In the Name of Envelope Journalism

It’s prohibited for the government officials to receive gratification. If an officer does, it means he or she receives bribery and violates the law. We could read on mass media how many former and existing government officials handed by KPK because of gratification. How about the journalists? Does this apply to the “Fourth state”?

Graticification, refers to article 12 B (1) of the Law No. 31/1999 in conjunction with Law No. 20/2001, that: “The term Gratification in this verse is the extending in a broad sense, including money, goods, rebate (discount), commissions, interest-free loans, travel tickets, accomodation, free medicines, and other facilities. Gratification, whether received domestically and abroad and carried out by electronic means or without electronic means.” KPK categorizes the acceptance of gratification as corruption if it is involved the government officials as the receivers.

Why gratification issue deserves a critical discussion among activists of mass media? Just like the government, journalists also work for the benefit and the goodness of public. It’s not something exaggerating to say journalist could not also receive gratification in any form because it’s kind of corruption. And, it is very difficult to prove that a journalist who receives gratification is free of bias or interest of a party, for example a business person. The fact proves that a journalistic report belongs to the author who later known accepting gratification gives a misleading report because it has a hidden agenda which then build a bad public opinion.

For instance, an investigation report called “Saksi Kunci: Kisah Nyata Perburuan Vincent, Pembocor Rahasia Pajak Asian Agri Group (Key Witness: True Story of the Hunt of Vincen, who Leaked the Asian Agri Group Tax Issue)” authored by Metta Dharmasaputra. The focus on the investigation report is the tax deviation of PT Asian Agri Group during 2002 until 2005. Later it is known that the reporter accepted the fund for this investigaton in amount of one hundred million rupiahs from businesman Edwin Suryajaya who happens to be a businees rival to Sukanto Tanoto, the owner of Asian Agri.

The publication is actually about Suryajaya versus Tanoto. It’s not just about tax issues. There are more than one Indonesian companies with this type of problem but why Dharmasaputra only talks about Asian Agri Group? Hiding behind the advantage of being professional in journalism which is the freedom of expression, the envelope journalist takes action based on the principles of journalism but for the interests of the financiers. Metta’s wife has been long part of a US government sponsored NGO receiving approximately 160,000 dollars.

Journalists should be ideally critical of the government and private sector as well as long as related to the lives of many people. Unfortunately, since the Soeharto era, the term envelope journalism, has been emerging until now. Speaking about the term of envelope journalism could be defined as the practice by journalists to accept any kind of payment or gift roomates before writing a story is deemed favorable to those who give them the bribe. The payment might be given voluntarily by news sources or requested for explicitly or implicitly by the journalists themselves. In some cases, the payment would be after the publication of the story and both the journalists and the givers are aware beforehand that the publication is a kind of necessary condition for the payment.

Although there are different definitions in different countries, envelope journalism usually has at least three common elements: firstly, there is a gift or money paid to the journalist with the purpose to influence the public opinion. Secondly, those who give the payment indicate clearly that the payment is made to the journalist so that he or she writes a favorable story in the interest of the giver. Thirdly, the journalist is willing to accept the payment, and in some cases he even requests it.

The envelope journalism has been spreading mainly because of three factors: firstly, the media company directly or indirectly encourages its journalists to look for money from their news sources. There are cases in Indonesia in which the company gives very little salaries or does not even pay any wages to their journalists. Instead, they give them press cards, asking them to look for both news and money. The company also asks the journalists to look for advertisements. And if they succeed to get them, they will be given 10-25% commission. This kind of business and practice often encourages journalists to abuse their profession for the sake money. Secondly, the journalists themselves do not have professional integrity. They abuse their profession to enrich themselves, although some of them are well-paid by the company. These journalists know very well which news sources and issues can give them money. Thirdly, in some societies bribery and corruption are considered normal.

Regarding the third factor, the Governor of Central Java, Ganjar Pranowo, proposes to eliminate ‘envelope’ for journalists in the Provincial Government of Central Java. During this time, ‘envelope’ for journalists is annually budgeted through the Secretariat of Public Relations of Central Java. This recommendation is a blow for media activists. For those who have integrity, must have felt embarrassed by this event. Similar questions must be asked about the purpose of Key Witness. The drums of war against envelope journalists were also raised by the Chairman of the Press Council Bagir Manan. According to Manan, envelope journalism practice will reduce the professionalism of the press.

Governor Pranowo proposal should also have the support of the mass media activists. By doing so, the profession as journalist is known for its professionalism, not because of the habit of receiving gratification from those who have narrow interests. The envelope journalists is common in developing countries, and it’s not good. The reason for journalists receive the’ envelope’ is almost the same with the ordinary civil servants sounds: small salary and welfare. Then should we say, “If you want to be rich, don’t be a journalist?”

I reminisce about an old story, when was involved in an event in Bali with a group of journalists from Jakarta. On the last day, the event organizers handed out seven pieces shopping voucher in amount of seven hundred thousand rupiahs to each journalist. All journalists received them, unless a reporter of a national newspaper known to be very critical. His action made the committee acted awkwardly. Unfortunately the individual’s decision occurred only in the face of the people. Behind the closed door, who could know what really happened?

By Akbar Mulyadi

Akbar Mulyadi is a government high school teacher based in West Java who has interest in politics.

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