Journalist Murders in Indonesia Attributed to Low Standards

Journalist Murders in Indonesia Attributed to Low Standards
Voice of America, 2 September 2010

Sara Schonhardt

Journalist associations in Southeast Asia have condemned the recent killings of several reporters in Indonesia. Media analysts, however, say low journalism standards may be partly to blame for the deaths.

The death of television reporter Ridwan Salamun, who was killed while trying to film a clash between two villages in southeast Maluku, is only the latest incident of violence against reporters in Indonesia.

Since early July at least six journalists have complained of threats or intimidation, and on August 2 the body of freelance reporter Ardiansyah Matra'is was found in a river in Papua.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists has called for a thorough investigation into his death, which police in Papua have declared a suicide.

Human rights activist and media monitor Andreas Harsono says the incidents reveal deep problems with the way journalism is perceived in a country where the media expanded rapidly after the fall of former autocrat Suharto in 1998.

"With the boom of these media companies - TVs, radios, newspapers - and the boom of journalists, journalists are not as well trained as they are supposed to be," Harsono said. "The schools of journalism for instance are mostly concentrated in Java and they are still controlled by the government. There is also the practice of self-censorship, which is still rampant, and several areas are off limits, especially to international journalists, Papua for instance."

Harsono says a lack of professionalism means some journalists put themselves in danger because they are not trained to cover riots or conflicts.

Competition is also a problem. Fifteen companies control around 95 percent of the news media in Indonesia. Media analysts say that creates market pressure that forces many editors to compromise on content and keep journalists' salaries low.

The average monthly wage for a reporter in Jakarta is around $200, only slightly more than the city's minimum. Harsono says poor salaries make journalists vulnerable to bribery, which leads to biased or inaccurate reporting.

Those on the outer islands have a tougher time.

"The further the island from Java, usually they are considered to be riskier in their job and either they are very corrupt - easily can be bought - or they are extremely idealistic, to some extent even campaigning journalists," Harsono said.

Harsono says the poor quality of reporting makes some people suspicious of journalists. But it is not just poor training and knowledge of journalism ethics that concerns him. There is also a lack of legal protection.

Largely because of a large number of defamation cases brought against reporters last year, human rights watchdog Freedom House lists Indonesia's media as only partly free in its annual media freedom survey.

Harsono worries that limited access to the outer islands and a lack of training and protection will continue to put journalists' lives at risk.


Comments (2):

02-09-2010 Andrew (Australia)
Reality check for readers. It was the "United States of Indonesia" which gained independence in 1949 (UN resolution 301), that nation was quashed by a state in Java called the "Republic of Indonesia" which claimed the other States as provinces of itself during 1950. Free nations should empathize with Maluku and West Papua which are unwilling provinces of Indonesia. It is dangerous when journalists promote a colonial fiction rather than the whole story.

What an utterly bizarre story and headline. Journalists may be targeted in any country, and poor journalistic training or "low standards" has nothing to do with it. The reporter and editor here blew it. VOA's standards should be higher.