Friday, October 28, 1994

Indonesian journalists say they are harassed

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian journalists under government pressure for forming an independent association said on Friday they had complained to the national human-rights commission, accusing their employers of harassment.

The Alliance of Indonesian Journalists (AJI) told the official commission during a meeting on Thursday that members and sympathisers faced intimidation from their editors, themselves under pressure after a media crackdown in June.

"We are telling the Human Rights Komnas HAM (commission) that journalists grouped in AJI along with its symphathisers are being repressed," AJI member Satrio Arismunandar said after meeting commission Secretary-General Baharuddin Lopa.

AJI was set up in August to challenge the official Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) seven weeks after the government banned three leading weeklies, Tempo, Detik and Editor, for their critical coverage of sensitive political issues.

The journalists said PWI had told editors to dismiss members of the alliance. They also alleged that two reporters from the Jakarta Post daily had been banned from covering next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

Media sources said the Department of Information had long required reporters covering major events to be members of PWI.

AJI, recognised by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, said one of its members, Jakarta Post reporter Andreas Harsono, had been dismissed on Tuesday after being accused of partisan reporting. He has denied this.

"Terror tactics against AJI members have started to occur via pressure from chief editors at various publications. And the Jakarta Post has triggered this action," AJI said in a statement.

AJI called on newspaper editors not to imitate the Jakarta Post's treatment against the organisation's more than 80 members.

Jakarta Post dismisses AJI member

Andreas Harsono, a journalist working for The Jakarta Post, was dismissed from the paper this month. The following is a slightly abridged translation of his Open Letter circulated on 26 October 1994.

I have been asked by many people about my dismissal from The Jakarta Post. Within a couple of hours of being told that I had lost my job, more than twenty friends had asked me what happened. The queries came not only from members of the Alliance of Independent Journalists but also from Tessa Piper in London.

I am grateful for all this sympathy.

I was officially notified of my dismissal by the editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post, Susanto Pudjomartono, who called me to his office to tell me that the management had decided not to prolong my work contract (my period of probation) which expires at the end of October because I was considered to be unsuitable for the job.

He said that my skills as a journalist were not in doubt; they were beyond what The Jakarta Post required. He said he was satisfied with the features I had written, though not with my handling of 'straight news' which tends to be 'unbalanced'.

The General Manager Raymond Toruan had said earlier that I had a tendency to be one-sided, against the government and called me 'partisan'.

This was why I would not be taken on as a member of the permanent staff, unlike the other nine who joined the staff with me, all of whom were given new work contracts in May, August or September.

Susanto stressed that this decision was not take under any pressure from outside - from the government or from Fikri Jufri, a director of PT Bina Media Tenggara which prints The Jakarta Post, who phoned to say that he wanted me to be taken on permanently.

"Mas Santo" also said the dismissal had nothing to do with AJI, though he acknowledged that people outside would make the connection.

Speaking personally, Mas Santo said he had enjoyed my being in the office and found my ideas attractive. His advice was that I should behave tactically, like Taras Bulba, the Kossack who made a pretence of siding with those in power then crushed the Russian colonisers.

My personal thoughts

Although I was well aware of the risks I was taking, the dismissal came as a shock. There are personal problems. Having been on probation, I am not entitled to severance allowance and I don't have another job. I have also just signed a one-year contract for a house that is located near the editorial office of The Jakarta Post.

But this is of secondary importance. I knew that I would have to pay a price if I took a firm stand and fight openly for my point of view. Nor do I think that the reasons given for dismissing me were the real ones.

Take the question of 'imbalanced straight news'. All the desk editors have denied this, except for the one who supervised my work. Dozens of journalists working for the paper signed a petition to the Works Council urging the management to stop pursuing management methods that confuse the journalists; one of the problems raised was the lack of criteria for how journalists are appointed.

I find it very regrettable that I was not informed of my dismissal until late October even though in May, Raymond Toruan promised to let me know by August. Some members of the editorial staff and the personnel department had told me that I was likely to get an appointment. One even advised me to prolong my housing contract because my appointment was assured. There are many people who can confirm that this is true.

One interesting thing that happened is that the management of The Jakarta Post was recently summoned by the Ministry of Information and the Indonesian Association of Journalists (PWI) and told of the need to 'give guidance' to journalists on the staff who have become involved with AJI. It is widely known that the ministry and the PWI are very unhappy about the emergence of AJI and want to prevent it from becoming effective.

I have been told that one person on the management of The Jakarta Post has been talking about the need for quick action against any members of staff who have joined AJI.

If this is true, I am the first victim. I am a signatory of the Sirnagalih Declaration and an AJI activist which makes me one of those who need to be 'excised'.

Finally, I do not consider myself to be important enough to be treated like this. I am just an ordinary journalist who decided to take a stand at a time when the act of doing so meant putting my career in jeopardy.

It is my opinion that the banning of Tempo, Editor, DeTik and Simponi is damaging for all of us. There is no justification for it and we must say so, loud and clear.

It's not that I don't appreciate the need for tactics. But what worries me is that people destroy themselves and turn traitors, all in the name of tactics.

My dismissal will not make me afraid to take a stand.


Jakarta, 26 October 1994

Andreas Harsono