Year

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts

Abstract

In the tradition of Robert Entman, this framing analysis seeks to evaluate the arbitrary and subjective power of the news media in shaping public knowledge about political leadership. It does so by assessing how the Western news media framed reporting of Indonesian political leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri between 1998 and 1999: a period encompassing the end of the Suharto New Order and the election of the Wahid- Sukarnoputri government. Public knowledge is conceptualised as the way audiences broadly think about and structure their ideas, feelings, fears, and beliefs about political actors. The objective is to demonstrate that framing is universal and inescapable, and often to the determinant of the public sphere.

This thesis argues that the Western news media broadly framed Indonesia in the late stages of the 1990s as in ‘crisis’, in itself this is perhaps surprising. The Western media has a propensity to report the Third world as in perpetual political crisis, bordering at times on anarchy. In this case, it is argued that by framing Indonesia in crisis a ‘social reality’ emerged that ‘named’ certain ‘truths’ about Indonesian politics and its leaders. It hypothesises that embedded in this social reality, the New Order (Suharto and later Habibie) were framed as responsible for the state of economic and political crises and were judged as morally and politically unable to solve the problems being experienced in Indonesia. Captured within this ‘reality’ was a set of privileged meanings that imagined a Megawati presidency as the remedy and solution. Whether a future Megawati presidency was an advantage or disadvantage to Indonesia is not the scope of this study, rather it demonstrates how framing functioned to assemble emotional and political meaning about Megawati and her values, character and motivations during 1998-1999.

In examining how episodic, crisis and issue framing shaped social realities about Indonesia and its political leadership, this study also argues that frames reflected Western assumptions about Indonesia but more so about gendered post-colonial leadership. As a result, the frames produced in this period were stereotypical, oversimplified, decontextualised, reliant on the juxtapositioning of actors in binaries of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and reflective of mediatised rituals of drama, tragedy and emotion. This resulted in the production of public knowledge about Indonesia generally, and Megawati specifically, that was discursive.

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