Hope for the future of RRI as Public Radio in Indonesia

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Dr. Rer. Soc. Masduki, lecturer at the Department of Communications, Universitas Islam, Indonesia and former Programme Director of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI).
12th April 2022
This year marks 20 years since public radio was established in Indonesia. To date, Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) remains the only public radio broadcaster in the country. But ongoing governance and independence issues have presented themselves as key barriers to it being a truly independent, public media organisation. With a new director and supervisory board recently elected, this insight by Masduki provides an analysis of RRI’s ongoing issues, and explores the potential solutions that new leadership could consider to reform the organisation and protect the future of public radio in Indonesia.

For the fourth time since its establishment as a public service radio in 2002, RRI, as the sole public radio in Indonesia, has elected new directors. The election process was in November 2021, with the elected directors starting work since early January 2022. Veteran radio journalist, political survey practitioner and social activist, Ignatius Hendrasmo, was elected to lead RRI until 2026. This report discusses the points that can be noted from this new five-year management reform for the journey of RRI as a national broadcaster in the post-authoritarian Indonesian media system.

Two decades of public media in Indonesia

The public service broadcasting (PSB) system in Indonesia differs from most public broadcasting in Europe, which is the birthplace of this system. Indonesia only started adopting the PSB system in 2002, with three main operators: RRI for radio, TVRI for television and local provincial and/or sub-provisional PSBs (LPPLs). They are separate media institutions previously owned by national and local governments. Among all broadcasters, RRI is the oldest national broadcaster, established on 11 September 1945. The majority of its broadcasters were government employees. The main funding for this media, since its establishment, is the annual state budget (called APBN).

The supervisory board does not function as a barrier to political intervention, but becomes an extension of politicians’ interests instead.

The change in RRI’s legal status from a government owned radio organisation to a public radio organisation in 2002 did not directly alter its work culture and its overall governance. While political intervention no longer occurs in its content production, the budget plan and distribution as well as selection of its top structure members remain in the hands of political authorities. RRI has two high level structures: a supervisory board and a board of directors, which are elected every five years. The supervisory board is legally elected by parliament on behalf of the citizens, while the board of directors is elected by the supervisory. This two-room model is formally in line with many other public broadcasters throughout the world, such as the BBC and NHK. However, they experienced a different journey here in Indonesia. The supervisory board does not function as a barrier to political intervention, but becomes an extension of politicians’ interests instead.

New leadership: ongoing politicisation

The election of a new board of directors at the end of 2021 provides an ideal reference to indicate the ongoing politicisation of RRI. By observing various coverage of the election in the last six months, there are three relevant issues to unpick.

First, there was a continued external intervention of the supervisory board in July 2021, which led to the politicisation of the directors’ election in December 2021. The elected members of the supervisory board who are considered informally affiliated with certain political parties influenced their appointment of the RRI Director. This intervention is legally supported by the Broadcasting Law No. 32/2002, the regulation which established RRI as a public radio organisation, that gives full mandate to the parliament to elect the board through two stages, involving the government and the parliament. Initially, politicians assign the government – not an independent institution – to recruit applicants in an open and competitive manner, then 15 selected names are submitted to parliament. Such politicisation not only results in the weak autonomy that the supervisory and executive boards wield, but it also minimises RRI’s latitude to have public representatives in its management structure.

Second, there was an ‘elite model’ of selection mechanism. Instead of forming a large number and varied membership of selection team, the Minister of Communication and Informatics created a small team only consisting of its senior staff and academics. There was no representative from civil societies and/or larger public institutions.

Third, given the open and competitive nature of the election, culture-based representatives or representatives of various communities, professionals in broadcasting and the diversity of public interests do not apply. This is because, in contrast to the selection model for the top public radio board in Germany, the selection model for the supervisory board and board of directors of RRI in Indonesia, referring to Law no. 32/2002, adheres to the competitive representation model. This model attracts members to come from open selection without specific affirmation given by certain groups such as women or from the disabled community. The open competitive model may open up competition without discrimination on the one hand, but risks having figures who only have clientelist affiliations with government officials and/or politicians being selected. As a result, the board members work only to serve the interests of their political allies, instead of universal public aspirations.

The recent optimism for RRI as a public radio that excels in digital services to serve the interests of citizens remains high amidst the financial crisis.

Government decree no. 12 and 13 of 2005 legally allows three kinds of supervisory membership: the government, RRI and the public. Yet, in practice, the composition of the supervisory and executive boards of RRI in the past 15 years have been dominated by representatives of RRI – among 5 members of the board, the public based commissioner is a minority (typically one person from the public). The rest are from RRI and/or government official. The lack of public representation has resulted in a conflict among the elites between RRI, the government and politicians, without considerable public involvement.

Hope for independent public radio in the future?

The recent optimism for RRI as a public radio that excels in digital services to serve the interests of citizens remains high amidst the financial crisis facing commercial broadcasters and the politicisation of social media in Indonesia. For this reason, apart from focusing on internal consolidation, challenges for the new directors include advocating for changes to broadcasting policies and forming audience councils – and therefore increasing public participation – in all provinces throughout Indonesia. Given the lessons learned from the recent election of the RRI supervisory and executive boards in 2021, an assessment of the selection mechanism is also needed. The German model, wherein members of the boards are a mix of professionals, socio-religious figures, political parties, etc., could be considered. It is necessary to emphasise that RRI is a social rather a political institution, so that RRI can be free from politicisation. The new RRI boards should also intensively forge alliances with media advocates at national and international levels to push the Indonesian parliament’s plan to revise the Broadcast Law so that it is in line with the ideal interests described above.


This article was first published in Public Media Alliance. Read the source article. This article has been republished for educational purposes within the “Communication on Media” Rubric: Department of Communications mediated in Mass Media content.