19 May 2011

Reflections on media and social accountability: The case of Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam

by A’o Dode
“…we at Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam exert extra effort to serve as [Kendari society’s] diffusion agents.”
Social accountability is about the commitment to be accountable for plans and actions. It involves many stakeholders—like [the executive and legislative branches of] the government and citizens, which, of course, includes the media.

In my work as a media practitioner, I couldn’t help but notice that the perceived role of media here in Indonesia is to mediate or serve as a bridge in dealing with the interests and needs of the public. This, however, does not seem to suffice because of the [generally] passive characteristic of the citizens in Kendari city. There is a need to make people more connected to the media in order for our work to be more effective.

Our goal at Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam is to provide information services that are beneficial to citizens and other stakeholders. This is reflected in the vision of Kendari TV—to be a positive channel—and Radio Swara Alam—to educate the audience. These visions are realized by bridging communication among stakeholders (executive and legislative branches of government, CSOs, and the general citizenry), and stimulating citizens’ critical thinking towards monitoring government’s implementation of development projects in the greater Kendari City area and in the delivery of public services (health care and education) in smaller areas.

In all these, the most important thing is to open the closed and rigid doors of multi-stakeholder communication. We do this by inviting all stakeholders to actively participate in information exchanges through the programs of Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam.

Social accountability in the media

ANSA-EAP has been really helpful in facilitating the achievement of our goal and vision. The grant we received from ANSA-EAP allowed us to revise and improve our old programs.  From predominantly studio shoots, we now aim to bring all stakeholders closer to their own environment—for instance, their offices or their homes.  With the support of ANSA-EAP, we now have programs that are recorded, or even broadcast live, from the citizens’ own localities; we’ve even had programs that were shot in sub-district authorities’ and government agencies’ offices.

We have also integrated the tools, principles, and approaches of transparency, accountability, and participation in our programming content and strategies. Looking back, we used to design and implement our plans internally. Today, however, our programs are designed to consider and include various stakeholder—citizens, local government, private sector.

We also encourage our stakeholders to explain their information needs and share inputs on the content of our program. In the future, we plan to include the release of [media organization] shares to the public as part of the initiative to establish that the media group belongs to the people.

Realizing all these, we at Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam exert extra effort to serve as diffusion agents—and perform our duties as citizens as well. This is reflected in our policy to extend our participation in public service programs beyond television and radio. For example, our media men and journalists help facilitate the formation and continuous implementation of School Committees, which are school-based forums for parents. This allows us to be actively involved in the process of planning, implementation and monitoring or evaluation in the education sector.

In the face of encumbrance

I must admit that the number of staff in Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam that have a deep understanding of the principles and tools of social accountability is still low. This was one of the obstacles we faced in the implementation of the program with ANSA-EAP. However, through the continuous, step-by-step, and online learning process, we were able to bring the management of Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam to a better comprehension of social accountability and its role in the work we do.

To further mainstream social accountability in Kendari TV and Radio Swara Alam, we regularly follow online discussions on a certain topic by holding more comprehensive sharing sessions on the learning outputs. Each working unit—program production, marketing, newsroom, management—all participate in the discussions.

Oktovianus Tonapa, the ANSA-EAP Network Fellow for Kendari (or East Indonesia Convener Group) and SAc Program Coordinator in YASCITA Also played an integral role in fostering a learning environment among the staff.

The workshop on social accountability and good governance, held September 2010, also helped frame the role of media in social accountability. It influenced the participants’ attitude and perspective towards SAc, and provided inputs and practical knowledge.

A’o Dode is the former Executive Director of Radio Swara Alam and a member of Yayasan Cinta Alam (YASCITA), an environmental group based in Kendari City, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. YASCITA founded both Radio Swara Alam and Kendari TV. 

In 2009, ANSA-EAP provided a small grant to YASCITA for Radio Swara Alam and Kendari TV to develop radio and television programs on social accountability.  At the same time, ANSA EAP provided some technical support, in the form of learning and mentoring activities, to the media groups to orient them on the social accountability approach and guide them in developing the proposed media programs.

A’o Dode shares his reflections on the experience of mainstreaming SAc in Kendari City media and society

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