Realizing the influential power of the mass media in shaping public opinion, candidates for the upcoming Bali gubernatorial election have been competing fiercely for a slice of the media’s attention.
Now, the competition has begun to take its toll on the candidates’ campaign budgets, as local news outlets capitalize on the upcoming election to increase their profits.
“The cost of maintaining a campaign in print media alone has already become too expensive to be justified. And we haven’t even talked about the cost of a campaign using electronic media, such as television and radio,” said Baskara, the media coordinator for Made Mangku Pastika, a three-star police general and the official governor candidate from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).
The local news outlets’ rush to make big bucks from the political process has been led by the Bali Post Media Group, the island’s largest media organization.
Owned by local media mogul and influential community leader Satria Naradha, the group controls, among others, the Bali Post, the island’s largest daily newspaper, and BaliTV, the island’s most popular private TV station.
A few years ago, the Bali Post introduced what it calls an “advertorial news” system, which allows any individual or institution to have a story on their activities published in the Bali Post — as long as they paid a certain amount of money to the paper. The rate ranged from Rp 500,000 to Rp 1 million.
Unlike usual advertorials, the Bali Post’s “advertorial news” pieces are not printed on special advertorial pages or columns, nor do they notify readers that they are actually paid news pieces and not critical journalistic pieces.
It has proven to be a lucrative system, bringing in up to Rp 200 million extra revenue per month to the paper in a normal period. A busy period, like the one prior to the gubernatorial election, is certain to bring in more money.
The candidates see the system as an opportunity to mold public opinions and get the most frequent positive exposure possible without breaching the campaign rules set out by the election commission.
Thus, since as early as January, the candidates have been saturating the Bali Post with stories about their achievements, social concerns, eco-friendly stance and visions for a “better Bali”.
Readers have even been confronted with four different stories about four different candidates on one page of the Bali Post.
“Winasa spends almost Rp 50 million per month to finance his advertorial in the Bali Post alone,” a source, who requested anonymity, said.
That amount, the source said, was sufficient to see a story on Winasa appear on a daily basis in the paper.
So far, Winasa’s spending on his media campaign is believed to be higher than that of Mangku Pastika and Cokorda Budi Suryawan, an official candidate from the Golkar party.
Winasa is a regent of Jembrana, who failed to secure the PDIP’s nomination and who is currently lobbying several small political parties to support his candidacy.
Capitalizing on the candidates’ enthusiasm, the Bali Post made a profit-driven decision to significantly increase the rates of its “advertorial news” pieces.
For a 400-word story and one photo to appear on page 2, 3, 4 or 5 of the paper, a candidate must pay Rp 1.5 million. Meanwhile, for a 600-word story and one photo on the paper’s front page, a candidate must pay Rp 10 million.
The Bali Post also offers two advertorial packages. “Package A”, for example, which costs Rp 250 million, gives a candidate the chance to appear on the paper’s front page 15 times and on the other pages 70 times.
For Rp 500 million, a candidate can buy the “Convergent B” package, which ensures the appearance of the candidate’s stories in the Bali Post, on BaliTV, in the Denpasar Post and the Tokoh tabloid, all of which belong to the Bali Post Media Group.
The Bali Post isn’t alone in trying to capitalize on the candidates’ desire to get positive media exposure. Two other local newspapers, Nusa Bali and Radar Bali, put a price tag of somewhere between Rp 50 million to 60 million for one single full-page story on a candidate.
However, because the Bali Post has the largest readership — around 50,000, while Nusa Bali has around 5,000 and Radar Bali around 15,000 — the candidates naturally place more of their advertorials in the Bali Post.
“Yet, given the steep rates we have no choice but to redirect our media campaign and I believe the other candidates’ camps have also taken similar measures. We simply couldn’t forgive ourselves for allocating, say Rp 2 billion, to finance advertorial news in the local dailies,” Baskara said.
“We are now maintaining a low-key presence in the mass media and trying to channel more money to social activities at the grass-roots level,” he added.
Rates are set to peak during the official campaign period, which begins in June.
“The rates will range from Rp 65 million to Rp 85 million for a full-page story or advertisement. This means a candidate must prepare at least Rp 500 million to be able to appear in the paper on a daily basis for a week in one local newspaper,” the source said.
“It certainly will burn a big hole, a very big one indeed, in any candidate’s pocket.”