Elena Couper & Heru Andriyanto, Jakarta – Tempo is doing what any respected media company should do: reporting facts and providing valuable analytical opinions on issues that matter to public interests away from political biases.
However, recent investigative reports on its newspaper and magazine have unleashed a wave of criticism from the supporters of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to such an extent that they accused Tempo of spreading lies and disinformation.
Tempo recently ran reports alleging that the president is attempting to found a political dynasty after his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka and son-in-law Bobby Nasution contested in mayoral races in Solo and Medan and they eventually won the December election.
Gibran got a mention in another special report by the Tempo magazine on a major graft scandal that saw Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara arrested as key suspect. According to the December 21 report, Jokowi's eldest son was mentioned by at least two sources familiar with the case, although his alleged role remains murky.
Minister Juliari and his two aides are accused of accepting Rp 17 billion in bribe in the procurement of basic commodities intended for the poor under the central government's Covid-related social assistance program.
Gibran and House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani somehow surfaced in the magazine's investigative report after it interviewed sources concerning the procurement of goodie bags for the social assistance packages produced by a textile company in the Central Java town of Solo, where Gibran is now the mayor elect.
Bloggers and social media celebrities known as die-hard supporters of the president have disputed the report and accused the magazine of inventing a story.
Wahyu Dhyatmika, the magazine's editor in chief, appeared on a video to clarify the report after backlash from Jokowi supporters.
"The report focuses on the corruption case in the Social Affairs Ministry. The mentioning of Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of President Joko Widodo, and House Speaker Puan Maharani came from several persons implicated in the case. However, Gibran and Puan aren't the focus of the report," Wahyu said.
He added the magazine has earlier attempted to reach Gibran and Puan for comments.
Gibran has strongly dismissed the report as a lie and denied allegation that he had recommended textile company Sritex to supply millions of goodie bags for the Social Affairs Ministry.
"If you don't believe me, you can ask Sritex and the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission]. This baseless report really does harm to me," Gibran told local media last month.
Tempo was once a favorite news source for Jokow supporters, especially during the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. Their relationship has soured since Tempo magazine ran a cover depicting Jokowi alongside a shadow of Pinocchio in September 2019, several months after he was reelected.
On December 14, Tempo reported on the deaths of six members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). The FPI members were shot by Jakarta police who have since been accused of violating standard operating procedures.
The article attracted public scrutiny for reporting the statement of Neta S Pane, Chairman of the Indonesian Police Watch. Neta was quoted from a written statement alleging that the conduct of police was "reckless" and argued that a failure by Jokowi to establish a fact-finding team would cast doubt on "his commitment to upholding the rule of the law".
In recent weeks, a band of President Jokowi supporters have spawned the hashtag #TempoAsu in an attempt to incite aggression towards Tempo, following alleged criticism of the government by the media group.
Asu is the Javanese word for dog – calling someone as such is considered profanity in Indonesia.
"We have experienced several attacks in various forms via social media and cyber attacks on our network. What happened with the hashtag #TempoAsu is only one of them," Tomi Aryanto, Corporate Secretary of Tempo Media Group, said in a recent interview.
Further information is not available at this time as some "attacks have been reported to the police, and are currently in the legal process", he said.
Offended members of the public took to Twitter and began circulating the hashtag.
Tempo maintains its preparedness in responding to the concerns of readers by proving in a journalistic manner that what is reported has gone through process in accordance with its code of ethics and sufficient verification, he said.
At present, it is unknown who carried out these attacks against Tempo. Motivation also remains uncertain as no one has demanded anything or claimed responsibility for the attack, Tomi told Jakarta Globe.
In response, Tempo has stood by its journalistic principles.
"We would never write news or criticism based on hatred or political motives. All our reporting is based solely on findings from the editorial team's field coverage. Furthermore, we always respect the right of reply and follow the principle of covering both sides of a story", Tomi added.
"With this kind of attack, we feel that this is a challenge to democracy and the openness and freedom of the press in the digital era, which allows anyone to express opinions... ironically, it also facilitates acts which can threaten freedom itself."
This is not the first time, however, that Tempo has been threatened for criticizing government agents. In 2019, the cover of Tempo Magazine's September 14 Issue attracted public outrage for depicting Jokowi alongside a shadow of Pinocchio.
Tempo also defended the Pinocchio cover carrying a special report "Janji Tinggal Janji" or "Promises Remain Promises", with the magazine's Executive Editor, Setri Yasra, later denying any political bias.
"Tempo has never insulted the head of state as it was accused of. Tempo did not portray the President as Pinocchio" Setri has said.
He went on to explain that the image was intended to comment on Indonesia's social dynamics, as some anti-corruption activists had felt that the President had not fulfilled promises to strengthen the KPK.
Predating its Pinocchio controversy, Tempo, which was established in 1971, was forced to shut down in 1994 amid claims by the Soeharto government that the magazine's reporting jeopardized national stability. Publication of the magazine was unable to resume until 1998.
Following the public response to Tempo's September 14 Issue, Special Staff to the President for Communication, Ari Dwipayana, stated last September that "in general, the President respects freedom of the press and freedom of opinion".