The Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) urges media companies to provide adequate safety equipment and training for their journalists.

What is at stake?

Insany Syahbarwaty is a journalist for iNewsTV Maluku, a province located in the Eastern part of Indonesia. She has been serving as a journalist in Ambon—a city infamous for being a conflicted area, for 16 years.

As a media worker, the ability to protect herself on the job was self-taught. The company she works in never provided any safety equipment, let alone facilitated any safety training.

Syahbarwaty—a Former Chief of AJI Ambon, stated that safety training is even more important for journalists who cover news on disasters or report from conflicted areas.

As a media worker, the ability to protect herself on the job was self-taught.

She said that in the face of danger, the lack of knowledge on safety is “a matter of life and death.”

Aside from environmental threats, journalists are encouraged to learn basic self-protection skills because they are prone to receive violence.

AJI’s database noted 80 reports about violence to journalists in 2016. The assaults vary, from receiving physical attacks, coerced to delete all interview reports, and persecuted by the police and/or military officers.

Yadi Hendriana, Chairman of the Indonesian Television Journalists Association claims that the violence against journalists “serves as an intimidation faced by the press.”

Joni Aswira—a reporter from Independen.ID stated that the safety of journalists is “first and foremost the responsibility of media companies.”

Vice President of AJTL Zenovia Vieira talks about safety for journalists during interview on the pre-event of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day at Jakarta Convention Centre (JCC), Indonesia, on May 2nd, 2017. | Photo by Yerica Estella

An unblissful ignorance

At the moment, the overall safety of Indonesian journalists is “worrying,” said Former Chief of AJI Yogyakarta, Bambang Muryanto.

According to Muryanto, Indonesian journalists display a limited concern for their own safety. This complicates the status quo, as neither the company nor the worker is concerned with the safety of journalists.

“A lot of journalists do not understand their own limits,” he said. “They will do anything to get a good coverage, even if it may endanger them.”

“They will do anything to get a good coverage, even if it may endanger them.”

In extreme cases, journalists have lost their lives due to this ignorance.

Some infamous names include Yuniawan Nugroho; a journalist for VivaNews who died when reporting the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi, and Rizal Sahputra, a former journalist for TVOne who died during the 2014 Mount Sinabung eruption.

A participant shares about freedom of press in 2017 WPFD’s workshop on human rights and safety for journalists. | Photo by Yerica Estella

Threats against female journalists

Aside from life-threatening assaults, female journalists in Indonesia face an additional threat: gender discrimination.

At the moment, there are no existing publications noting the exact number of female journalists in Indonesia. However, AJI noted that by 2012, 18,6% of its members are female.

A 2013 report released by AJI stated that “generally, female journalists experience gender-based violence and assaults.”

They are prone to sexual harassments during reporting. Sadly, oftentimes their male colleagues are the ones harassing them.

As a female journalist, Syahbarwaty is familiar to such degrading remarks. “I receive gender-based insults quite frequently,” she admits. “Once, I was reporting on a case of rape, and someone mocked me, saying ‘why aren’t you raped as well?’.”

Syahbarwaty paused to wipe a tear.

“It took me a long time to heal from that,” she continued. “It pained me, because to them, I wasn’t a journalist. I wasn’t even a human being. To them, I was only a woman.”

“Once, I was reporting on a case of rape, and someone mocked me, saying ‘why aren’t you raped as well?’.”

What should be done?

Muryanto, Syahbarwaty, and Aswira highlighted the importance of revising the current Indonesian Press Law. “Although the press law exists, it doesn’t explicitly address the safety of journalists, or sanctions to those who assault journalists.”

Article 8 of the Indonesian Press Law states that in carrying out their profession, Indonesian journalists have legal protection. However, it doesn’t further specify what kind of legal rights they have.

Aswira—a member of the Manpower Department of AJI Indonesia, urged media companies to facilitate their workers with sufficient knowledge on safety.

“Aside from improving the legal mechanism, it is equally important for the public to understand the importance of journalists and their activities,” Syahbarwati said. “The press supports the public interest. Any attempts to violate their activities is an attempt to disrupt democracy.”

The writer is student at Gadjah Mada University

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