Maintaining media standards amidst change

by the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI Indonesia)

[This report is also available in Bahasa Indonesia]

The year of 2014 is a crucial year for the Indonesian press. With the regime running government due to be changed through a general elections, problems left by the outgoing government can be the starting point of changes. Journalists and media are among the most vulnerable sectors that can be affected by changes during the process of general elections.

When Politicians control the frequencies

In the approach to the 2014 general elections in Indonesia (held on April for parliament and July for the president), the prevailing condition of media in Indonesia is cause for deep concern. Media is controlled only by a few people, and the involvement of media owners in political parties causes some other people to questioning the credibility of journalists in the press coverage related to the elections.

AJI Indonesia has been concerned about many violations by television stations, most of them are about political advertisement. According to the Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia (KPI, or Indonesian Broadcasting Commission), violations by these television stations in journalistic and non-journalistic form.

Violations in journalistic practice are usually done through news, special programs, and block-time live-show by media businessmen who are becomes the high political party officials. Meanwhile, non-journalistic violations are exposed in the form of political advertising promoting a presidential candidate or political party which is linked to the media owner.

At least six television stations have been evaluated by the KPI for broadcasting disproportionate and excessive political advertisements containing elements of a political campaign. Those six TV channels are RCTI, MNC TV, Global TV, ANTV, TV One and Metro TV. Another TV station was found in violation of political ethics and in broadcasting regulation (P3SPS) on different scale. In summary. Politicians now dominate free-to-air TV frequencies.

Continuing impunity

Many cases of death and violence against journalists have not been settled completely until now. An important benchmark of these cases is the unsolved death of Fuad Muhammad Sjafruddin, also known as Udin, a journalist in Bernas Daily, Yogyakarta. Udin was killed nearly 18 years ago because of news he wrote. As per the statute of limitations under the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHAP), the case of Udin’s death will expire in August 2014. If the police of the Republic of Indonesia does not take any serious effort to investigate Udin’s murder, the case will remain a mystery. Ultimately, it will harm the public’s perception of justice and damage the image of law enforcement in Indonesia.

For seven years, AJI has tirelessly demanded the completion of the Udin murder case. Its completion is important as a starting point for addresing impunity for other murder cases of journalists in Indonesia. Since 1996, there have been eight unsolved cases of journalist deaths (called as ‘dark number’), including:

  1. Udin, who was murdered by unknown persons in Yogyakarta in August 1996.
  2. Naimullah, a journalist of Sinar Pagi daily, who was found dead on Penimbungan Beach, West Kalimantan, in 1997.
  3. Agus Mulyawan, a journalist of Asia, who died in 1999 in Timor-Timur.
  4. Muhammad Jamaluddin, a cameraman of TVRI, who worked and went missing in Aceh in 2003.
  5. Ersa Siregar, a journalist of RCTI, who died on 29 December 2003 in Aceh.
  6. Herliyanto, a journalist of Delta Pos tabloid, Sidoarjo, who was found dead in the teak forests of Desa Tarokan, Banyuanyar, Probolinggo in 2006
  7. Ardiansyah Matra’is Wibisono, a journalist of local television station, who was found dead in 2010, in the area of Gudang Arang, Maro River, Merauke.
  8. Alfred Mirulewan, a journalist of Pelangi tabloid, who was found dead on 18 December 2010 in the Maluku Barat Daya district in Maluku.

If Udin’s case continues to be neglected by the police until its expiration in 2014, other murder cases also stand to be forgotten. This shall stand as the Indonesian National Police’s contribution to the culture of impunity in Indonesia, and also consequently betrays their as the upholders of law.

AJI 40 cases of violence against journalist and media office in 2013. This number is a decrease compared to the 51 cases of violence in 2012. AJI believes that activities related to elections contributed to the occurrence of violence in various regions, where mass support for losing  candidates for local leaders (pilkada) vented their anger by attacking journalists or destroying media offices.

This link to the elections must be emphasized to raise the awareness of journalists and media offices of the potential for violence when covering the 2014 general elections. AJI reminds print and electronic media workers to adhere to the Code of Journalistic Ethics, and the Broadcasting Code of Conduct, as well as put forward an independent and non-partisan attitude in doing their duties to cover general election news. These will be very helpful in reducing the potential for violence against journalists in the field.

According to the press freedom index of Reporter Sans Frontieres (RSF), Indonesia slightly improved its ranking in 2013, to 139 from 146 in the preceding year. Nevertheless, freedom of the press has not been totally realized. In Papua and Central Sulawesi (Poso), for example, authorities still prohibit foreign media from news coverage. It is seriously ironic that in the era of general transparency and free press, there are still policies that restrict freedom of the press in those regions.

Free and ethical internet

In today’s digital era, online media as the element of democracy is no longer merely a watchdog upon the powers. The internet– citizen’s social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs—have become a public space.

In the last three years, AJI Indonesia has noted various ethical problems related with online media, such as community interaction, speed versus accuracy, and news balance issues. In the matter of interactivity, ethical problems emerge in relation to defamation in the form of rude and hateful comments, which are what could be considered socially impolite in real life. Online media seems to have no mechanism to regulate these comments.

The internet’s speed in relaying information causes problems of accuracy. News is often published inaccurately, from citing information sources name to the very substance of the news. Online media seems to have no deep concerns to the rights of the people to get true information. Article 3 of the Code of Journalistic Ethics (KEJ) is quite clear on how the “Indonesian journalist must always investigate the information, report the news in a balanced manner, not mix facts and judgmental opinion, and implement the principle of presumption of innocence.”

So far, online media has not addressed these challenges. The only legal regulation related to internet in Indonesia is only the Law Number 11 of 2008 concerning Electronic Information and Transaction (UU ITE). In reality, online media should be considered part of the press regulated under the Law of the Press Number 40/1999.

From the industry side, online media in Indonesia is confronted with the problem of global competition and content aggregators. There is a vacuum in the regulation and government’s role to address these problems.

AJI Indonesia urges the government and House of People’s Representatives to revoke the Law of Internet and Electronic Transaction and to replace it with as law on internet management, and the to form an independent commission that has authority to solve disputes in the internet.

Admittedly, internet governance is still not a clear concept. It can be confusing, just like navigating a dense jungle. At the global level, Internet management is the subject of a global discussion since 2004 in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The debate is about the role and responsibility of different stakeholders. Responding to the request of WSIS, the UN Secretary General formed a unit assigned to explore various issues relating to the Internet governance and to improve collective understanding on various roles of the stakeholders.

The UN’s working unit for WSIS defines internet governance as the “improvement and implementation by the government, private sector, and civil society, in each role, regarding the collective principles, norms, rules, procedures for taking decision, and programs that forming the evolution and use of Internet”. Based on this definition, civil society plays a role in the process of policy making in order that the governments can formulate policies based on society’s aspiration

AJI Indonesia considers that the Law of Internet and Electronic Transaction is no longer sufficient to oversee fair and democratic management of the internet. In some provisions, this law can even boomerang to restrict the freedom of speech in the public sphere.

The internet is a public sphere for all the people around the world. It must be governed with transparency, tolerance, and equality without suppressing freedom of expression in this open space. According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have right to express freely. A healthy society is one which can differentiate between good and bad ideas. Over time, the use of this public sphere will mature and develop, if the state gives enough space for every citizen to actualize their ideas, and not by restricting it.

Eliminating ‘envelopes’ for journalists

In the midst of public concerns regarding the performance of government officials and various cases of corruption surrounding the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, the Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo achieved a breakthrough that deserves deep appreciation. Ganjar asked the Public Relations Bureau of the Central Java provincial government to eliminate any budget meant for journalists. The intended budget is usually handed out as cash—commonly referred to as an ‘envelope’—to journalists covering activities of the provincial government.

Article 6 of the Code of Journalistic Ethics (KEJ) expressly states that “Indonesian journalist shall not misuse his/ her profession and not receive any bribes”, this refers to any grant, of money, things or facilities from another party to influence the independence of media.

The practice of giving ‘envelopes’ to journalists has decreased the independence and critical conduct of media. A journalist who receives an ‘envelope’ tends to support the interest of the giver, and can be a propaganda tool. Thus news coverage will be biased or partisan, making media lose credibility.

AJI Indonesia asks the governments of other provinces, ministries, and state institutions in Indonesia to institute the same policy as Central Java to eradicate the practice of ‘envelope’ (bribe) among journalists. Instead, media companies must take responsibility to increase journalists’ salaries. Journalist welfare is not the responsibility of the government or even the public.

Protection of rape victim

In June 2013, AJI Indonesia received complaint of a rape happened to a woman journalist. Until now, however, the rapist has not been arrested and the case itself is still unsettled, causing victim to suffer from depression. AJI asks authorities to catch the rapist and urges the courts to impose severe penalty to the criminal rapist.

The Women Division of AJI Indonesia motivates journalists to understand news coverage standards on covering rape cases in order to protect the victim. Furthermore, it is necessarily to remember that women journalists are more vulnerable to violence, as in a case of a woman journalist in Makassar who was seriously injured while covering a brutal mass action in December. AJI has condemned those responsible for the violence, and has fully supported the efforts of her media office to be responsible to its worker.

Poor welfare for journalists

Journalist employment conditions has not shown any significant changes from year to year. Many journalists working without contract, as is the case in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, where only three journalists are covered by work contracts out of 20 journalists surveyed by AJI. Unfortunately, even those work contract and already working for two years, their salaries are still is below the mandated minimum wage. The practice of oral agreements and low salaries for correspondents or contributors is prevalent in regions of Indonesia. In many cities, increases in minimum wages are not followed by media companies.

Journalists working without contracts are still paid very low, starting from 9,500 Rupiahs (IDR) to 50,000 (1 to 5 USD) per news item for online media. In printed media, the rates range from 50,000 to 350,000 IDR (5 to 70 USD) per news item; while in television, journalists receive 100,000 to 250,000 IDR (10 to 25 USD) per news story submitted. Meanwhile, the stringers normally shared payments they receive with the correspondents.

In addition, many media companies are reluctant to give health insurance for journalists and their families, or refuse to cover life insurance maternity costs, benefits, and annual bonuses, no matter how large a profit they generate.

As an organization of journalists, AJI continuously promotes journalist welfare, including improving bargaining power, and by publish standards for proper salary rates for journalists in different cities in Indonesia. AJI has commended media companies which fulfill these standards of sufficient welfare for its journalists, thereby strengthening the dignity of journalist profession.

Besides the issue of salary, another employment-related issue is that of unilateral termination of employment by media companies without severance payment. Among the cases highlighted by AJI, for example, are those  of Luviana vs Metro TV, the 13 Journalists of Semarang Daily still under adjudication by the Supreme Court, and a journalist of Pal TV in Palembang.

AJI closely promotes the basic coverage for journalists under the of the Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial (BPJS, or Social Security Administrative Body) and the Labor Affairs and Healthfor their social security claims, which many still do not have. Social security coverage is essential for journalists to work with peace of mind to maintain professionalism and independence.