Between the floor and the ceiling of journalism
A WORD of advice, possibly a story, which may have left a mark more indelible even than a declaration in a love letter.
AS the tale went, one day Goenawan Mohamad shared his impressions of when he was Editor-in- Chief of Tempo magazine from 1971 to 1993. “Being editor-in-chief is a 24 hour job,” he said. “One thing, as editor-in-chief, I could never really be able to have a true friend. Nor really have a true enemy.”
The first story was about ethics. The second story was about the effort to maintain the magazine’s independence.
Goenawan told the story to Arif Zulkifli, at the time Executive Editor of Tempo, in mid-2013. Six years later, on October 28, Arif repeated the story to seven people that beginning last week were appointed as the editors-in chief of the Tempo Media group. Among them, Wahyu Dhyatmika (Editor-in-Chief of Tempo magazine, who prior was the Editor-in-Chief of Tempo.co), Budi Setyarso (Editor-in-Chief of Koran Tempo), and Setri Yasra (Editor-in-Chief of Tempo.co, who prior was the Executive Editor of Tempo magazine).
Helming the second layer are Anton Septian, Jajang Jamaludin, and Anton Aprianto—each being executive editors of Tempo, Koran Tempo, and the Tempo.co news portal. Wahyu is also Editor-in-Chief of Tempo English. There, he is assisted by Philipus Parera, the executive editor. Arif, Editor-in-Chief of Tempo magazine these past six years, is now coordinator of the editors-in-chief as Corporate Chief of News. Since 2018, Arif has also been a member of the Board of Directors of Tempo Inti Media—the Tempo holding company.
It seems the matter of “never really being able to have a true friend” was something given meticulous attention. The gist was, as Arif related it, journalists need to be adept in riding the wave. On the one hand, he or she had better have friends everywhere—news sources from which they can dig and obtain information from. On the other hand, they need to realize that that ‘friend’ one day could very well be the object of a news item—in both the positive and the negative sense. A good journalist is one that keeps a distance. He or she works purely for the public interest and, because of it, has to act coldly in the times they face various and sundry conflicts of interest. The editor-in-chief has the responsibility for ensuring the media they are helming does not stumble into any particular vested interest.
This requirement becomes even more urgent bearing in mind Tempo practices investigative journalism. This type of work demands we search out the facts to their very fiber and texture. Without good friends, this sort of work can practically never be carried out. The need to go on with investigative journalism has become even more urgent considering the upholders of law seem to be slacking—the police, the public attorney, and of late the Corruption Eradication Commission through the revision of the law on corruption.
Fortunately, friends of Tempo generally understand this basic principle. The essence of our friendship are sincerity and a sense of respect of each others’ professions. In many cases, they like Tempo’s coverage because they get the chance to explain what really happened—especially when it was about an incident that involved them or the institutions they work in.
Nevertheless, in its task of bringing the news to the public, journalism has its limits. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor—states a verse in a ballad. The ceiling, as dictated by the law, are ethics. We have long heard about the duty of the media to check and recheck an incident, seek clarification, cover both sides. Of no less importance: the awareness that the facts gathered by reporters have real potential of being erroneous, containing weaknesses, elements that are quite off—however meticulously the facts were gathered. In other words, journalists work in a space that is not without limits. Journalists work from the floor of the public interest and under the ceiling known as ethics.
EVERY editor-in-chief and executive editor at Tempo started at the bottom.
Wahyu Dhyatmika began as our correspondent in Surabaya. Born in Bali 41 years ago, Komang—as Wahyu is usually called— studied at the Airlangga University, then the University of Westminster, UK. In 2015, he did a Niemans Fellowship at Harvard University, US. His international experience has provided Komang with an excellent network comprising various foreign media and organizations. Komang, for instance, had a role in the Panama Papers project—a pan-international work of journalism uncovering the money-laundering scams of tax havens. As Editor-in-Chief of Tempo.co, Komang was one of the initiators of Indonesialeaks.id, a common platform that broke open the case of the red book—the obliteration of evidence of suspected corruption cases. He also instigated Cekfakta.com, the initiative of scores of online media organizations to check out disinformation. When he became an editor, Komang uncovered the scandal of the coal mafia in Kalimantan which involved big names who are now on the national political stage.
Budi Setyarso, 48, is an old hand. He has been Editor-in-Chief of Koran Tempo since 2016. As a journalist, he was actively involved in uncovering the case of the death of Munir and the attack on Corruption Eradication Commission investigator, Novel Baswedan. His piece titled Roger, Roger, Intelligence Is Surrounded, on the murder of Munir, won the Adiwarta Award in 2007. He also won three Mochtar Lubis Awards. In 2010, Budi and his team uncovered the scandal of the luxurious prison cell of Artalyta Suryani, the accused in a case of attorney bribery.
Setri Yasra, 45, joined Tempo in 2001. He has experience heading three comparment ‘heavies’: politics, economics, and investigation. In matters concerning the dark side of society, he is a walking encyclopaedia. He knows by heart the names of people involved in all manner of scandals—also the networks and their protectors. Setri is one of the reporters who uncovered the hefty bank accounts of police generals in June 2010. He was the editor who uncovered the case of the tender abuse for the electronic ID cards, and the corruption case of the treasurer of the Democrat Party, M. Nazaruddin.
The line-up of executive editors bear the same cache. Anton Septian prior was managing editor of the politics compartment of Tempo magazine. The 39-year-old studied at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. Among his outstanding journalistic pieces is the Indonesian Slaves on Taiwan Ships, which revealed the slavery Indonesian crewmembers fell trap to on foreign ships. Anton was the first journalist to obtain the financial records of Yulianis, a former staffer of M. Nazaruddin. The practices of the budget mafia in the House of Representratives and ministries later came to light in these records.
After Anton Septian, there’s Anton Aprianto. This 40-year-old is a graduate of the Forestry Department, Gadjah Mada University. He is one of the main motors behind Tempo’s investigative reports all this while. Some of his phenomenal journalistic coverage include those concerning reclamation in Jakarta Bay.
In Koran Tempo we have Jajang Jamaludin. He walks two worlds: as a journalist and as an activist. He once served as Secretary-General for the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and AJI Jakarta chair. The 44-year-old Jajang does coverage on issues concerning urban development, the environment and law.
Meanwhile Philipus Parera has been deeply involved in investigative journalism. He uncovered fishy goings-on in the import of mixed crude oil by Zatapi of Singapore. With Komang, he was active in the Panama Papers project. Philipus is also involved in joint-coverage initiatives by several international press organizations, including Finance Uncovered, UK; and Free Press Unlimited, Netherlands.
Together with Arif Zulkifli, these seven leaders are tasked with maintaining a strict work ethic, the journalistic independence and quality of all our Tempo products. Particularly in light of the fact that journalism is currently undergoing tremendous change. Digitalisation is inevitable. The major challenge ahead is how to make peace with disruption: keeping in check the slowing down of the print media business, while accelerating the growth of digital media. The moment we wait for is when the digital subscriber can become the main source of income for our business entity. In that moment, media can truly depend on crowd funding—small fee amounts from many people. As has become the experience of many international media, public funding should be able to create independence while strongly maintaining the quality of the media in question.