My experience in promoting democracy, particularly religious freedom and peaceful coexistence in Indonesia has brought me to the conclusion that the media play an important and strategic role in fostering democracy. There are at least four roles that must be optimized from both, which are:
First, to carry out concrete steps to create a culture of peace. The media should always convey news in a peaceful manner, and not provoke the public to become angry and hostile. Although the media holds on to the principle that bad news is good news, they should prioritize their moral responsibility and uphold ethical values in providing news, particularly in relation to religious conflicts.
Why the media is important? Because in many religious conflicts, the media tend to take an unfair stance towards the minority groups in their conveyance of the news. The Media, for example, join in giving stigmas to groups who are of a different characteristic than the majority thus labeling them as misguided groups and so on.
The media often bring up the matter of theological perceptions, and in a shallow and unfounded manner, more often than not, inaccurately. It is my opinion that the media should avoid providing news that may be easily misinterpreted and be biased which will in turn trigger controversies and conflicts.
The second role is to undertake concrete measures to change all the regulations and public policies that are discriminative towards the minority and marginal groups. Furthermore, public policies that guarantee equality and freedom for all groups in society should be promoted. Consequently, the media should encourage democratization efforts that guarantee protection, recognition and fulfillment human rights for all citizens without prejudice.
The third is to promote humanistic religious interpretations. Why is this important? Because religious interpretations that develops within society at present does not provide favorable conditions for democratic and human rights values and are not accommodative towards humanitarian values.
When we speak about religion, we will ultimately speak about interpretation of it. It is a fact that there is no solitary interpretation of religion. The problem is how to ensure that interpretation of religion that grows and develop in society are religious interpretations that are conducive for religious freedom and peaceful coexistence.
The fourth role, and this is the most important, is to change perceptions on religion. Religion is not only something that takes care of the after life. The media and intellectual groups should have the courage to convey that religion should have the capacity to respond to the contemporary problems faced by human beings and offer a solution towards the creation of a just and civilized welfare and humanity. Also, the media and intellectual groups should undertake efforts towards the transformation of society, be active in the democratization and humanizing process with the aim to liberate human beings from the shackles of injustice in any form.
Education must be able to give birth to a pluralistic stance. Why is pluralism so important? Because pluralism can help create justice, progress and welfare. Pluralism can prevent dissent, conflicts and violence, and war. Pluralism can encourage the sensitivity to defend a person’s rights and enforce humanitarian values.
Dialogue trains all religious devotees to be able to compromise and reach a consensus in responding to all actual humanitarian and social problems in their respective areas, such as the problems of poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of clean water, the high cost of education and health. Dialogue brings those devotees to an awareness and discovery of who are the real adversaries of religion. Apparently the enemy of every religion takes the form of discrimination and exploitation as well as violence, injustice, greed, corruption, ignorance and poverty.
Media must believe that religion is not a barrier to democracy, religious freedom and peaceful coexistence program. Media must be able to provide solutions for the various social problems of humanity.
Media must have the courage to voice religious teachings that are more rational and accommodative towards humanitarian values. That kind of religious teachings will be able to respond to all contemporary issues of modern society, such as religious freedom and peaceful coexistence.
Media must be at the forefront in Fostering Religious Tolerance. Media and Academia must be also at the forefront in campaigning for rational and progress religious interpretations that are able to liberate religious congregations from ignorance, poverty, and injustice. Those progress religious interpretations will be able to raise the welfare and the quality of religious community. Only through such a way can religions become a blessing for all human being.