA+ topics. Their bylines can be found in Tirto.id, Konde.co, KBR, and of course, New Naratif.
This episode is based on their article called Queerphobia in the Newsroom: Beyond the News on LGBTQIA+, which you can find on newnaratif.com. Let’s jump right in.
Queerphobia in Indonesia’s Newsrooms
So today we’ll be talking primarily about your article, right? You wrote about Queer Phobia in the newsroom, which is a very interesting topic. So maybe let’s just give the readers an overview of what you wrote there. What is it about?
In 2021, I have done research with Konde.co about how media perspectives or how media treats queer journalists or queer articles. And then the article I wrote in New Naratif, the background is from my experience when I was still working in the mainstream media, when I see the media from the outside, this mainstream media from the outside, my previous media, they have a progressive perspective about queer.
But when I jumped to the newsroom, the work environment was very very queerphobic.
This is not only about the newsroom environment, but also when I want to report about queer stories with a good perspective, sometimes they always challenge me. And it’s not easy.
In my past research, in 2021, the condition about queer in mainstream media. Same with my experience, around maybe 2017. Until 2020.
Then, in my previous article in New Naratif in 2023, we can see that Indonesian media have the same problem with my previous experience and my previous research.
Indonesia’s Politicians and Queer Issues
Yeah, I think what’s most interesting to me about the article you wrote is that it’s part of a series called Media Freedom Voices, and one of the key focuses of New Naratif is talking about media freedom. When we talk about that, usually we kind of talk about the safety of journalists and stuff like that.
But you bring up this very interesting perspective that in the newsroom itself, the dynamics of queerphobic jokes, as you mentioned, or queerphobia, and everything else is very apparent there in your title also, which I think is really providing us with this perspective that censorship or media freedom itself shouldn’t be seen as something as a topic that’s just out there, you know, in the newsroom is some is is our people fighting for freedom, and then, you know, the government is just censoring it and stuff like that. But it happens very, you know, insidiously inside the newsroom itself.
So, as you mentioned before, you kind of found in your research that what you experienced in your personal work environment also happened elsewhere in Indonesia as a much wider structural problem, shall we say, right.
Before we jump into that, though, you did mention in your article that you had a worry about queer issues and discrimination, especially against ourselves, against queer people, will only increase as we are nearing the election year of Indonesia, right.
What’s the dynamic here? Why do you think that discrimination and election cycles and everything else. Can you talk a bit about that?
Yes. As we know about every Indonesian election year, we can see that anti LGBT narratives are always used by them. And for example, in 2023, Jokowi’s son in law, Bobby Nasution, declared that Medan is an anti LGBT city.
And you reckon that because we are nearing the election cycle, these political debate will be increasing?
Mostly our politicians use the anti-LGBT to gain public interest for them.
Press Council and Queerphobia
Yeah, which is very sad, right. I mean, it’s bad enough that queerphobia exists, like, on a structural level, on a societal level, but then for the issues to be brought up and as a political tool, as a political game for people to gather more voices and public interest, as you mentioned, it adds yet another element. So there’s the government side and then the politicians, and then, of course, there’s the people in the newsroom and all of these things, right.
But I want to know, we did talk a little bit about the news organisations itself, but what does the press Council do? What is the stance of the Press Council here in all of these things? Do they pay attention to that? Are they also queerphobic perhaps or are they somewhat trying to be a bit more diplomatic about it? How do you observe the stance of the Press Council?
I don’t know what they think about being queerphobic in the newsroom because they are not answering my question. When I called them and I sent them a letter for interviews about the article, they did not asnwer until the deadline. This is a little story about one of my sources in my article from Sejuk.
They said when Sejuk had a discussion about the Diversity Reporting Guideline, Press Council’s staff said that they chose not to mention sexuality diversity because there would be problems advocating in the newsroom.
I see. So it’s quite problematic because by not being willing to take that risk, obviously they become part of the oppression itself that we are experiencing. There’s also a quote in your article, I forgot who said this, but there’s a quote about neutrality, about how the Press Council should be neutral because this is part of the state, state should be neutral and stuff like that. So that’s an interesting thing, isn’t it? Like neutrality. Do you have any particular views, any particular ideas on this? Really? I don’t know. It’s quite disturbing, I suppose, this idea of neutrality. What’s your take on that?
I don’t believe there’s anything neutral in the world, including the Press Council. This is my experience when I interviewed editors in the Newsroom. He said that every journalist, they have a bias when they talk about queer. And this is the same with our Press Council too, when they don’t take action to the media, when the media has queerphobic reporting. So I think they are part of the discriminatory organisation.
Yeah, definitely. Because it’s like, again, as we talk about this, it becomes increasingly obvious that in every situation where there’s oppression, if you want to be, quote unquote, neutral, if you want to take both sides, listen to both sides, that’s always a false position because then you would be siding with the oppressors, right? Because there is no as you mentioned, there’s no such thing as neutrality, especially in terms of oppression.
In terms of like when oppression happens, you need to take a stance, right? And then by neutrality it’s like you kind of don’t want to be the bad guy. But then you are right. I mean, obviously if you don’t take action, if you don’t take a strong stance against the oppression, it means you’re for the oppression.
But on the other hand, also the government, especially the KPI, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, they explicitly ban broadcasts that are queer positive, that support positive queer content or even queer content in general. They have sanctions and stuff like that.
Could you tell us a bit more about these policies and maybe like how you or your sources have been affected?
About the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission they declare a policy instrument against LGBT, they have a policy instrument that they ban content that contains LGBT. And this policy has been going on for several years until now.
A little story about when I did research in 2021 until 2022, I wrote an KPI’s portal that they have several times given warnings to some television or radio that are showing broadcasts about LGBT contents. And once I try to see the warnings, they warn about television stations that show advertisements about LGBT content.
And I look at the content and when I look at the content, there has been an advertisement of a man wearing a skirt. When I look at the advertisement that they banned. I think that,
Top Issues that Need to be Addressed
Yeah, I mean, let’s not even talk about the difference between gender identity and gender expression. They can’t even differentiate between gender and sexuality. And of course, it’s like the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, maybe for listeners who might not be familiar with it, they were quite infamous.
I mean, it became an internet joke several years back about censoring Spongebob Square pants and Dora and stuff like that. Like Sandy Cheeks is wearing a bikini and they kind of censored that. So it’s kind of like a pretty comedic, shall we say, organisation. It’s become a laughingstock. But it’s also dangerous because they can issue warnings, they can take down content, right. It would be funny if it weren’t actually so insidious towards queer people.
So we have outlined a lot of dimensions here. Also in your article about the state of queerphobia, about how the Indonesian Broadcasting Commissioner is behaving and censoring and sanctioning people, the Press Council is kind of like lukewarm trying to be diplomatic and just like, quote, unquote, neutral, but end up partaking in the oppression.
And also in the newsroom itself, right? Also in the newsroom, people are still queerphobic despite the news organisation itself having a progressive facade to the public, right? So these are a lot of issues. What are your thoughts on how would you prioritise these issues?
What do you think we need to address first? Or what do you think are the top issues that we would need to address? Because it’s a complex problem, it’s a structural problem. So what are your thoughts on the okay, let’s just start with this. Let’s just start with that. How do you think about that?
We need to have the same perspective about SOGIESC. The main problem when I interview some sources in my article is different knowledge about SOGIESC. The one we can do is they need to learn first about SOGIESC, especially for the media.
Some journalists don’t have a SOGIESC class in their newsroom. Some journalists have a good perspective about queer. And then when they wrote the article about queer in good perspective, their editor had no knowledge about SOGIESC. And then the news they published has many biases, especially heteronormative binary bias.
I think that’s also important, I guess, to be mindful of the difference between them actually doing all of this out of spite, out of bigotry. I mean, all of these are definitely bigoted.
But also, when you say that education on SOGIESC is the most important thing, then that means that there’s still hope, right? I mean, that that means well, hopefully, I mean, we can hope that once we fight this ignorance, then things can get better, right?
It also reminds me of that part in your article where you mentioned that I forgot which one of your sources but there was this person interviewed about SOGIESC and stuff like that, but then it got edited and taken out of context to conform to the preexisting notion that being queer is something contagious but also curable.
So it’s like a disease, right? I think that kind of, like, stems from this ignorance, like you mentioned. So educating journalism, educating the newsroom, educating all of that would be necessary to spread awareness that it’s not a disease, right?
Yeah. It’s not something contagious, and you shouldn’t try to cure it, which is, of course, it’s a challenge if the newsroom itself, if people producing the news, are editing things, taking things out of context, and just trying to really trying to shape all of these narratives into something that they believe in.
But what do you think is the biggest challenge there? Do people just not know the importance of having these kinds of awareness, having a clause? Or is there no one providing it?
Is there maybe not enough budget for the news organisations, or are they afraid of having all of these education and awareness? What are your thoughts? Why aren’t there more classes, more awareness of these issues?
There is no class for new journalists. So this is a structural problem in our media. When the media has new journalists in their newsroom, they just assign their journalists instantly to coverage in some topic. They have no class, no basic class.
I guess that speaks to the larger problem in the media landscape, right? Just new journalists come in. All right. You go to reporting there, they assign it right away, just churning out content after content, because it’s like, yeah, correct me if I’m wrong, because I do believe that there’s lots of demand for journalists to churn out as many articles as possible, as quickly as possible, maybe to different degrees and different kind of like media and media platforms.
But there is a lack of incentive for the media to actually provide learning for their journalists. Would you say that’s the case? But also, at the same time, do you think journalists in general, do you think they would be willing or interested to learn more about these issues, or do you think there is hesitation from the journalists themselves?
I have a lot of conversations with many journalists, especially new journalists, and I have a lot of conversations with student press. They have interest in SOGIESC, but our media environment is not providing.
And some of my experiences, when I talk to them, to student press, they said that they want to learn a lot about SOGIESC and they want to write about queer reporting in a good perspective. And I think this is a hope for our media when we talk about queer.
Yeah, definitely. So if that’s the case, and I mean, in your narratives, we talk a lot about democracy, right? Which means that we’re hopeful, we continue to be hopeful. When there are certain structures that are oppressive to certain minority groups, they’re not set in stone.
Usually people can get together and then discuss things and then eventually push for change, and then eventually change happens. I mean, throughout history, that’s been the case over and over again.
And in other countries, I believe, like lots of other countries, were very, very queerphobic, historically speaking. There was some opening, and then there was the whole AIDS epidemic and it changed everything and stuff like that, but then started to become more open again, right? Historically speaking, that’s the case.
And if you mentioned that there are lots of young journalists and student press and people who are actually interested in these things, in learning more about SOGIESC and about reporting and reading about perspectives regarding the queer community and about queerness in general in a more positive light, then it means there’s hope.
There’s hope for a movement, there’s hope for change. Right? So how do we grasp that hope? How do we pursue that hope, do you think? What can we do as journalists, as writers, as listeners, or as people who care about the rights of minority groups, about the rights of the LGBTQIA plus community?
How do we advocate against these discriminatory policies? How do we start to raise more awareness about SOGIESC in our community? What would you say are the things that we need to do?
One of the important things to do is:
When the media has a bad perspective when they talk about queer, some netizens are not afraid to criticise the media, and this makes the media do better.
I guess that’s also a note to be hopeful, to keep in mind, I suppose, regarding the media, is that, if enough people speak up about these issues, if enough people criticise, they will change the tactics, right? I mean, essentially lots of media care about whether the things that they publish resonate with the rest of society.
I guess if enough people speak about it. It sounds a little bit cynical and I don’t mean to be completely cynical here, but if queerphobic news gets published and then it gets popular and then it gets clicks, then that’s what we’re going to get, right?
But if queerphobic news gets lots of criticism in media, back, sorry, backlash on social media and people start demanding better news, and people start reading and sharing news that report queer communities and queerness in a more positive light, then I think media, the media landscape in general will kind of adjust, right?
And I do think speaking up is important, speaking on social media being critical, as you mentioned, about news reporting on social media. And I suppose speaking up against queer phobic jokes in the newsroom among your peers, among your community, I do think that that’s also important, I guess.
Okay, so maybe one final question, right? What would you say to queer journalists who are starting out, whether they’re out or whether they’re not yet out? But if there is a queer journalist and then they work in a media environment that’s not very supportive of queerness, maybe they’re a bit queer phobic.
It doesn’t matter if their facade is a progressive media or not. But if they’re working in this media landscape and they feel uncomfortable with the queerphobia in the newsroom and also outside of the newsroom, what would you tell them?
They can meet the community or they can make a supporting system. From my experience, this support system can help us to feel better, we can share a lot of stories and we can get maybe a little solution to make us feel better than we face alone.
Yeah, definitely. I think, as with all every part of the queer community, I guess, living our lives as queer people, collective care and community and support system, that’s most important.
And I guess letting queer journalists, like young queer journalists, know that they’re not alone, that they have other queer journalists who can stand with them and to push for change, I guess that’s very important to keep the hope alive.
And that wraps up our discussion with Widia Primastika. Things might look pretty dire, but let us all not lose hope. You’re not alone. Find a community, build your support network, practise collective care, and speak up. Push for change. Queerphobia is a deep and structural problem, but it’s not a given. We can empower ourselves to change things.
If you are a journalist or a media worker, share this podcast to your coworkers and invite them for classes on SOGIESC. You also can learn the Press Council guide on broadcast on diversity issues, as well as sensitivity guides on reporting on trans and queer people from resources such as the Asia Pacific Transgender Network.
If you’d like to know more about Media Freedom Voices, as well as our Media Freedom in Southeast Asia Project in general – which includes various research, legal briefings, and other activities, you can go to newnaratif dot com slash media freedom. We’ll also have further discussions on this issue which you can take part in. That’s newnaratif.com/mediafreedom, all one word.
My name is Bonnibel Rambatan, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches. Brought to you by New Naratif, and produced by Dania Joedo. I’ll see you around.
Read more PUBLICATION BY WIDIA PRIMASTIKA
Indonesian national media outlets often opt not to publish news on LGBTQIA+ issues. When they do, they tend to perpetuate the stigma on the queer community. This condition is worsened by a number of policies that explicitly forbid publishing news on LGBTQIA+ issues as well as queerphobia among the newsroom staff.