US → Indonesia in media coverage

By: Amber Ceja

The topic of this comparison deals with the environmental crisis growing from palm oil plantations, focusing on those in Indonesia. Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit on the African oil palm tree. Today, about 85% of all palm oil is produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia. The palm oil industry is linked to major environmental issues like deforestation, climate change and even animal animal cruelty as the large-scale deforestation to make way for plantations is pushing many species to extinction.


I decided to compare coverage of this issue by two popular newspapers: The New York Times, a US paper, and The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s popular English-language paper. I took two articles from each media source and noting that the US has free press and Indonesia is partly free and often monitored by the government, I was curious to see if the two disagreed or if I noticed any biases.

I began with US coverage from The Times Oct. 23, 2015 article, “How to Save Indonesia’s Forests,” which predominantly covered deforestation; how logging and the burning of forests was contributing largely to carbon emissions. It also shed light on the fact that some of these actions were done illegally and how the effects of smoke and pollution were causing illness and death among the Indonesian people. I moved on to the second Times article of April 5, 2016 entitled, “Indonesia’s Orangutans Suffer as Fires Rage and Businesses Grow,” which elaborated on how deforestation, particularly the burning of the native trees to make was for palms, was affecting the Orangutans. Many were displaced and found wandering and some were killed by the toxic haze of the fires.

Next I looked at Indonesia’s coverage starting with Jakarta Posts April 14, 2016 article, “Govt. readies moratorium on palm oil, mining permits.” In the article, Indonesia’s president, Jokowi Widodo, explained that the existing oil palm land was considered sufficient and that there would be no permissions for mining companies to clear land for further expansion. Basically, Indonesia is reacting to global expectations and stressing the importance of preserving wild plants and animals. The second article was days later, on Aug. 22, 2016, entitled, “Review moratorium on oil palm plantations,” which was just a continuation from the first article highlighting president Widodo’s commitment to protect the country’s remaining tropical forests and demonstrate his determination for the country’s environmental stewardship.

After reading all four articles I quickly found differences in the way the US and Indonesia presented coverage on the issue of the palm oil industry. I noticed that the US described the industry as devastating and dangerous. US papers greatly appealed to emotion and acted as the environmentalists pointing to Indonesia as the “bad guy”, responsible for high carbon emissions and even targeting enforcement of Indonesia’s efforts to meet global expectations stating, “While it is against Indonesian law to clear plantations by burning, enforcement is lax.”

Indonesian papers on the other hand framed their president as a pioneer for environmental change. After a little research, I found that president Jokowi Widodo isn’t such a popular guy and The Jakarta Post is somewhat skeptical of his ideas and plans though it does show support toward environmental change. Unlike the Times though, The Jakarta Post articles didn’t totally support discontinuing the palm oil industry and showed concern for the slowing down of palm plantation expansion.

All in all, both sides were even in content length, depth and ultimately both agreed on the palm industry issue, opting for environmentalism though, both played the “good guy” differently, concerned with opposing solutions. You can see the transparency of the US freedom of press in The Times articles because they are kind of opinion forward, but as for The Jakarta Post, the articles feel more neutral even though they come from the “opinion” section of the paper.




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