The Editors, the Directors and the Envelopes
Tempo’s independence is maintained through open and egalitarian meetings. Opting to treat sources rather than accepting envelopes.
FOUR Tempo journalists are gathered at their usual coffee spot at the 4th floor of the Tempo Building in Jakarta, on Wednesday April 18, 2018. That morning, Wayan Agus Purnomo, Yandhrie Arfian, and Eko Punto were readying for a meeting at 10am to discuss the magazine content, while Syailendra Persada was guarding news for the National channel at Tempo.co.
In between the aroma of the fresh coffee, their conversation flowed from the latest issues to the conditions of the editorial staff. Wayan remembered that a member of the staff mentioned a commotion at the Economy and Business desk. “At the time, Kang Yandhrie said there was an Economy-Business reporter that was asked to draft a BAP,” said Wayan on Friday, March 5, recounting the moment that happened three years prior.
BAP, or berita acara pemeriksaan, refers to questioning document, specifically those used in law enforcement. Tempo’s editorial staff borrow the phrase every now and then when the editorial department leadership or Tempo’s Ombudsman requests an explanation on their reporting and writing process. This is usually done when there are allegations or reports of violations of the journalistic code of ethics in the news-making process. The explanation or chronology is then used as one of the evidence to assess whether or not the journalist committed any wrongdoing.
That morning, Koran Tempo daily ran a story regarding the Supreme Audit Agency’s (BPK) finding that a state energy company wasted Rp1.6 trillion. A reporter from the Economy and Business desk, Robby Irfany, was asked to write a chronology of his process in writing the article. Tempo’s board of directors suspected that there was a problem in the process of requesting confirmation from that company.
The four journalists who gathered were bothered by the news of interference from the directors to the editorial department. Wayan, Eko, and Syailendra had the idea of making posters as a form of protest. With the headline of the contentious article, they added the caption “STOP INTERVENTION!” and citing the censorship clause in the Press Law. They posted the posters in strategic places where many people would pass, such as elevators and meeting rooms. They also pasted it on the glass wall of the boardroom. The news of the intervention also spread to internal groups of Tempo journalists. Most of them condemned the alleged intervention.
As the office got heated, the board of directors decided to hold a meeting with the editorial staff to clarify the matter. On a Friday afternoon, after Koran Tempo’s editorial meeting, the directors and editors gathered in the Mini Theater meeting room. Ipang—as Robby Irfany is called by his colleagues—described his news making process. He had pocketed the BPK findings since early April 2018. However, because he had yet received complete confirmation from the suspected company, the publication of the news was postponed. On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, the chief executive officer of the company and several of his subordinates came to visit the Tempo office.
Ipang, who was informed about the meeting, joined in and asked about the BPK findings. “He answered regarding the waste (of money),” said Ipang, on Wednesday, March 3. Once the matter was confirmed, the news was written. The editorial meeting of Koran Tempo decided that the report should be a cover story.
Tempo’s Corporate News Head, Arif Zulkifli, who was present at the meeting, explained the situation from the point of view of the board of directors. The state company officials came to meet with the Tempo board of directors to discuss business issues. So, when they saw the news in Koran Tempo the next day, they were shocked.
Wayan, who was also present at the meeting, said the board of directors should not have been involved in editorial matters. “The space between the editorial staff and the directors should be clear, no one should interfere with each other,” said Wayan, who had been a Tempo journalist since 2011 to 2020.
The meeting was closed with an agreement that there was nothing wrong in the news making process. However, there needs to be improved mechanisms to get confirmation. “There needs to be sufficient explanation to the source regarding what we are going to write about,” said Philipus Parera, who was the Executive Editor of Koran Tempo at that time.
Protests that are resolved with discussions to clear up problems like this are a common thing at Tempo. The editorial staff cannot be interfered with by other parties, including the board of directors, to maintain independence. According to Azul—Arif Zulkifli’s nickname—all editorial policies at Tempo are determined collectively in an open and egalitarian editorial meeting. “Directors, chief editors, or even owners can propose a story idea, but the decision is in the editorial meeting,” he said.
However, Tempo’s independence is not without drawbacks. As a result of the state-owned company report, for example, Tempo lost a business deal worth Rp600 million. “In the end, they withdrew the cooperation plan,” said Deputy Marketing Director Ade Liesnasari on March 5.
According to Ade, this was not the only time that Tempo reporting has had an impact on business cooperation with other parties. She said that one of the ministries refused to realize a Rp3-billion budget for cooperation with Tempo. The ministry considered the magazine too harsh in its criticisms of the government. Among other things, the September 16-22, 2019 edition of Tempo magazine titled Janji Tinggal Janji (Policing the KPK) featured a portrait of President Joko Widodo with his shadow resembling Pinocchio with his long nose. “We appreciate the corporate decision not to mix editorial and business affairs,” said Ade.
Apart from editorial meetings, Tempo has another system in place to maintain its independence. For example, during meetings with a source in search for stories, Tempo reporter has to foot the bill. “We once gathered police public relations officers and then paid their bills. They were confused, ‘how come we’re the ones being treated?’,” said the founder and the first chief editor of Tempo, Goenawan Mohamad, last Wednesday, February 3.
Another system that was implemented, according to GM—Goenawan’s nickname—was a layered editing process. This method is done to avoid news orders to journalists who receive ‘envelopes’ or bribe money. “This layered editing prevents that from happening,” he said.
As is the case with journalists in other media, Tempo journalists receive many ‘envelope’ offers from sources. This was experienced by Avit Hidayat when he met with a businessman to ask for confirmation about his nickel mine in early 2019. The coverage which then produced an investigative article titled Endangered Islands reported the findings of dozens of small islands that had disappeared due to nickel mining.
Meeting at a coffee shop in a mall in Senayan, South Jakarta, the businessman brandished an empty check, asking Avit to help write positive news for his company. The businessman offered to write Rp1 billion on the check. Avit flatly refused. “You insult my profession when you (offer to) pay like this,” said Avit.