Indonesian investigative journalism exposes exploitation

In the past, the Indonesian media’s main fear was censorship. Now their biggest challenge is to remain independent in a society where every stakeholder demands attention to their own agenda. For 46 years, Tempo has been the only independent publisher in Indonesia to publish investigative stories. Even during the Suharto regime, the weekly magazine and digital platform always managed to maintain its role of fierce watchdog.

Tempo doesn’t bring just any news; it’s always ‘the story behind the story’. They do so excellently, but the weekly also misses stories that are relevant to many citizens, because they happen far from the capital. Together with Free Press Unlimited, they therefore organised a training programme in 2017 for investigative journalists from local and national media from all over Indonesia.

Of the 10 nominated proposals, 6 remained after they were pitched to a jury of prominent journalists. They received intense training in investigative journalism and 4 or 5 months of personal guidance from a senior investigative journalist. They also worked actively with organisations like Greenpeace Indonesia that have unique sources and contacts. Campaigning, discussions on Facebook and parties in dialog with each other… it’s all part of the training programme. That is how investigative journalism brings about real change.

Slave labour on fishing ships

One of the stories brought to light that over 40,000 Indonesians on board of Taiwanese fishing boats work as slaves. They work more than 20 hours a day, get very little to eat and have no clean drinking water. The men are beaten, sometimes to death if they work too slowly. They must also carry out repairs to the ship under water without an oxygen tank. The Indonesians earn much less than was promised by the illegal recruitment agencies and are only paid their minimal salary afterwards – so they won’t run away. The recruitment agency gives them false papers, and because they are not registered for work anywhere, they are uninsured and are not protected against abuse.

With help from the Taiwanese The Reporter, Tempo exposed these injustices at sea with hard evidence. Within a few days of publication, the Indonesian government and national police created a working group to close the gaps in the system that made this exploitation possible. They also demanded better treatment of Indonesian employees in Taiwan. After high-level talks between Indonesian and Taiwanese authorities, officials were arrested, civil servants fired, and regulations and supervision tightened.

With these types of investigative stories, Tempo lays a crucial foundation for professional, critical and independent journalism in Indonesia. This is also demonstrated by the Pulitzer Prize 2017 for the Panama Papers research team, of which Tempo was a part. Wahyu Dhyatmika, managing editor at Tempo: ‘We attach great importance to our independence, because our main reason for existing is to serve the public and thus build a more just society.’

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