Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson has been awarded the 2020 Oktovianus Pogau Award for Courage in Journalism. The award, announced Jan. 31, recognizes Jacobson's dedication to environmental reporting in Indonesia, work he has continued even after being imprisoned and deported by Indonesian authorities.
Jacobson's achievements include leading Mongabay's collaboration with The Gecko Project to carry out a series of investigative reports on crimes and corruption linked to palm oil and other industrial agriculture in Indonesia.
The award was announced by the Jakarta-based Pantau Foundation, which established the prize in 2017 in honor of Papuan journalist and editor Oktovianus Pogau, who died in 2016 at the age of 23.
The award, which is granted by a panel of experts from media and human rights groups across Indonesia, aims to recognize and inspire courageous reporting and to improve the quality of journalism in Indonesia.
"We at Mongabay are exhilarated that Phil Jacobson has been honored with the Oktovianus Pogau Award for Courage in Journalism from the Pantau Foundation," said Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler. "Phil's reporting on issues that should be of concern to all Indonesians has been exemplary of the vision and mission of this award."
"It feels really special because I think it's a really important award," said Jacobson, who worked as a copy editor at the Jakarta Globe from 2011-2012, a time when Pogau, founder of media platform Suara Papua, was the paper's correspondent for Indonesia's Papua region. Jacobson recalls Pogau's dispatches from Papua as "brave and important."
"I just feel humbled to be a part of its history," Jacobson says. "I hope that 50 years from now we'll look back on 50 more recipients of the award."
The Pantau foundation highlighted Jacobson's role in Mongabay's collaboration with The Gecko Project, and his dedication to covering Indonesia despite being detained and imprisoned in Indonesian Borneo.
Jacobson was detained on Dec. 17, 2019, after attending a hearing between the Central Kalimantan provincial legislature and the local chapter of the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Indonesia's largest Indigenous rights advocacy group.
Jacobson, a U.S. citizen who had entered Indonesia on a business visa to attend a series of meetings, was interrogated, had his passport confiscated and was ordered to remain in the city. Citing an alleged visa violation, officials took Jacobson into custody on Jan. 21, 2020, and informed him he faced a prison sentence of up to five years for violating Indonesia's 2011 immigration law.
Following diplomatic efforts and an international campaign by press freedom groups, Indigenous peoples' organizations and conservationists, Jacobson was released from prison without charge on Jan. 24, and shortly thereafter deported from Indonesia.
Phil Jacobson "got the award because of his excellent and consistent works in covering environmental problems in Indonesia," said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch and one of the award's judges.
"The award should also be a wake-up call for the Indonesian government to review the 2011 immigration law as well as to reform the so-called clearing house mechanism in granting journalist visas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Harsono says. "The clearing house, which has 18 members from 18 government bodies, serves as a strict gatekeeper, often denying applications outright or simply failing to approve them, placing foreign journalists in a bureaucratic limbo."
Despite his detention and eventual deportation, Jacobson never complained or submitted to pressure, said Alexander Mering, one of the judges appointed by the Pantau Foundation, in a press release. Instead, Mering said, Jacobson remained determined to continue his work. "He inspires all of us to fight harder against the illegal confiscation of land and customary forests, by oil palm plantation companies and mining companies."
"I always understood that deportation or even a small amount of time in jail was part of the risk of this work," Jacobson said, noting that the risks for foreign journalists are small compared to the dangers faced by Indonesian reporters and campaigners. "Four days in jail is nothing compared to what some of these people have to endure.
"The true credit goes to all the local journalist, investigators, activists, campaigners and sources that I've collaborated with, and the whole Mongabay team has collaborated with."
Now working from outside the country, Jacobson has continued to play a key role in Mongabay's continuing coverage of Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
"Phil's detention last year further strengthened Mongabay's resolve to deliver news and inspiration from nature's frontline in countries around the world, including Indonesia," Butler said. "Objective news reporting on critical environmental issues is more important now than ever as the world tries to recover from the pandemic and seeks ways to shift away from destructive business-as-usual approaches."
In March 2020, Mongabay and The Gecko Project published an investigation into land clearing in Papua province, part of a project set to become the world's largest oil palm plantation.
In June 2020, Mongabay, The Gecko Project, the Korean Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa and Al Jazeera published the results of a yearlong joint investigation tracing a $22 million "consultancy" payment connected to a major land deal in Papua.
"I have continued to cover Indonesia for Mongabay throughout the pandemic, and I will continue to cover Indonesia for Mongabay," Jacobson said, adding that he hopes to return to Indonesia at the earliest opportunity.
– Article published by Isabel Esterman