The plan to in­tro­duce bar codes for me­dia companies, an ini­tia­tive launched by the In­done­sian Press Coun­cil an­nounced on Na­tional Press Day in Am­bon on Feb. 9, 2017 goes be­yond sim­ply fighting the proliferation of fake news.

It is in­tended to help to build the na­tion’s me­dia and in­ter­net lit­er­acy.

It also shields me­dia companies from un­fair busi­ness prac­tices in the in­creas­ingly fierce com­pe­ti­tion for lu­cra­tive dig­i­tal ads. The bar-code sys­tem, con­trary to what crit­ics say, is a self-reg­u­lated pol­icy de­signed to pro­tect me­dia companies’ rep­u­ta­tions.

It also shields me­dia companies from un­fair busi­ness prac­tices in the in­creas­ingly fierce com­pe­ti­tion for lu­cra­tive dig­i­tal ads. The bar-code sys­tem, con­trary to what crit­ics say, is a self-reg­u­lated pol­icy de­signed to pro­tect me­dia companies’ rep­u­ta­tions.

Jour­nal­ists, or those who pro­fess to prac­tice the trade, will also en­joy pro­tec­tion from am­a­teurs who are killing the pro­fes­sion, de­stroy­ing the me­dia busi­ness and worst of all, down­grad­ing the value of press free­dom.

Ver­i­fi­ca­tion and the bar-code mech­a­nism is one of the best an­swers to fight­ing fake news. A higher pro­por­tion of dig­i­tal ad spend­ing has been go­ing to fake me­dia out­lets.

The now-de­funct ar­rahmah. com, for ex­am­ple, gen­er­ated as much as Rp 1.5 bil­lion (US$112,500) each month from Google AdSense. The site, ran by four peo­ple, was blocked by the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Min­istry be­cause of its rad­i­cal con­tent.

Many news me­dia out­lets with large news­rooms staffed by pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists re­ceive peanuts in com­par­i­son.

These le­git­i­mate news out­lets are strug­gling in the fierce me­dia busi­ness against those who put out in­for­ma­tion that is hardly ver­i­fied or sup­ported by ev­i­dence, prey­ing on the ig­no­rance of read­ers who have dif­fi­culty dis­tin­guish­ing fake from real news.

Me­dia ver­i­fi­ca­tion, there­fore, will not only shield the pub­lic from the tsunami of in­for­ma­tion but will also of­fer hope to those who sup­ply the news and in­for­ma­tion to raise de­cent rev­enue to cover their op­er­a­tional costs.

The num­ber of news me­dia out­lets, on­line and off­line, has ex­ploded, and some sort of ver­i­fi­ca­tion must be man­dated, for the good of the pub­lic and the in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Min­istry, there are more than 500 news pub­li­ca­tions, 11 na­tional TV net­works, 394 re­gional TV sta­tions, around 1,200 ra­dio sta­tions and 43,000 web­sites.

The num­ber of news me­dia out­lets, on­line and off­line, has ex­ploded, and some sort of ver­i­fi­ca­tion must be man­dated, for the good of the pub­lic and the in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Min­istry, there are more than 500 news pub­li­ca­tions, 11 na­tional TV net­works, 394 re­gional TV sta­tions, around 1,200 ra­dio sta­tions and 43,000 web­sites.

The Press Coun­cil has so far ver­i­fied only 240 as valid and re­li­able news por­tals.

When it was an­nounced, some jour­nal­ists crit­i­cize the me­dia bar­code ini­tia­tive as a throwback to Soe­harto-regime way of con­trol­ling the press through a li­cens­ing sys­tem. They say this could un­der­mine free­dom of the press and free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Blog­gers and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists also fear that the pol­icy would shut them com­pletely out of the me­dia busi­ness.

Crit­ics say you can­not cen­sor the in­ter­net and there­fore can­not stop fake news in the dig­i­tal world. That the coun­cil’s plan is doomed to fail­ure.

Crit­ics say you can­not cen­sor the in­ter­net and there­fore can­not stop fake news in the dig­i­tal world. That the coun­cil’s plan is doomed to fail­ure.

Some crit­i­cism has come from the Al­liance of In­de­pen­dent Jour­nal­ists (AJI), which ques­tions the cred­i­bil­ity of the coun­cil’s ver­i­fi­ca­tion process as it fo­cuses more on the ad­min­is­tra­tive side and not so much on the con­tent.

The pro­po­nents of the bar code in­sist that they are act­ing in the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic, which is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly alarmed by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of fake me­dia out­lets on the in­ter­net.

The Press Coun­cil is an in­de­pen­dent agency com­pris­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of jour­nal­ists, me­dia pro­pri­etors and pub­lic fig­ures. It is stay­ing true to the spirit of self-reg­u­la­tion, but at the same time en­sur­ing com­pli­ance by me­dia out­lets and jour­nal­ists to the agreed laws and ethics.

The Press Coun­cil is an in­de­pen­dent agency com­pris­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of jour­nal­ists, me­dia pro­pri­etors and pub­lic fig­ures. It is stay­ing true to the spirit of self-reg­u­la­tion, but at the same time en­sur­ing com­pli­ance by me­dia out­lets and jour­nal­ists to the agreed laws and ethics.

Con­cerns of a re­turn to a gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship era are widely ex­ag­ger­ated. There is no gov­ern­ment hand in the bar-code sys­tem.

As men­tioned ear­lier, the move to in­tro­duce bar codes for ver­i­fied me­dia companies ap­pears to be not only to bat­tle fake news but also to ed­u­cate the pub­lic.

It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to block all fake news from the in­ter­net, but we can at least stop those who cash in on the lu­cra­tive ads spend­ing through this un­fair prac­tice. The move by the min­istry to block these sites, as in the case of ar­rahmah.com, starve them of rev­enue streams as they are with­drawn from Google AdSense.

The Press Coun­cil’s bar-code sys­tem com­ple­ments the min­istry’s move, which is more con­cerned with the spread of hate speech and rad­i­cal mes­sages.

Companies that ad­ver­tise through the in­ter­net will also be­come aware of the con­se­quences if their prod­ucts ap­pear in me­dia out­lets, courtesy of Google, that carry no bar code. They could be charged un­der the Money Laun­der­ing Law.

The min­istry can im­pose sanc­tions on those plat­form companies, in­clud­ing in­ter­net gi­ant Google, for plac­ing with or dis­tribut­ing dig­i­tal ads through un­ver­i­fied on­line me­dia out­lets. The min­istry ex­pects Google to co­op­er­ate with the gov­ern­ment in cut­ting the fi­nan­cial source of on­line me­dia that have no bar code.

Blog­gers and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists should have no fear as long as they fol­low stan­dard jour­nal­is­tic prac­tices, in­clud­ing ver­i­fi­ca­tion and cov­er­ing both sides of a story. The Press Coun­cil will cat­e­go­rize them as press en­ti­ties that en­joy pro­tec­tion un­der the 1999 Press Law. It’s a win-win propo­si­tion. Me­dia out­lets that le­git­i­mately prac­tice good jour­nal­ism will en­joy added value with the bar code as they will be more se­cure, bet­ter trusted and safer. The pub­lic, through greater me­dia lit­er­acy, will also en­joy qual­ity prod­ucts.

Blog­gers and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists should have no fear as long as they fol­low stan­dard jour­nal­is­tic prac­tices, in­clud­ing ver­i­fi­ca­tion and cov­er­ing both sides of a story. The Press Coun­cil will cat­e­go­rize them as press en­ti­ties that en­joy pro­tec­tion un­der the 1999 Press Law. It’s a win-win propo­si­tion. Me­dia out­lets that le­git­i­mately prac­tice good jour­nal­ism will en­joy added value with the bar code as they will be more se­cure, bet­ter trusted and safer. The pub­lic, through greater me­dia lit­er­acy, will also en­joy qual­ity prod­ucts.

Me­dia out­lets, now still strug­gling to make ends meet, will have a bet­ter chance of gen­er­at­ing streams of rev­enue as they build their rep­u­ta­tion and cred­i­bil­ity, and ul­ti­mately, pub­lic trust.

The bar-code sys­tem seems like an idea that de­serves a try. 


by Dandy Koswaraputra

republished from original article on The Jakarta Post