Chargé d’Affaires Allaster Cox
Atma Jaya University, Jakarta
7 May 2018
Thank you, it’s a delight to be here at Atma Jaya University today to help launch what promises to be a very informative and very interesting journalism seminar.
I would like to say at the outset how pleased the Australian Embassy is to be involved in this activity and the ten-week training course that some of you have just completed.
Through our partnership with JARING – the Indonesian Network for Investigative Journalism – we are pleased to be helping to strengthen journalism in this country.
Today, I’d like to speak about the important role that the media plays in society, particularly in our digital age.
I’d also like to talk about the particular value of data journalism, which can help us make sense of the vast swathes of information at our fingertips and get to the bottom of the stories that matter.
[The role of the media is vital]
Ladies and gentlemen, the media plays a vital role in all societies.
A strong and vibrant press that operates in the public interest is good for democracy, good for governance and helps generate better outcomes for the community.
That’s true both for Indonesia and Australia and indeed for all countries around the world.
In many ways, journalists serve at the front line of the right to freedom of expression and access to information.
Good journalists can provide a natural check and balance on the people in our societies who wield authority, including by:
- bringing misdeeds to light;
- making public institutions accountable; and
- contributing to the creation of a more just and inclusive world.
By asking the right questions, by highlighting areas that some would prefer remain hidden in the shadows and by revealing abuses of power, journalists can make a positive impact on the communities of which they are a part.
It comes as no surprise then that the role of the journalist is not always something that everyone finds easy to accept all the time.
Sometimes good journalism puts governments, corporations and powerful people in a difficult spot.
That’s one of the things that makes journalism such a dangerous job – one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, in fact.
Just last week, nine journalists were among 25 people killed in twin bombings in the Afghan capital of Kabul, on the same day a 10th journalist was killed in the country’s east.
Between 2012 and 2016, 530 journalists were killed around the world, mostly in the Middle East and Africa.
It’s a tragedy that 9 out of 10 cases remain unpunished.
It’s a different situation in Australia and Indonesia, where journalists’ safety and press freedoms are far better.
That’s exactly as it should be.
But as every working journalist knows, the kind of reporting that shines a light on systemic wrongdoing or a massive abuse of power is not the business of the everyday.
The vast majority of media are owned by private companies whose main aim is to make a profit on behalf of their owners or shareholders.
Media companies that fail to do this don’t tend to survive for very long, no matter how pure their intentions.
Media nowadays therefore is a blend of stories that are supposed to boost sales and stories that inform the community. Both play a role in the media ecosystem.
[The age of digital media]
Fifteen years ago, online news sites were still in their infancy.
It’s hard to believe now, but few predicted back then either the pace or scale of the transformation that has since taken place in the media sector.
Today, the media is by and large defined by its digital footprint.
Nowhere is this more obvious than Indonesia.
A nation hooked on social media – more Instagram stories come out of Jakarta than any other city in the world – but also a nation in which people are hooked on online news.
Newspapers have struggled as readers have become increasingly drawn towards news delivered on their smart phones or computers, even their watches nowadays.
Indeed, our lives are increasingly dominated by digital technology – with some mixed results, it has to be said!
[Hoax news and misinformation]
More platforms for news and more ways to share it mean we live in a world where information spreads fast – sometimes, before it is verified. Innocent mistakes, rumours or deliberate attempts to deceive can fast sweep through online networks, sowing confusion and mistrust.
In all countries these days, governments and news outlets are wrestling with how to combat the spread of hoax news: stories that bear only a passing resemblance to journalism, are designed to be harmful and damage confidence in the fundamental organs of democracy.
There are no easy answers here.
Helping readers tell fact from fiction is a task in which social media platforms, news media, government and educational institutions can all play a role.
Journalism that is founded on credible evidence is a powerful antidote to poor reporting, misinformation and hoax.
With its reliance on numbers and on verifiable information, data journalism offers a particularly potent tool to help substantiate or disprove claims.
This is an important role for reporters.
And at least part of the solution also lies with strengthening the core skills and competencies of journalists.
A more capable news media can help to arrest the decline of public trust in the sector.
If the public has greater faith in journalists and their outlets, it will hopefully reduce the willingness with which people accept information that originates from less credible sources.
That’s why Australia supports a range of activities designed to help strengthen the news media sector here in Indonesia.
[The contribution of data journalism]
Today is devoted to the emerging discipline of data journalism.
In many ways, this form of journalism is not new.
Reporters have made sense of lists and numbers, from stock market tables to population surveys, for as long as such things have existed.
What has changed, though, is the sheer quantity of data available. Governments, businesses, universities, even community groups, collect more records than ever before, and that information can be shared with the click of a button.
The challenge for today’s journalists – all of you – is to make sense of it in order to tell meaningful and important stories.
You all know much better than me the potential and opportunities that this form of journalism offers.
But as an avid consumer of media here in Indonesia, I can see that data journalism is a concept that is really gathering pace.
For very good reasons.
Data-driven journalism allows reporters to tell stories in ways that are exciting and new.
In this digital era, interrogating data has never been easier and storytelling with data offers many new areas of enquiry.
Perhaps more significantly, data journalism brings with it extra rigor.
It doesn’t rely on anecdotal evidence – often so misleading – and instead is backed up by solid research, evidence and analysis.
Of course, the data must be available in the first place.
This is another area in which Australia is pleased to be working with Indonesia.
Through our Knowledge Sector Initiative, we are partnering to promote better use of quality evidence in policymaking to address development challenges. And our MAHKOTA program is supporting the Indonesian Government to collect and analyse data that gives a better indication of where the country’s social protection needs are and what resources are required to address them.
It’s driven by a recognition that solid evidence and strong analysis make for more effective policies.
In a similar way, journalism that is founded on comprehensive data is all the more powerful a force for identifying problems and focusing attention on the issues that matter.
The Australian Embassy is very happy to contribute to the exchange of ideas about journalism that will take place today.
There is a lot that Australia and Indonesia, the two largest democracies in our region, can gain by sharing our knowledge and expertise in this area.
On that note I’d like to welcome Craig Butt, data journalist with The Age newspaper and a lecturer at Melbourne University.
I’m sure you and your Indonesian counterparts will benefit from today.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate all those who have undertaken the data journalism course with JARING.
I’d also like to invite all other journalists who can today access the learning materials to get involved and investigate whether you can tell stories in new ways through this emerging discipline.
Journalism has so much to offer all of us and I encourage you to make the very best contribution you can.