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Jakarta Post

Bookreview: Investigations with impact

  • Warief Djajanto Basorie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 10, 2014   /  12:22 pm
Bookreview: Investigations with impact

Pontianak-based radio journalist Heriyanto suspected something was wrong with a company that was clearing a forest tract in West Kalimantan. In Semunying Jaya, the firm was chopping away at the forest without a permit.

That was Heriyanto'€™s hypothesis, based on information from local residents and data from an environment advocacy group. He then asked to see the plantation site.

His initial probe resulted in '€œSemunying people fight back'€, an investigative report aired by the Jakarta-based radio news service KBR 68H. For his work, Heriyanto won a 2010 Indonesian radio award.

The account of Heriyanto'€™s reporting is related in Laporan Investigatif, Konsep dan Praktek Jurnalistik (Investigative Reporting, Journalism Concepts and Practice). The book reprints the full radio transcript of Heriyanto'€™s report.

Authors Ica Wulansari and Indah Suryawati are former broadcast reporters who currently teach journalism at Budi Luhur University, Jakarta.

Chapter by chapter, they show readers the ins and outs of investigative reporting, from the process of writing stories to working with sources to ethics to investigating corruption.

According to the writers, The Parliament Scout invented investigative journalism in 1643 when it reported on the machinations of palace politics in the UK, while in the US in the 19th century, Joseph Pulitzer pioneered crusading journalism in the New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In Indonesia, the Jakarta-based daily Indonesia Raya developed its own style of investigative journalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Led by uncompromising chief editor Mochtar Lubis, Indonesia Raya broke stories on corruption at state-owned oil firm Pertamina and Bulog, the State Logistics Agency.

Investigative journalism aims to uncover testimony and physical evidence about controversial issues in the public interest, according to the writers.

'€œThe strength of an investigative report'€, the book says, '€œlies in the '€˜heavyweight facts'€™ journalists are able to reveal'€.

The authors note Septiawan Santana in his book Jurnalisme Investigasi (Investigative Journalism), who quotes Andreas Harsono on the four steps of investigative reporting.

From hypothesis, or the assumption that a public wrong has been committed, reporters must conduct in-depth and long-term research.

Next is a hunt along the paper trail to find facts to support the hypothesis, followed by in-depth interviews with parties linked to the investigation.

Finally, there must verification, potentially through investigative methods typically used by police, such as the use of disguises and hidden cameras.

The book reproduces as a case study a report from the Jan. 17, 2010 issue of Tempo weekly on businesswoman Artalyta '€œAyin'€ Suryani, who had been sentenced to five years'€™ imprisonment for bribing the chief prosecutor in a Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance case.

Tempo revealed Ayin had turned her Jakarta cell into a furnished room with a laptop so that she could conduct business.While the authors interviewed Yuliawati, the reporter who broke the story and won half a dozen awards for her journalism, their interviews do not go far enough in detailing how the reporter was able to get
access to Ayin in jail or how she managed to secure a long interview with the prisoner.

Moreover, Ica and Indah do not detail the impact Yuliawati'€™s investigation had. Was the warden punished for allowing Ayin privileges? Was prison security revamped? Were the cells of other big-name inmates examined? Those questions were not adequately answered.

In the same vein, Heriyanto'€™s radio piece was not analyzed in depth to learn what impact his story had.

The authors would have done well to discuss investigative reporting during the Soeharto period. Indonesia Raya, for example, published a series of articles in March 1969 about the mass graves in Purwodadi, Central Java, where the bodies of alleged members or sympathizers of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were interred following the violence in the aftermath of the abortive coup in 1965.

The lead reporter for that series was Maskun Iskandar. His reporting became part of a 1990 book, The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966: studies from Java and Bali, edited by Australian academic Robert Cribb. The managing editor who oversaw the coverage was Atmakusumah.

Both journalists currently teach at the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute. Both could have been interviewed about their coverage to provide a fuller grounding in the history of investigative journalism in Indonesia.

After Soeharto'€™s authoritarian rule ended May 1998, the press remained a game changer. In September 1999, for example, the Press Act was passed, giving a legal guarantee for press freedom against state interference.

One early fruit of the fall of the New Order and the rise of Reform were the workshops on investigative journalism held by the Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), the Yogyakarta-based LP3Y journalism school and the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute.

The workshops deserved coverage in the book, as well.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), arguably the leader in investigative journalism in Southeast Asia, if not Asia, also deserved consideration. Since its founding in 1989, the PCIJ has produced more than 1,000 investigative reports and won over 150 awards. It provides a model for well-researched investigation.

A major story broken by the PCIJ in 2000 on the unexplained wealth of then-president Estrada, who built over a dozen mansions, later found to be paid for gambling protection payoffs Joseph Estrada allegedly received. In 2001 people power protests removed Estrada for this impeachable offense.

A second edition would do well to encapsulate these missing pieces. They could collect choice investigative reports, dissect the elements and measure their impact.

 

Laporan Investigatif,
Konsep & Praktek Jurnalistik

Ica Wulansari & Indah Suryawati
Empat Pena Publishing, Tangerang, 2013
210 pages

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