Sovereignty in Communication

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By: Gun Gun Heryanto*

Discussion about sovereignty in communication in the context of Indonesia’s dynamics has become the focus of scholars and graduates of Communication Studies in the National Conference for Communication (Konferensi Nasional Komunikasi) in Solo 11-13 October.

The main focus of Association of Communication Studies Graduates (Ikatan Sarjana Ilmu Komunikasi/ISKI) lies on Indonesia’s strategic and dynamic context, in the middle of various problems domestically, regionally, and globally today. Communication has become the key in responding and resolving many problems, starting from the upstream coming to the downstream, of our political system. Management of information and the mass media, as well as various problems in the cyber world has been at times associated with issues in various fields, such as politics, economy, defense, and even, the authority of the ruling regime.

Managing the Information

Jokowi-JK administration has almost reached its first anniversary. One of the weaknesses that can be felt is the lacking in management of information. Some of the most frequent examples are disputes between Ministers in his administration “Kabinet Kerja”, coordinating for implementation of regulation, and various wild movement of public opinion that is overwhelmingly left untreated.

This put bad effects on the impression as well as resonance of Jokowi’s leadership during the early take-off phase of Kabinet Kerja. An actual case is the weak management of information around the treatment of haze and forest fires. Some information that revolves around Jokowi has come from the president himself in a personal manner, instead of systemic and comprehensive problems that should be the case in managing the government’s system for information.

Of course, there exist a space for Jokowi-JK to fix the problem as soon as possible. Not only in terms of management of information in context of domestic affairs, but also the attention to position Indonesia in the middle of relational pattern with other countries, both regionally and internationally.

One of the things that should focused on when we are talking about sovereignty in communication is the privacy issue in cyrberworld. Practically speaking, privacy is categorized into 3 types. First is personal privacy that involves personal attributes, second is informational privacy that involves personal, financial, medical, and internet privacies, third is institutional privacy that involves privacy required by institution and organization.

These privacies are, however abundant in everyday life, most of the times, under-treated. Even riskier, there lies fact where the data from information center potentially left under the control of groups or institutions outside Indonesia. For example, the information that every second of its traffic is done using communication technology.

Does the providers of all communication service really protect the privacy of information that is possessed by their consumers? The same thing goes to our government. There is still space for sovereignty in communication to be questioned, especially when we are depending on the communication technology purchased from outside the country (which most of the times, related to data centers and cyber protection).

It has been long-questioned whether there is some kind of backdoor modus, which uses a kind of equipment for surveillance, that is infiltrated to every equipment and softwares purchased in other countries. That is why, a serious effort needs to be taken by our government to establish a cyber-security system in order to, especially, protect our sovereignty in communication from the possibility of being exploited. This is essential, because there could be a bigger issue when the information being exchanged is related to national defense and security.

There is a real challenge lies in front of our eyes about the “zone of assymetric warfare.” The war, this time, does no longer base itself on a military movement as what we conventionally know. Instead, the war utilizes penetration of information as its tool. For instance, in 2013, President SBY along with other high-ranking officials were anxious, if not angry, with Australia’s convicted spy program.

Despite the fact that Australia and Indonesia are neighboring states, both nations have intersecting interests that often causes friction. A report published by Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) on Thursday (31/10/2013) stated that countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia, including Indonesia has become the object of global surveillance program.

Of course, the whole world is surprised! A notable newspaper from England, The Guardian, reported that US’ NSA has been monitoring the communication made to and from 35 world leaders in 2006, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. Leaking of intelligent documents made by Edward Snowden the whistleblower who used to work for NSA has opened the eyes of many that war of information is now assymetrical. Not stopping there, we also have the cyberwar.

This kind of phenomenon was explained at length by Richard A Clarke and Robert K Knake in Cyber War (2010) as a contemporary attack to the national security. This kind of method was, for instance, chosen by Wikileaks to publicly publish secret documents, mostly aiming at “declaring war” against corruption and regime of closed information.Some of the information published by Wikileaks has once also “slapped” the dignity of SBY and government of Indonesia. A complete future’s preparation needs to be done by our government in the future to managing communicaion in the middle of what I will call “the global war of information”.

Media Sovereignty

Another issue to be focused on is the communication sovereignty of media. In several occassions, I have always reminded my conversation counterparts that phenomenon of spreading of information has been flowing from a global scale to each nation’s local scale. War on information has been, at times, also flowing through the mass media.

Strategy of packaging for information has been done through conventional mass media like television, rasio, magazine, and newspapers, as well as new media that is interactive and dynamic. It is undeniable that, political practice of information through news framing often succeeds to make an issue stands out in front of many parties, making the issue important and thus influencing opinion, both personal and public, that is spreading in the society.

The parties who hold authorities in all parts of the world must be very concious that media is second hand reality highly-likely influenced by certain ideological or political reference, and combined with the “package” of each media’s characteristics. This particular phenomenon, by C Wright Mills in his book The Power Elite (1968), is categorized as packaging of “artificial” world.

Many media feels comfortable in becoming the agent of propaganda of dominant (domestic and international) power. On the global scale, for example, dynamics of information is often controlled through many “syndicate” of news exist in big news agencies, holding them responsible to supply news among countries. The flow of international information is very heavy from countries to countries, mainly from the developed ones to the developing ones.

By that, the consequences that comes up to the surface is the dependency of news agency in developing countries to those in developed countries. Almost 60 to 70 percent of news circulation in media around the world are coming from Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters, and Agence France Presse (AFP). News agencies from the United States, AP and UPI, has long been operating in 110 and 114 countries, respectively. Reuters, owned by England, operates in (at least) 153 countries.

Meanwhile, AFP from France operates in 147 countries. Of course, one of the so-called “assymetric” information wars may start from here. Many times, the news distributed are coming from a particular “thin air” called propaganda. The sovereignty of media is very important to avoid the hegemonic personality of dominating powers of the world. Let us hope that the issues of sovereignty in communication in various aspects can become an important topic of discussion by scholars of Communication Studies in ISKI’s KNK 2015. Good luck for the Conference!


Lecturer of Political Communication UIN Jakarta and Member of Central Committee of Association of Communication Studies Graduates (Ikatan Sarjana Ilmu Komunikasi/ISKI)

Translated by: Muhammad Ichsan Fadillah