Yogyakarta. The media wield enormous influence in informing public opinion, and in Indonesia this power has often been used to discriminate against marginalized social groups such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Homosexuality is often portrayed in local media as a sexual aberration or deviant behavior. These and similar other labels are used to denounce the LGBT community through the media, both directly and indirectly.
“When was the last time you read a news report about a crime committed by a heterosexual person, in which the headline made reference to their sexual orientation, like ‘Heterosexual man kills girlfriend,’ for instance?” said Mira, an activist with the Yogyakarta-based LGBT group People Like Us One Heart.
“So why is it the media insist on trumpeting the suspect’s sexual preference if they are homosexual, as in the case of Ryan, the serial killer from Jombang [East Java]? And another thing: why don’t media report on the achievements of LGBT individuals?”
Mira was speaking at the LGBT in the Mass Media forum on Tuesday, held by PLU One Heart and Yogyakarta-based Atma Jaya University’s School of Political and Social Sciences.
The skewed reporting can be traced to journalists’ lack of formal training on the topics of sexuality and gender studies, said Ashadi Siregar, the executive director of the Yogyakarta Research, Education and Publishing Institute.
“Media workers are not trained to understand LGBT issues correctly,” he said. “Their reference paradigm is one that has been molded by prevailing religious and cultural values, so what they need is more education on this topic.”
Atma Jaya journalism lecturer D Danarka Sasangka blamed the poor standard of LGBT news coverage on the fact that the media were catering to viewer tastes in a largely conservative country.
“The media cannot be separated from business and political interests,” he said. “Their level of objectivity in terms of homosexuality should therefore be seen from the point of view of industry.”
Danarka cited the reality-based television show “Be a man,” in which male transvestite contestants undergo a series of tasks ostensibly designed to make them renounce their lifestyle choice.
“Unfortunately, there are many transgender people who want to take part in the show,” he said. “It paints an often very negative picture of the transgender community. This is how the mass media shape our reality.”
Ashadi said there were steps the LGBT community could take to rectify the situation.
“They can help end the stigma in two ways,” he said. “First, by establishing a media-monitoring institute to combat the negative stereotypes, and second, by developing alternative media for advocacy purposes, which will help the LGBT community raise public awareness about the issues it faces.”