Jakarta, INDONESIA — The implementation of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in several regions has limited journalists’ mobility as they obtain the information from a press conference through Zoom application.
Head of Indonesia’s Independent Journalists Alliance (AJI) Abdul Manan told TOC that the work of journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic has been “challenging as we do not attend press conferences at office buildiings, but instead virtually via Zoom”.
“If we attend the event, we can directly ask [the official] for further clarification,” he added.
The rapidly evolving situation may sometimes lead to journalists misinterpreting statements from government officials, Mr Abdul Manan said.
“For example, when the news about the city of Malang planned for lockdown (which was later denied by the East Java administration). There was misleading information there as some journalists misinterpreted the statement,” the veteran journalist described.
Data accuracy a challenge for journalists in Indonesia due to risk of exposure to virus, difficulty in accessing data directly from hospitals for COVID-19
Accurate data on the numbers of COVID-19 patients is vital. However, it is risky for journalists to obtain the data directly from the hospitals designated for COVID-19 patients.
“We have two risks: being unable to collect data and being sick. The problem is we cannot get the data from the hospital easily as the data is under the authority of the Ministry of Health,” Head of the Jakarta chapter of AJI Jakarta Asnil Bambani said in interview with TOC.
Data discrepancy between the central government and regional government is also another problem.
Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo told Kompas in April that the data discrepancy was due to the different times recorded and updated by the central government and local administrations respectively.
“If provincial administrations send the latest data at 01.00 pm, it will not be included in the data of the Health Ministry. Meanwhile, regional administrations update the data at 06.00 pm … Of course, it will be different. — both the numbers of people infected, the numbers of deaths,” Agus added.
Journalists report facing prospect of retrenchment, not receiving Hari Raya allowance: AJI Jakarta
Around two weeks before the Eid holiday, AJI Jakarta received 88 reports related to employment cases affecting journalists, Mr Asnil said.
“Some said they would be laid off despite working from a TV station … Others reported that they had yet to receive their holiday allowance or tunjangan hari raya,” the Kontan journalist explained.
If reports come from journalists who are non-AJI members, the alliance can only offer them advice instead of pushing for legal action on their behalf.
Violence against journalists a worrying issue
A journalist working for the country’s leading online platform Detik received a death threat after reporting on 26 May that President Joko Widodo plans to open a new mall in Bekasi in West Java, based on a statement from the Head of the Public Relations Subdivision of the Bekasi Regional Secretariat.
However, the news article was then revised after the Head of Public Relations of the Bekasi City Government clarified that the president only reviewed public facilities ahead of the “new normal” implementation.
The Detik journalist also faced doxxing following the article on 26 May.
“We received the information from our fellow journalists who were with him during the coverage. What we know is the Detik.com journalist received a murder threat on Whatsapp, even his family was targeted too. Someone shared his personal information on social media aimed at persecuting the journalist’s personality. This method is called doxing,” said Mr Asnil.
AJI urged the police to probe the case as soon as possible given that it falls under delik aduan — petitioned offence — in which the police can investigate the crime without reports from the victims.
“Given that the attacked journalist is not our member, what we can do is to monitor the situation, urged the police to look into it. We encourage the journalist and his employer will report it,” Mr Asnil added.
Both Mr Abdul and Mr Asnil urged either Detik or the journalist to report the case to the police. Detik has yet to issue any statement regarding its employee.
“We must make sure that the journalist is protected. We are wondering why Detik.com has yet to bring the case to the police,” both journalists said.
Previously a local journalist in Banten was intimidated after reporting the death of a poor woman affected by the pandemic in April.
AJI regrets purported inaction of Press Council regarding intimidation against journalists covering COVID-19
Mr Asnil regretted that the Dewan Pers — Press Council — has yet to release any statement regarding the matter.
“If you complain about the news, do not attack the journalist. Check and re-check. Sit together and let the Press Council work. Sometimes, people only cut some parts of the news without reading thoroughly,” Mr Asnil added.
TOC tried to reach the Press Council last week but have yet to receive a response.