Tri Indah Oktavianti, Jakarta – The COVID-19 outbreak may also threaten Indonesian journalists with unfair employment treatment and limitations placed on press freedom, the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) said on Sunday, setting a tone for the annual World Press Freedom Day that is much bleaker than previous years.
Between April 3 and May 2, LBH Pers and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) received 61 reports from journalists from 14 media organizations in Greater Jakarta whose employment rights had allegedly been violated.
The organizations received 26 reports from journalists who were laid off due to the economic fallout of the outbreak, while 21 journalists also reported that they had been furloughed and 11 reported they received pay cuts.
LBH Pers director Ade Wahyudin said that most media organizations cited the outbreak as force majeure that forced the companies to cut their journalists' salary or lay them off.
"However, force majeure does not automatically justify termination of employment and/or pay cuts and pay delays, according to the Employment Law," Ade said in a written statement on Sunday, citing Article 164 of the 2003 Employment Law, which states that layoffs due to force majeure are only allowed if a company has permanently closed or is no longer operating.
LBH Pers also reported that the pandemic had spurred growing hostility against journalists, with three cases of violence reported so far.
Journalists Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani and Dinar were intimidated and assaulted for reporting a resident's death due to hunger during the pandemic in Banten province on April 20.
Another journalist, Sahril Helmi, was physically assaulted while reporting on state funds allocated for the COVID-19 response in Busiu village, South Halmehera regency, North Maluku, on Friday.
LBH Pers also cited the job creation omnibus bill and Criminal Code Bill as threats to Indonesian press freedom.
"The fact that the House of Representatives has been aggressively proposing the bills to be passed amid the pandemic has made the freedom of the press situation in Indonesia more concerning," Ade said.
LBH Pers also urged President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to instruct the Manpower Ministry to oversee employment rights violations in the press industry.
A recent survey from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also revealed that more than 65 percent of journalists worldwide have suffered pay cuts, job losses and worsening job conditions. The survey also found that 73 percent of journalists have been experiencing more restrictions in covering COVID-19-related news.