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Reporter tells of bribery in Indonesia's media

This week, Indonesia's parliament passed a controversial bill limiting the powers of the country's Corruption Court, which many project will weaken the fight against corruption in the country. Despite reform efforts, endemic corruption in Indonesia remains a legacy of President Suharto's 32-year reign, including in the country's media.

Though journalists have gained many freedoms since Suharto was toppled in 1998, freedom of the press remains under threat. The Criminal Code allows for criminal prosecution against journalists, namely under charges of defamation. In a well known case, in 2004 the Jakarta court sentenced Bambang Harymurti, the editor of Indonesia's weekly Tempo magazine, to a year’s imprisonment for defamation of businessman Tomy Winata. Harymurti was later acquitted.

A bill currently under consideration would subject journalists to five to 20 years in jail if convicted of publicizing a "state secret," according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists.

Last week, IJNet spoke to Indonesian journalist Juanita Wiratmaja. Wiratmaja (below right) has worked as a news reporter in Indonesia for several years at Indonesian television station SCTV. She is currently in Washington, D.C., through a one-year broadcasting fellowship at the Voice of America (VOA), a U.S. government-funded international news service.

Can you describe the situation facing journalists in Indonesia?
Compared to the past, journalists in Indonesia have more freedom. During Suharto’s presidency, the government controlled the media. The government could just crack down on any news organization. Offenses against journalists are still present, and many cases against journalists are being tried with crime laws instead of press laws.

On the other hand, I also think that freedom of press in Indonesia is intractable. The reformation era has allowed journalists to abuse their freedom of press. Many stories that journalists write are unreliable, and journalists sometimes receive bribes from their sources.

Has this affected your work?
It is difficult sometimes to remain clean and professional especially when you're surrounded by people who believe bribery is normal. Sometimes I feel hopeless to see my friends, it is just very bad.

It is normal to receive money from sources. It is normal to cover stories paid for by event organizers. The situation has worsened, especially with the low salary that a journalist receives. But thankfully, I have managed to be as professional as I can, by refusing to receive bribes and remaining as objective as I can be when covering stories.

What motivates you to remain honest?
It is more my personal belief that what goes around comes around. I have seen that happen among my friends. I believe that good things will come to good people. Before I got into this field, I was fully aware that it is rather difficult to earn lots of money, but I myself don't mind it.

Are there regulations in place to deal with bribery?
Well, yes. But once again the regulations are not enforced. Bribery regulations are actually written in our employment contract, but they are just not working. I mean, how can a supervisor ask his employees not to take a bribe if he, himself, is also receiving bribes?

Why do you think bribery is flourishing in Indonesian’s journalism?
It is the mentality in our society that allows bribery to endure for years.

What has your experience been working in a U.S. media organization?
Working with VOA has taught me many things. In the U.S., we must be very careful with what we report, because unreliable news can cost us a fortune, they can take us to court. Compared to Indonesia, the U.S. has better and more impartial law enforcement. And also bribery, obviously, is uncommon.

What do you want to achieve in your one year fellowship?
I want to improve my skills in filming, editing, scriptwriting, language and interviewing. I also want to broaden my knowledge on many issues so I can provide more dimensions in my reporting.

Do you have access to journalism training in these areas back home?
Yes. Several universities offer journalism programs or if you're a member of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, they offer many journalism training programs. However, most journalists I know don't really come from a journalism background. Therefore, a new journalist usually learns journalism as he is doing his job. Some news agencies provide journalism training for employees.

In your opinion, what must be done to improve journalism in Indonesia?
First, media ownership; though the government controls the media less than in the past, political parties in Indonesia sometimes still influence what or how the media reports. Second, we must raise journalist’s wage. Well, hopefully by doing that, it will decrease bribery in journalism.

For more on the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia, go to http://www.ajiindonesia.org/. For news on media in Indonesia, go to http://www.rsf.org/en-pays64-Indonesia.html.

"freedom of the press" does

"freedom of the press" does not give them the right to say and print anything thye think might sell papers. Bribery is sometimes just tacit agreement to accept questionable adverting in exchange for slanted articles. To find a balance between freedom and anarchy is always a challenge.

In my personal view, I think

In my personal view, I think bribery is deeply root ed in the media across the world. Media in Kenya for instance is becoming a nighmare with the invasion of quakes. The media has been taken over by this cartel of quakes pretending to be Journalists. Many of these quakes behave like freelance Journalists going round extorting money from politicians and other prominent personalities in the society. Media owners and the government seems to have given a blind eye on them either becoz they are not their employees , due to ignorance or because the people they are targeting might have been involved in scandals and other dirty deals none would want to be exposed . Lack of unity and cooperation among media owners is also a hinderance in fighting the menace

As an official of one of associations championing for rights of Journalists in Kenya i would want to see the media pointing fingers towards itself and clean its house before it can expose other wrongs in the society.

Media owned by private

Media owned by private business is not the solution. In Russia, private newspapers get contracts with the local government for advertising, etc and it may be more than 50% of revenue. It's an excellent way for people who want transfer government money to the legal private business and excellent way for media owners to make money. It's eternal.

I would certainly agree with

I would certainly agree with her that media must be owned by private business. Government owned media or political party owned media would always have too much bias. Remove the temptation and make way for fairness. online casino

Great article. It gives the

Great article. It gives the reader incite to issues in Indonesia that I was not aware of. It is unusal to hear of bribery in journalism in the US but I do know that they can be influence in other way other than money. The hopes of getting a bigger story in the future if they cooperate on the story that the person or orgainization wants written. We all have to read the news with an eye to what is truthful and should look to several sources to determine what is fact and what is not. Thats were the individual responsability. I must say that the article is well written. Thanks to the writer and the person interview for the great story. Keep up the good work.

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