The whole world was shocked by the Kanjuruhan Tragedy that claimed the lives of hundreds of Indonesian youths in the aftermath of a soccer match in Malang, East Java. The figures vary, but they generally centre around 130, and several hundred more were injured. World-renowned football clubs, including Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester City, and Manchester United, paid tribute to those who died in the incident that could have been avoided.

World leaders also expressed their condolences over this incident, including the President of Germany and the new monarch of Great Britain, King Charles III. Usually there is very little reporting on Indonesia in the international media, but all of a sudden Indonesia made the headlines around the world. Top-tier media such as the Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Post reported the incident prominently.

I personally watched reports on the tragedy in international television channels such as CNN, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, and TRT World, the English-language broadcasting service of Turkey (as an aside, the country is currently rebranding itself to Türkiye and TRT World plays an important role in disseminating the new brand to the world community).

Disaster Communication

This article will not examine the causes of the Kanjuruhan Tragedy or attempt to interpret this incident from a security perspective or other factors. There are parties who are more competent to do that assessment.

Moreover, the Joint Fact-Finding Team, which was especially formed and chaired by the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs already carried out its duties and submitted its findings and recommendations to President Jokowi who ordered the investigation. I will focus on the communication aspect of various parties in this regard and the implementation of disaster communications in general.

The highest-ranking government officials have taken the right steps that are communicated in an appropriate manner. The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo promptly expressed his deep condolences and issued orders for a thorough investigation and evaluation of the procedures and organization of the match. In addition, the President ordered all matches of the Primary League of PSSI (All-Indonesia Football Association) be suspended until completion of the evaluation.

Commission X of the House of Representative (DPR-RI) was also quick to express its condolences and urged the government to immediately take steps to get things under control. They also proposed actions that go beyond what the President ordered. The people’s representatives urged that not only the Primary League be suspended, and recommended matches of the Second and Third Leagues, as well as all similar matches be stopped until there is improvement in the governance of football championships.

As the supreme executive head, the President’s instruction to halt the Primary League matches is very crucial because PSSI had previously made the incomprehensible and incredulous announcement that it would suspend matches for one week. Investigating and evaluating disasters that are not caused by nature and have claimed hundreds of lives is impossible in one week.

To all appearances PSSI treated the incident in a cavalier manner, devoid of empathy for the victims and their families. Apart from being callous and lacking compassion, their attitude may be interpreted as prioritizing purely commercial matters and ignoring the suffering of people and relatives who are still grieving their loss. Thankfully the President has issued a firm order that counteracts this ill-considered scheme.

Quick Action

Obviously, the main stakeholders, including PSSI and local police authorities, did not act swiftly enough in providing clear and straightforward explanations, expressing empathy, and reporting developments that are thorough and easy to understand. This is contrary to the theory put forward by two lecturers at the University of San Diego, Peter A. Andersen, and Brian H. Spitzberg that all disasters are local.

What they mean is that local parties know better and are in control of the situation and are better able to provide a full explanation. In the case of the Kanjuruhan Tragedy, the steps from the center of government were more effective in preventing the situation from getting more chaotic. One thing that Andersen and Spitzberg said that was evident in this tragedy is the need for a centralized source of information that is reliable and has authority.

The more parties involved in providing information will increase the possibility of confusion and errors in communication. In the case of Kanjuruhan, perhaps the Provincial Government of East Java should have taken control as the authority in the region.

Andersen and Spitzberg issued guidelines on content and design in disaster communications as follows:

  • For an effective public response, timely, specific, adequate, consistent, and easily digestible information is required.
  • Messages need to be packaged as simply as possible.
  • Messages must be personally and individually relevant to elicit a response that can be followed up with action.
  • To be obeyed, messages must create concern so that people are moved to comply (author’s note: this is more relevant in dealing with natural disasters, especially when the community must immediately follow the direction of the authorities to avoid being impacted).
  • Communities will seek confirmation about an emergency situation and their response will be greatly influenced by the confirmation received (same note as above).
  • Contacting affected families as quickly as possible is crucial to a functional public response.
  • The more frequent the early warnings the less people will pay attention (note: this is also more relevant in natural disasters).

Of course, we hope that the Kanjuruhan Tragedy will not be repeated. However, it is important that we learn to conduct disaster communication in accordance with best practice as outlined above as reference, also in dealing with natural disasters that are more frequent and beyond our control.

Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 90th edition issued on October 2022, page 56-57.

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