Friday, October 02, 2009

Lapindo Mudflow

I was invited to speak in a discussion about Lapindo mudflow victims, a couple of weeks ago. It was held in Goethe Haus, Menteng, Central Jakarta. My colleague, Heru Margianto, the editor of Kompas.com was also invited to speak, along with Alif Nurlambang, former 68H Radio journalist and a victim of the mudflow, flew all the way from Sidoarjo, East Java.

The main topic was how media portray Lapindo mudflow case, three years after. I was given a chance to speak after the guy from Sidoarjo. He lambasted media for being ignorance of their plight and misery. The first thing I said was that I felt like a defendant in that forum. Everybody was there to grill and question the media role, and I felt like I was put under a spotlight. However, I then said that this is a good thing. "Press freedom, media freedom, is your freedom, the public freedom," I said. Forum like this should be held more often, so that the public can say what they think about press reporting, and complaint about things they dont like to read or watch in the media.

Many things have already been discussed about how Lapindo use strategic and sophisticated public relation to lull the media into their sides of the story. I did not discuss that issue. "If you want the media to publish your side of the story, you have to do something to grab the media attention, you have to create an issue, engage the media, connect with us, and fight for the newsroom's attention," I said.

During the Soeharto authoritarian regime, the state and the government were the only power in every newsroom in this country. Now, the case is completely different. No one own the newsroom, not even the media owners. Yes, they can try to influence us, but we can refuse and fight back. If they dont like it, and decide to fire us, so be it, lets bring the fight to the street, and see how the credibility of that media will evaporate once everybody know that a news item can be change and shape under the owner's command.

So, press freedom is your freedom. I remember AJI and a couple of donor organisation campaign this theme several years ago. We made posters and stickers and pins, but no one seems to really understand the meaning of that campaign. Now, after several years, it sunk in to people's mind. After they see how their beloved teve news program cover a presidential candidate more favourably compared to the other. After they see their newspapers miss to mention a specific angle of an important issue. After they see their radio hijacked by big companies to air useless commercial programs. Now, they realise that they are the one who will pay the prize if press freedom is used and manipulated by the wealthy and powerfull elites.

Better late than never.

A Journalist' Responsibility

This question haunted me since several weeks ago: how far do we, journalist, are responsible for things happening around us?

It all begin last September. The Alliance of Independent Journalist (AJI) Jakarta, where I sit as the chairman since last February, was asked to host a discussion to commemorate the fifth year anniversary of Munir's murder. As everybody probably well aware, this prominent human rights campaigner was poisoned to death on a Garuda flight to Amsterdam, September 7th five year ago.

Many journalists attended the discussion. We watched a documentary made by a friend of mine, former RCTI producer, Dhandy Dwi Laksono, and felt closer to Cak Munir. The film was great, it explained why we need to keep asking the question: who was behind this murder and keep pushing the police and attorney general to prosecute the mastermind.

However, the thing that disturbed me came during the discussion. Although it was not openly spoken during the Q and A session, I sense that many human rights activist who were there feel that the media, the journalist, has abandoned them, has forget this cause. "Yes, we got a lot of help and support from you all, but the work is not done yet, please come aboard again, lets do this once more, and push a litle more, so that everybody involve behind the curtain will be brought to justice."

How did we forget about Munir?

Well, we have many things on our plate. If you havent forget, we had the election, we had terrorism, we had corruption, we had other cases, everyday. So we did forget Munir.

How can we forget about Munir?

We can't. We actually can not and should not forget Munir.

But we just had so many other newsworthy issues to cover. We cannot fill our pages, our airwaves, with reports about Munir, if nothing happened just yet, can we? Some of us may ask: do we, journalist, have to also care about shaping an agenda, or do we just go with the flow, report anything that came in our way? Do we have time to reflect and then deliberately steer our reporting to a cause, to an issue, we know is important to the public? Are we free enough to that? Are we smart enough to that?