Indonesia Has a Freer Press than the UK?

In a rule spanning 31 years, former Indonesian President Haji Muhammad Suharto clamped down on the press with a dictatorial fist. This meant when he eventually resigned in 1998, a slew of new media outlets bubbled up to fill the void – suddenly there was press freedom.

Maybe not surprisingly therefore, a recent global poll of 17,589 adult citizens across 17 countries organised by the BBC World Service, shows that 73% of Indonesians polled believe they have free media. This was the highest in the world and compared to 45% of those surveyed from the UK and 42% from the US.

Across the board, this poll reveals that those countries that might be perceived to have less ‘freedom’ believe themselves to have more. This covers web freedom, press freedom and beliefs about government surveillance.

What makes this interesting is the US and Europe have long standing traditions of ‘freedom’ and expect it without any question. This means that anything that impinges upon their ‘free’ view has a huge effect on their collective psyche. Look at the fallout from the NSA revelations. Many other parts of the world, on the other hand, have experienced little by way of actual freedom over the years, so any new found freedom comes as a massive gift.

Overall, half (52%) of those surveyed globally feel unsafe online. This feeling is greatest in France and South Korea followed by other European countries polled. More than a third (37%) feel unsafe from government surveillance, with those from the USA feeling the least free (54%) and people from China feeling the most free (76%). India, Peru and Canada are the countries that came out the least sure.

Of course, nothing is fully cut and dried. A clear majority (67%) believe the internet had brought them greater freedom. Yet those who had the highest volumes of positive responses (Nigeria and Kenya at over 75%) were countries that have been dogged by corruption issues in the past.

These findings provide an interesting insight into conceptions of freedom worldwide. And as the Indonesia example above shows, it most likely all comes down to expectation.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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