The Investigation rubric was born after Tempo reappeared in 1998. But the spirit of investigative journalism has grown long before.
THE 1998 reformasi that toppled the New Order regime also ushered in a new era of freedom of the press. The Information Department no longer required anyone who wanted to establish a media company to obtain the government-issued publishing license. Tempo, which was shut down by the Suharto government in 1994, had the opportunity to start anew.
A debate ensued about whether Tempo needed to be resurrected or be left in peace as a legend of the press, but there were more of those calling for re-publication. Finally, in mid-1998, Tempo formed Tempo Inti Media to act as publisher of the magazine. The new Tempo practically had to start from scratch.
Not every former crew of Tempo joined in, because, among others, some had already been working in Gatra, the magazine funded by timber tycoon Bob Hasan. Tempo’s management then recruited new journalists, both fresh ones and from other media outlets. One of them was Hermien Y. Kleden from Matra, a lifestyle magazine.
Habibie and that Ship
Born as a new media institution, Tempo immediately set off with passion. A rubric that previously did not exist was established: Investigation. The main theme of the debut issue revolved around the rumor about the mass rape against ethnic Chinese in the May 1998 riot. “We were actually confused as to how to manage the new rubric,” said Hermien on Saturday, March 6. Hermien retired from Tempo two years ago.
In addition to Hermien, there were four other journalists in the investigative news desk, Andari Karina Anom, Mardiyah Chamim, Hardi R. Hermawan, and Karaniya Dharmasaputra. All were new, they had never worked in Tempo prior to its closure. Tempo Editor in Chief Goenawan Mohamad tasked the team with proving whether rumors about the rape were true.
The investigation team traced the information for two months between August to September 1998. They mingled with activists, visited the doctors’ community and members of the ethnic Chinese, and met dozens of people who supposedly knew about the rape. However, they did not find a single rape victim up until the deadline arrived. A doctor who confessed of having treated seven victims refused to talk further.
Meanwhile, the government vigorously denied the issue. The team did not find any witness who ‘dared’ to speak up, let alone any victim. But there is always a stroke of luck in a work done with dedication. Hermien managed to contact someone who confessed of having treated a victim of the rape. The woman was given a pseudonym, Mona.
Mona continuously moved from one place to the other. Hermien traced the locations of her refuge, all the way to the house where the rape took place. “The house was abandoned. I had to climb a window to gain entrance,” said Hermien. From Mona, Hermien obtained a detailed account of how the traumatic event unfolded.
The story of Mona was told in the Mona, di Balik Seprei Kembang (Mona, Beneath the Floral Bedsheet) article. Investigation of the rape became the cover story of Tempo’s first edition published in early October 1998, with the illustration of a tearful eye by designer S. Malela Mahargasarie.
Rapes: The Story & Fact
Although Investigation only appeared as a rubric after 1998, investigation as a method of news reporting had been in use in Tempo for a long time. Therefore, within the magazine, the term “investigation” has always had dual meanings: the name of a rubric and the spirit of reportage. The forced closure of 1994 happened because Suharto took offense at the report of disagreement between ministers regarding the import of used warships from Germany. The purchase of these ships reeked of corruption. Finance Minister Mar’ie Muhammad was one of those who went against it. Since then, Mar’ie has been known as “Mr. Clean.” The cost of the ships’ acquisition was allegedly marked up. Later on, one ship sank in the Sea of Spain just before delivery to Indonesia.
The pursuit of investigative journalism has led not only to the closing down of the magazine. The hardest impacts come from reduced income, and even circulation. Former Tempo Inti Media Finance Director, Harjoko Trisnadi, said that Tempo once reported an alleged violation in the national airline Garuda Indonesia, at the time led by Wiweko Soepono. An angry Wiweko pulled out all advertisements from the magazine. “Wiweko banned all Garuda airplanes from shipping Tempo,” said Harjoko. The circulation team then sent the magazines through a meat expeditor partnering with Garuda. It worked. Tempo magazines found their way to various regions.
In the era after the closure, advertisement cancellations were still being done by companies offended by Tempo’s news reports. Some even sued Tempo and sought hundreds of billions of rupiah in damages. When Tempo reported the suspected fictitious transaction behind the construction of Bank Jabar Banten building, the bank moved a year’s worth of advertisement to another media outlet. Tempo’s board of directors only informed the editorial department of the revocation a year later.
Tempo’s investigation compartment was initially designed to produce an investigative report every week. However, due to resource limitation, the time of publication was stretched to once every two or three months. “We have to be realistic, it was very hard to produce an investigative report every week, and it might be reflected in the quality of the news,” said Toriq Hadad, Tempo’s Editor in Chief from 2006 to 2010.
Goenawan Mohamad only spent less than a year as editor in chief. In 1999, he delegated the position to Bambang Harymurti. Toriq took over in 2006. “The investigation team works on special reports that are not feasible for the other compartments,” Toriq recalled.
Since then, investigative journalism became one of Tempo’s defining features. The magazine routinely publishes an investigative report every two months. Once, after the year 2000, the Investigation rubric even appeared every two weeks because it was handled by two teams.
With its characteristic orientation of unraveling major and systematic cases, investigative report is not easy to carry out. What sets investigative reports apart from articles by other rubrics is the nature of the cases being uncovered. While the National, Law, or other regular rubric deals with current issues, the Investigation rubric digs into unsolved cases that tend to be covered up.
The investigation rubric intends to return the spirit of investigation to its true meaning, which is to investigate, to reveal. Tempo adds another meaning: “To expose a crime being intentionally covered up.” Therefore, the rubric in its reportage often scrutinizes the actors who are concealing the violations. While the other news desks tend to emphasize the ‘how’ factor in their reportage, Investigation reveals more about the ‘who’ in a case of corruption, and later ‘how’ it happened.
Faced With Waves and Big Costs
Wahyu Dhyatmika, the current Editor in Chief of Tempo magazine, is determined to preserve investigative journalism. “Tempo and investigation are inseparable from each other,” he said. “Investigative report is the breath of every Tempo journalist.”
Wahyu, the 43-year-old recipient of Nieman Scholarship from Harvard University, the United States, has an extensive network of international journalists. That is why, in his era, there have been numerous news reports done through collaboration with international institutions and media outlets. Among other means, this is done through Tempo’s Joint Investigation program.
This program under the Tempo Institute led by Mardiyah Chamim gains financial support from the Free Press Unlimited. Its method is rather unique, involving journalists from the regional press who write about news in their respective regions. Aside from being published in the journalist’s own media outlet, the report is also published in Tempo. This could hopefully increase the impact of investigative reports, in addition to increasing the professionalism and competence of regional journalists in investigation.
The latest program is a news report collaboration with journalists from 13 countries, following Tempo’s participation in the global alliance to reveal the Panama Papers. This collaboration resides under the Pulitzer Center, a prestigious institute of journalism in the United States. Together with 13 international media outlets, Tempo takes part in the reportage of deforestation that is becoming a major challenge in the effort to handle the climate crisis.