News / Asia

Journalists' Deaths in Indonesia Condemned

Journalist associations in Southeast Asia have condemned the recent killings and suspicious deaths of several reporters in Indonesia and called for thorough investigations of cases of violence against reporters.

The death in August of television reporter Ridwan Salamun, who was killed while trying to film a clash between two villages in southeast Maluku, is only the latest incident of violence against reporters in Indonesia.

Since early July at least six journalists have complained of threats or intimidation, and on August 2 the body of freelance reporter Ardiansyah Matra'is was found in a river in Papua. The Alliance of Independent Journalists has called for a thorough investigation into his death, which police in Papua have declared a suicide.

The Alliance, in a statement released following the death of Salamun, said there have been several cases in recent months of violence, intimidation and threats against journalists in Indonesia. The Alliance urged the press community to "improve standards of professionalism, ethic[s] and work safety and to take [an] active part in monitoring cases of violence against their own colleagues." The statement added "journalists are indeed not privileged citizens," but any form of violence should be condemned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, which compiles a yearly list of journalists who have been killed while carrying out their work, condemned the killing of Salamun. They urged police to find and arrest the murders to "send a clear message that violence against journalists will not be tolerated."

CPJ said that while conflict and war have provided the backdrop to much of the violence against the press over the last decade, the vast majority of journalists killed since 1993 did not die in cross fire. Instead, they were hunted down and murdered, often in direct reprisal for their reporting. In fact, according to CPJ statistics, only 60 journalists, or 16 percent, died in cross fire, while 277, or 76 percent, were murdered in retribution for their work. The remaining journalists were killed in conflict situations, such as violent street demonstrations.

Human rights activist and media monitor Andreas Harsono says the recent incidents in Indonesia reveal deep problems with the way journalism is perceived in a country where the media expanded rapidly after the fall of former autocrat Suharto in 1998.

"With the boom of these media companies - TVs, radios, newspapers - and the boom of journalists, journalists are not as well trained as they are supposed to be," Harsono said. "The schools of journalism for instance are mostly concentrated in Java and they are still controlled by the government. There is also the practice of self-censorship, which is still rampant, and several areas are off limits, especially to international journalists, Papua for instance."

Harsono says there is also a lack of legal protection. Largely because of a large number of defamation cases brought against reporters last year, human rights watchdog Freedom House lists Indonesia's media as only partly free in its annual media freedom survey.

Harsono worries that limited access to the outer islands and a lack of training and protection will continue to put journalists' lives at risk.

 

An earlier version of this story lacked context and was misleading. VOA regrets the error.

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