Rius Vernandes, a popular Indonesian travel vlogger, may be facing legal trouble for posting a viral photo of a handwritten menu from flag carrier Garuda Indonesia's business class, with Rius claiming to have been summoned by the police after somebody reported the photo as defamation against Garuda.
On Saturday, Rius posted a photo on Instagram of a handwritten menu card for business class passengers. The cards were supposedly handed out to passengers on the Sydney-Denpasar flight he was on.
"The menu is still being printed, sir," Rius wrote in the caption, supposedly quoting his flight attendant's answer to why there were no printed-out menus.
Hours after posting the photo, Rius told his 90K Instagram followers that he was summoned to the airline's customer service office at the airport. According to him, a Garuda representative wanted to apologize to the vlogger, who also owns a popular rice bowl chain called Sec Bowl.
"The point is, Garuda Indonesia apologized [to me] regarding this matter. I really wasn't mad or anything. I was just doing my job as an airline reviewer. Sharing whatever that was going on in the plane. That's it," Rius said.
Rius' post led to an outpouring of criticism for Garuda online as netizens accused the airline of cheapening their business class service, particularly in light of another viral post from a couple of weeks ago showing that meals from Japanese fast food chain HokBen were being served in business class on a domestic flight.
"Again @IndonesiaGaruda, have the CEO and the board of directors any shame? They only care about looking for attention for themselves, but they neglected the experience of flying GA, which is essential." – #KelanaRasa (@arieparikesit) July 13, 2019
But some netizens pointed out that Rius was recently part of an advertising campaign for Singapore Airlines and accused him of carrying out a smear campaign against his own national airline.
OK. GA's service maybe declining. but this is not how you compete the business. Rius Vernandes, cari duit ga perlu kayak gitu bro. @SingaporeAirID u should fire your KOL for being so unethical. pic.twitter.com/bEOWOn6jDL – ????? ?????????? (@priambodo) July 13, 2019
But Rius' detractors apologized as soon as the vlogger posted video proof that he and other passengers had been given the handwritten menus.
"It wasn't the fault of the stewardesses, nor the fault of anyone. It's just, it's not supposed to happen. If you always watch my videos, you know that I've always shown the menu card in every flight I've ever been on," Rius says in the video, before proceeding to show several clips of menu cards seen in his previous reviews.
"I didn't demand the stewardess give me the [handwritten] menu card, she just showed me that, just like for all the other passengers," he added.
Garuda, for their part, flat out denied that the handwritten menu was meant for passengers.
"We would like to convey that this wasn't a menu card for passengers, but a personal note for flight attendants that wasn't supposed to be published. Thank you," Garuda Indonesia wrote in a tweet published on Sunday. – Garuda Indonesia (@IndonesiaGaruda) July 13, 2019
Garuda's Corporate Secretary VP M. Ikhsan Rosan was at a loss as to how Rius managed to get the handwritten note.
"We don't know how he could get his hands on it. And if it was the menu card, other passengers should've gotten it either but no one shared it [other than him]. The question is where he obtained it from and why he's sharing it, saying that it's the menu card," Ikhsan told Kompas on Sunday.
While it hasn't been confirmed if it was a direct consequence of Rius' viral photo, this morning, Garuda published a circular prohibiting all forms of photographic documentation onboard by passengers and cabin crew. The circular stated that violating the rule may result in unspecified sanctions by the airline.
"Passengers are not allowed to take photos and videos or document any activities onboard during the flight," the circular reads, as quoted by Kumparan.
However, mere hours after it circulated, Garuda revised the circular, this time to say that the airline is "advising" passengers not to take photos or videos on board for the privacy of other passengers and cabin crew, and that it's not a total prohibition.
Then, this afternoon, Rius posted a photo on Instagram showing brown envelopes containing police summons for him and his fiancee, who appeared in the video. In the caption, Rius wrote that they had been reported for defaming Garuda (though it's not clear who reported them).
"I am appealing for your support. All of you. Anyone. Especially fellow influencers. I hope you can help share and support me through this problem because I don't want to see that, in the future, whenever we review something as is, whenever we give constructive criticism, we can be criminalized," Rius wrote in the post.
In Indonesia, the dissemination of defamatory content online is a crime punishable by up to four year in prison under the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), a law which has been criticized as a tool for silencing legitimate criticism in the country.
Update: Kompas has reported that Garuda Indonesia filed the police report against Rius and his fiancee.