How Positive Coverage Can Be Bought: An Insider Tells of Dirty Journalists

The Jakarta Globe

Danu Pratama (not his real name) has worked as a journalist for nearly seven years, covering beats ranging from technology and politics to human rights and legal issues.

During that time he has also taken bribes from sources and others to “play up issues in the media,” essentially presenting deliberately biased or inaccurate news stories to benefit those paying him.

“We can play up any issue in the media, especially political, legal and economic issues, because politicians, law enforcement officials and businessmen are willing to spend a lot of money to attack their rivals through the media and make them look bad,” Danu told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.

He said his demands for bribes ranged from Rp 7.5 million ($830) into the hundreds of millions, depending on the urgency of the issue, who the source was and whether they wanted an issue manipulated in print, broadcast or online media — or all three.

“I never play up an issue alone, because then it’d become obvious,” he went on. “I usually work with a team of five other journalists, where I act as the coordinator and make the deal with the source. I assure you that even the so-called cleanest media outlets have journalists who have taken part in this ‘mafia’ practice.”

As shocking as Danu’s revelation is, senior media figures say this culture of strings-attached reporting is the norm in Indonesia, fueled by a liberal official stance on bribery and a largely underpaid press corps.

“Government institutions and companies often allocate a portion of their budget to a media development fund that provides journalists with so-called transportation money,” said Nezar Patria, chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

“They maintain a list of journalists covering their beats, whom they usually give anywhere from Rp 250,000 to Rp 1 million each. Unfortunately, this money is often accepted by journalists who work for less-than-credible media outlets that don’t pay them well.”

Nezar said AJI and the Press Council had for the past 15 years been campaigning against the practice of journalists taking bribes. “Indonesian journalists and the media have taken part in the fight because they understand the importance of not losing our sense of objectivity when reporting a story,” he said.

“That commitment can be seen in every media outlet, which all state that journalists may not receive any gifts or money.”

He added that this value was clearly enshrined in the journalistic code of conduct.

“Other than compromising a journalist’s objectivity, receiving a gift or a bribe will harm the wider profession because it needs to be understood that journalists are agents of information between the state and public,” he said. “A journalist must convey only the truth because society has a right to know the truth.”

Agus Sudibyo, a member of the Press Council, agreed.

“But we can’t accuse any journalists of doing this unless we have evidence, such as phone recordings,” he said.

“If the Press Council does receive evidence that a journalist has taken a bribe or a gift, we will notify the media outlet or their journalists’ association.”

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