Investigative journalism in Indonesia: the power of the story

Journalist at work in Indonesia

Tempo Media is well-known as an independent publisher of investigative journalism stories in Indonesia. In 2016, Free Press Unlimited and Tempo Institute started the programme ‘Investigate with Tempo’, with the ambition to create a new generation of investigative reporters and promote a culture of accountability throughout Indonesia. Now, almost five years later, Tempo published its work in a book that celebrates the 41 investigative reports published in the programme, and the great impact that some of the stories have had in Indonesian society.

In the programme, talented journalists from local media based outside the capital were selected for a six-month fellowship to research a topic that affects the lives of citizens and local communities. Topics that were covered: human trafficking, climate, corruption, human rights and crime. Throughout these five years many journalists have been able to work on stories that triggered concrete changes on regulation around these topics. During the process of implementing the project, there have been many lessons learned.

Safety and collaboration

For example, digging into these subjects was not always appreciated by the people concerned. In 2018, one fellow was forced into hiding during his investigation into toxic waste at military bases. To make sure that fellows would be better prepared for the risks associated with investigative reporting, safety and legal training were included in the following year, in collaboration with CSO partner LBH Pers.

Besides effectively collaborating with Indonesian CSOs, Tempo journalists also connected with regional media such as Malaysiakini and The Reporter to work together on stories that concerned cross-border issues. Especially these collaborations induced the most social change.

Stories with impact

The stories produced during the programme clearly show the power of independent media that serve the interest of the public and act as a watchdog on their behalf. Leon Willems, director of Free Press Unlimited, says: “This book gives insight into how social change through independent journalism happens in practice. Individual stories can have a societal impact, either in the form of provoking power-holders into action or by bringing issues into the public sphere that would otherwise not be talked about.”

Of all the reports, 10 were most successful in evoking constructive reactions and even improvement of regulations. These are all highlighted in the book, but we have selected two of them here.

Indonesian Slaves on a Taiwan Ship
This story was published in January, 2017. Tempo collaborated with The Reporter, an independent online media platform from Taiwan, to trace the alleged murder of Supriyanto, a sailor from Tegal, on a Taiwan fishing vessel. Apart from uncovering various hidden facts behind Supriyanto’s death, this coverage maps out many other problems in the practice of recruiting Indonesian seafarers to work on foreign fishing vessels: from mistreatment and fraudulent agents, to weak legal protection from both Indonesian and Taiwan government. A few days after the report was published, the Indonesian government formed a task force consisting of representatives from five ministries and two non-ministerial agencies to formulate protective measures for seafarers working on foreign ships. The business licenses of the labor agencies recruiting the crew were reviewed for verification.

In Taiwan, the story published by The Reporter prompted a strong reaction from the Taiwanese government. Based on the recommendation of Control Yuan - the state ombudsman - the court reopened an investigation into Supriyanto’s death. The climax was on 20 January, 2017, when the Taiwan Council of Agriculture implemented new rules regarding the authorisation and management of the employment of foreign workers on ships sailing in high seas.

Human Trafficking in Malaysia
For this story Tempo journalists worked together with online news portal Malaysia Kini from Malaysia. The research was sparked by the many deaths of migrant workers from East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). Many young people in NTT are interested in becoming migrant workers in Malaysia. They are lured by the promise of a salary of Rp 3 million, which is higher than the minimum wage of Rp 1.25 million in their hometown. However, this promise is not met, and often it is not the adults who become the migrant workers, but the children. Tempo traced the trafficking route and investigated the source of the money flow that financed the network of illegal migrant worker recruiters.

This eventually led to Albert Tei, the owner of eight agencies that supply Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia. Initially, Albert Tei denied there were any abuses. However, two days after Tempo’s coverage was published, he raised the workers’ wages and improved their rights.

You can find the book about the results and successes of ‘Investigate with Tempo’ below.

Download the book here: 

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