Mass media plays a huge role in pushing transition towards the use of renewable energy in Indonesia. However, more in-depth knowledge of this sector is needed, and there remain political, social, and economical pressure in many newsrooms in the country.
By May Rahmadi
Jakarta, INDONESIA. Renewable energy and energy transition have yet to become major headlines in the national media even though highlighting them would be vital in efforts to promote the use of clean energy and in doing so, prevent the negative impact of climate change.
This was discussed among editors and journalists on an online forum titled ‘the Role of Mass Media in Pushing the Urgency of Energy Transition in Indonesia” organized by the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists and Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network on August 1, 2020.
Executive Director of IESR, Fabby Tumiwa, told the forum that it is very important for energy issues to be continuously discussed and accorded serious attention. While many countries in the world were already beginning to think about using energy transition, Indonesia appeared to be too slow in preparing itself towards transition, Tumiwa said.
“In the last four to five years we have been very dependent on fossil fuel. Energy transition is a process leading to a cleaner energy system, especially one that is based on renewable energy,” he said.
Tumiwa said that the structure of the Indonesian economy has been indeed relying on fossil fuel. Fossil fuel is not only a primary commodity for international trade but also a backbone of the domestic economy.
“Coal, for example, has become an important commodity, especially in coal-producing regions in four provinces. Ninety percent of our coal is being produced in four provinces – East, South and Central Kalimantan and South Sumatra. The implication is that revenues from coal provides a significant contribution to the regional Gross Domestic Product. For East kalimatan it may reach even up to 30 percent,” he said.
Tumiwa said there are five main strategies in accelerating energy transition, regarded as one of the pathways towards controlling the impacts of climate change.
First, accelerate the development of renewable energy and achieve a minimum mixture level before demand for fossil fuel peaked, which is predicted to happen in the coming decade.
Second, to retire fossil-fueled power plants which are no longer efficient or are already past their prime economic time, earlier than planned, especially diesel and coal-fueled power plants.
Third, stop all construction of new fossil fuel power plants, especially coal-fueled that would be increasingly uneconomical compared to solar and wind energy that are getting cheaper by the year.
Fourth, prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plant to expand room for power plants that use renewable energy, and at the same time reduce the capacity of power plants that use fossil fuels.
Fifth, Indonesia needs to phase out fossil-fueled power plants (especially coal power plants) before entering the long phase of decline in demand for fossil fuel, to avoid stranded energy assets and infrastructure.
“Indonesia needs to transition its energy consumption towards renewables to boost its energy security, and to prevent the economic burden of the high electricity cost in the future,” he said.
Under the current government, Indonesia has targeted 23% renewable energy mix from its total energy consumption by 2025, and 31% by 2050. The Directorate General of New and Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation has been working on renewable energy development road map, to not only help Indonesia achieve its energy mix target but also to fulfill its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) at the Paris Agreement, of reducing 29% of its greenhouse gas emission by 2030 independently, 0r 41% if with international assistance by 2040.
More grounded themes & political pressures
Kompas journalist Aris Prasetyo believed that there are a number of problems that made energy issues not appealing to the media. One of them is the need for deeper knowledge and understanding of the sector. Kompas is regarded as one the most trusted media, and the largest print media in the country.
In Indonesia, many journalists and editors, do not possess this required understanding. Prasetyo admitted that when he first started to cover economic and energy issues, he had very little knowledge under his belt.
“A graduate of the faculty of forestry, and was assigned to write on energy,” Prasetyo said.” Then, I bought many books to help me understand energy issues which also really involved a lot of technical terms.”
He also said that once, a minister came to visit the office and took out a $100 bill from his pocket. He offered the money to anyone who could explain a technical term related to energy. He pocketed the bill again, as no one was capable of explaining the term.
Prasetyo added that a deeper understanding was needed to be able to write on energy issues so that readers would be able to understand the importance of these issues, more easily.
“It is our task to write about something complex in a simple manner so that the public can understand,” Prasetyo said.
However, almost all Jakarta-based national media publish complex energy themes, with more focus on the upstream sector. While its regional peers report more on the downstream sector such as access to fuel, fuel shortages, power cuts; stories that are deemed as more relevant to the daily lives of the people.
“Journalists in Jakarta are close to the decision makers, the business chain and political decisions, and talk about for example, issues of how to execute a 30,000 MegaWatt project and about a program to build smelters,” he said. “I think the public would not care whether their electricity comes from renewable energy, coal, or gas. The public would not question where they get their fuel from.”
Metro TV journalist Agus Rakasiwi echoed Prasetyo’s observation but he added that the national media often have to face indirect pressure from parties that have a vested interest in the energy sector.
“There are political pressures, socio-politics, and politics of the economy. Those are the common problems being faced by media at the central and regional level,” Rakasiwi said.
Former journalist who is now a member of the Indonesia Clean Energy Forum (ICEF), Bambang Harymurti added that journalists in the regions are also met with intimidation.
“Not just journalists, NGOs are even afraid because of these intimidating threats,” Harymurti said. “Journalists would not dare to touch the issue. Even for governors, if they do not comply with business owners, there would be consequences. This is the real condition on the field. So one can imagine, there is a major conflict of interest there.”
Energy issues, according to Mongabay Indonesia editor Sapariah Saturi need to be continuously voiced. She realized that these issues have not received much attention but they are important and media professionals have to keep looking for ways so that renewable energy and its transition can become mainstream issues.
Saturi added, the media needs to raise community or regional community initiatives that move towards renewable energy. Stories also needs to be more comprehensive and cover not only policies and extractive sectors, but also the environmental destruction that has occurred, so that policy makers can see what is happening on the ground.
“Let us make this issue mainstream. By gathering like this, through trainings or collaborations, we can take a small step towards turning energy issues becoming more mainstream,” Saturi said.
Besides Prasetyo, Rakasiwi, and Saturi, the forum was also attended by editors and journalists from 14 media in Indonesia including ANTARA News, The Jakarta Post, CNN Indonesia, Kompas, the Conversation Indonesia, and VOA Indonesia. Ekuatorial.