The Power of a Story: Social Change in Indonesia

Target group

Indonesian journalists and citizen reporters


Indonesian citizens, including indigenous communities; Indonesian policy makers

Other stakeholders

Indonesian Civil Society (human rights and environmental organisations, Association of Indonesian Journalists, Indonesian lawyers)

Country Partners Budget Duration
Indonesia Tempo Institute, Indonesian Association for Media Development €671.690 January 2016 to December 2018
Theory of Change Themes Donor
Intermediate Outcome 1, Intermediate Outcome 2, Intermediate Outcome 3 Accountability, Gender equality in media content, Inclusive content, Professional standards in the workplace Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Indonesia is the land of the opposites – it is the world’s third largest democracy and seen as role model for successful political transition, yet also home to highly volatile party politics and corruption (in 2017, 32% of respondents of a Transparency International survey had paid a bribe when accessing basic services). Despite its secular set-up, Indonesia is quickly falling prey to religious radicalization. Even though the country is the largest economy in Southeast Asia (and the 16th world economy according to World Bank, IMF and UN data) with huge economic potential and vast development, the rate of inequality and regional disparity is staggering – 60 percent of all GDP is generated on the main island Java (only one of 17 thousand islands) and the four richest Indonesians are richer than the poorest 100 million (almost half of the total population). Inequality (exclusion), corruption and radicalization are the three major challenges the country currently struggles with. Of those three, corruption is considered the one posing the biggest problem for the longer-term political, economic and social development of the country (see Situational Update for details).

Media context:

Indonesia has a dualistic media landscape – TV is the main media for entertainment and amusement whereas Internet is the place where the public seeks information and news and shares views. Internet is seen as provider of answers to any kind of question or desire. It is no wonder that Indonesia is dubbed “the digital archipelago” and that trust rates in Internet are among the highest in the world (65 percent of Indonesians trust the Internet). The radio spectrum is crowded and over-saturated (licenses are allocated, among others, by connections and corruption), with thousands of stations in Jakarta alone. Even though private radios carry news, the main broadcast is music and advertising. Community media is underdeveloped.

There are three major problems facing media in Indonesia today: concentration of ownership, radicalization and declining public trust. These trends are also intertwined. Most media outlets are owned by 12 oligarch companies and they increasingly shape the news and views the public consumes, making the content biased and partisan. This in turn, coupled with the quick technological developments in communication and opening of new information channels, has resulted in decreasing public trust in mainstream media. As a consequence, those seeking “reliable” information, which is not painted by the media oligarch industry, seek alternative sources, which in many cases is social media. With some exceptions, this decline of public trust was not followed by growth of credible alternative media. As social media fills this vacuum, many fall victim to hoaxes, fake news and religious radicalism.

These three problems directly affect the work of journalists: self-censorship is widely spread (either because media owners dictate certain content, or because of threat of anti-blasphemy law and the Electronic & Information Transactions Law, governing online content) and engaging in public service journalism (investigating corruption, for example) and regaining audience trust is becoming increasingly difficult.

Overall objective

The overall objective of FPU’s programme in Indonesia is to actively engage civil society, media and authorities to contribute to national efforts in combating corruption, increasing transparency and accountability and diminishing inequality (including of women and marginalized groups).

The program has three main goals: 1) contribute to regaining public trust in media and its role as watchdog of society and 2) strengthen the capacity of media, journalists and citizen journalists to produce content aimed at inclusion, empowerment and accountability; 3) improve the enabling environment for media

The added value of the program is that in all its stages it incorporates close cooperation between media, civil society groups and executive authorities. The investigative stories produced by Tempo aim to have lasting impact because they are a combination of high quality research, bullet proof evidence, civil society engagement as sources and actions taken by law-enforcement agencies. The female fellowships and citizen journalists programme aims to strengthens professional skills and to improve the position of women in and through the media, but also leads to community problems being solved (by engaging local authorities and using local CSOs as partners).

This track record describes the power of journalism as a catalyst of social change. It does not describe activities and outcomes mentioned under the strategy for Intermediate Outcome 1.

Intended outcomes

Strategy under Intermediate Outcome 1

(An enabling environment for the media is established, conducive to freedom of expression)

To improve the enabling environment for media  in Indonesia through lobby and advocacy work on the Press Freedom Index and organizing working groups in each province that assess the press freedom situation via the PFI indicators annually
Strategy under Intermediate Outcome 2

(Media serve the interests of the public and act as a watchdog on their behalf)

To contribute to regaining public trust in media and its role as watchdog of society through high quality public service journalism for accountability and good governance and promoting access to information and empowerment of excluded or marginalized groups through female journalists fellowships
Strategy under Intermediate Outcome 3

(Journalists and media actors work professionally and are effective and sustainable)

To contribute to a more gender inclusive media environment through organizing a gender and media campaign around the Citradaya Nita fellowship, including discussion meetings with various stakeholders on gender inequality in media content and in the newsroom


  • Basic and Advanced Investigative Fellowships
  • Skills training in investigative journalism, business reporting, reporting corruption and crime, environment
  • Citradaya Nita fellowship programme for female fellows
  • Digital safety training
  • Publication of stories
  • Content Monitoring
  • Independent management of and collaboration within the IndonesiaLeaks platform
  • Production and distribution of content (stories) made possible though cooperation with CSOs (access to sources, data)

Achieved outcomes

In March 2017 Tempo Magazine (Indonesia) published a large story exposing seven human trafficking networks operating between south-central Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia.1 Over 2,000 people, mostly women, were trafficked illegally to Malaysia and became victims of slavery. 33 people lost their lives. Authorities in both countries responded immediately. In Indonesia a task force consisting of governmental agencies and police was formed to investigate and take preventive measures. In Malaysia, one perpetrator was brought to justice and several trafficked women were freed.

The story and the response to it show the power of independent media that serve the interest of the public and act as a watchdog on their behalf. This is one of the three pillars in the Theory of Change (ToC)2 of Free Press Unlimited’s (FPU) No News is Bad News (NNIBN) programme 3 and contributes to the Right to Freedom of Expression laid down in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.4

By investigating and exposing malpractices of powerful political and business elites and by providing a platform where issues relevant to citizens are placed on the agenda, independent media can contribute to reducing corruption, increase (domestic) accountability and civic space. Although the government made significant steps in combating corruption since 2014, Indonesia still faces high levels of corruption that block societal development.5 At the start of NNIBN in Indonesia, FPU and local partners Tempo Institute (TI) and Perhimpunan Pengembangan Media Nusantara (PPMN) designed a five-year programme to engage civil society, media and authorities to contribute to national and local efforts in combating corruption, advocate for transparency and accountability, and diminish inequality for citizens.

The main intervention strategies included:

  • To give a voice to marginalised groups, including women, the capacity of (citizen) journalists to do investigations needs to improve.

  • To increase the relevance and impact of stories that create social change, media need to build more strategic relations with “other” CSOs).6

In this case study, we present a selection of stories from 2016, 2017 and 2018 that demonstrate the ability of independent media to increase civic space and advocate for the rights of citizens with a lasting effect.

Investigating with Tempo

TI was set up in 2009 with the aim to develop quality journalism in Indonesia. In 2016, FPU and TI designed “Investigating with Tempo”.7 Talented journalists from local media based outside the capital were selected for a six-month fellowship, during which they worked towards publishing an in-depth investigative story in Tempo Magazine, mentored by senior journalists of the Tempo newsroom. Selected journalists investigated 33 stories related to human trafficking, corruption and environmental crime, of which 27 were published.8

Making use of the expertise and knowledge of CSOs such as Indonesia Corruption Watch and Migrant Care was part of the design. They helped with the selection of story ideas, provided access to data on certain topics and lobbied and advocated for change once stories were published. TI thoroughly reviewed each step of the process which resulted in valuable lessons for FPU and TI that were used to improve the project in following years. To sustain the results and grow the local support base, new partnerships were formed with local media, universities, local journalists associations and CSOs. Tempo Magazine started organizing public debates after a story was published to create more civic engagement and published a book with all the stories of 2016 for the education of future journalists at universities.

At the end of 2018 the project was evaluated with CSO partners, the newsroom and the mentors. “The stories that are coming from this program have helped us a lot in building awareness about the human trafficking issue, a topic that people usually ignored”, said Wahyu Susilo, director of Migrant Care. “The story of human trafficking from East Nusa Tenggara to Malaysia has promoted this issue more than we could do in many years”.9

Citradaya Nita: Female Journalist Fellowship

This annual three-month capacity building fellowship (2016 – now) for young female journalists focused on empowering women in marginalized areas through local radio programmes made by these fellows. FPU had achieved good results with a similar programme in Bangladesh and stimulated PPMN to pilot this in Indonesia. The efforts of the journalists were broadcast on 100 stations across the country and resulted in direct positive change for women in the respective regions. A fellow from Jember (East Java) discussed on the radio with a group of female migrant workers about their problems. The group then received training and business advice from municipality officials after which they formed a cooperative.10 An external evaluation at the end of 2016 showed many positive outcomes, also in relation to sustainability. For instance, radio stations in Banyuwangi continued to broadcast about the women in the community and their (informal) economic activities. The program was expanded to other regions in 2017 and 2018. Most stories achieved notable results such as getting forest dwellers children in Jambi to attend school and getting micro-enterprise support for a group of women recycling waste in Sukabumi. PPMN adopted the term advocacy journalism’ for this type of reporting11 and, like TI, included many local CSOs and authorities. Citradaya Nita gained recognition and PPMN received support in 2019 from the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta to develop a curriculum for female leadership. Not only was the capacity of the female journalists strengthened, Citradaya Nita promoted women’s access to information in order to increase their incomes and alleviate poverty.

Citizen journalism to increase public participation in good governance

In 2017 and 2018, PPMN, supported by FPU, gave a boost to its already existing citizen journalists programme with a focus on marginalized regions throughout Indonesia. The aim was to encourage inclusive journalism that reflects the social and cultural diversity of Indonesia and serves the public interest. Citizens were encouraged to make stories on social well-being, economics, health, infrastructure and gender. By the end of 2018, 103 citizen journalists (44 women/59 men) in eight districts published 285 stories, on eight dedicated websites. The report by a citizen from Yahukimo on fuel scarcity resulting in increased petrol prices12 was picked up by mainstream media13 and prompted a response by the Yahukimo district head who said that he would ensure the supply and regulate the price of fuel.14 Some citizen journalists got their own permanent spot on local radio. A citizen journalism community in Papua is now registered as a legal entity which provides much needed legal protection. Some villages adopted the citizen journalism movement as a municipality program. Others were recruited by national mass media as contributors, being considered as best placed to voice the interests of local people.


In 2017, FPU invited the editors and owners of the largest media houses in Indonesia to explore the interest of creating a shared digital whistle-blowing platform for the media. Based on FPU’s lessons learned in Mexico and The Netherlands15, later that year IndonesiaLeaks16 was launched by local partners PPMN, TI and the Association of Independent Journalists (AJI). On the platform, whistle-blowers can anonymously share tips and documents of public interest (eg. on corruption) which are received by journalists in all participating newsrooms. Ten big media houses and five large CSOs became members of the platform. The media agreed to investigate stories together and CSOs publicly supported the platform and advised on stories. FPU built the platform and invited hackers to test its security17, gave digital security training to journalists and in 2018 transferred all knowledge to local technicians. Member LBH Pers built the capacity of local lawyers to protect whistle-blowers.

Collaboration between the partners, CSOs and media members intensified in 2018 as the first big tip was being investigated. IndonesiaLeaks visited important national agencies to explain the initiative, among them the anti-corruption commission KPK. The commission viewed the initiative as a positive contribution to fight corruption.18 In October 2018, the first story was published19 by five media houses and hit like a bomb.20 The story uncovered that the KPK did not press criminal charges against two former employees who destroyed documents that contained evidence of corruption involving dozens of public officials. The official response to the story was defensive. News was spread that IndonesiaLeaks was politically motivated and a hoax.21 Protesters called for the police to investigate the platform. PPMN’s director published a piece to explain IndonesiaLeaks and address the concerns.22 IndonesiaLeaks told dozens of journalists at a press conference that the story met journalistic standards and had no political motive. FPU maintained communication with the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta to discuss the risks for the journalists and possible diplomatic consequences. Mitigation measures were taken to prevent negative legal consequences for IndonesiaLeaks. After 2018, IndonesiaLeaks continued without financial support of FPU.

Achieved impact

By the end of 2018, the partnership between FPU, TI and PPMN resulted in numerous stories that contributed to significant policy changes and positively impacted the lives of marginalised groups. The examples in this case study demonstrate that individual stories have a societal impact, either in the form of provoking power-holders into action or by bringing issues into the public sphere that would otherwise not be talked about23 and as such increased the civic space. The experiences in Indonesia gave Free Press Unlimited insight into how social change through independent journalism happens in practice. This gave us the opportunity to add new intervention strategies and confirmed the existing ToC. Moreover, achievements in Indonesia were used as evidence of impact by Free Press Unlimited in its reports and uploaded on IATI visible for donors, governments and the public at large.

Sources used

3Current Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016-2020).

62016 Report Baseline Workshop Indonesia.

92018 Final Report Investigation with Tempo.

102016/2017/2018 Reports of PPMN provide an overview of all the stories, and the impact these had on communities.

11Advocacy journalism is defined as “journalism with a purpose” and presents a certain point of view, but because it is fact-based it is distinguished from propaganda.

142018 Final Report of PPMN provides more examples of impactful stories.