Isabella Rayner – The Indonesian government has denied claims it intimidated and bribed a Radio New Zealand (RNZ) journalist during a leader's meeting last month.
RNZ journalist Kelvin Anthony said Indonesian government representative Ardi Nuswantoro offered him money after he exclusively interviewed Indonesia's Australia Ambassador Dr. Siswo Pramono, at the Melanesian 22nd Spearhead Group (MSG) Leaders' Summit in Port Villa on Aug. 23 (pdf).
But Jakarta's Ministry of Foreign Affairs's Director-General Abdul Kadir Jailani neither confirmed nor denied the bribery claims in an email.
However, Mr. Jailani said "bribery has never been our policy nor approach to journalists," and "we will surely look into it," according to RNZ.
It comes after Mr. Anthony said he was "told earlier in the week by Ardi Nuswantoro that his government did not like what RNZ had published on West Papua and that it was not balanced."
"I advised the delegate that RNZ makes every effort to be balanced and fair, and we want to get Indonesia's side too, but we need the chance to speak on the record," he said.
RNZ said they saw texts and calls from Mr. Nuswantoro to Mr. Anthony via WhatsApp asking to visit a Holiday Inn resort to speak on the record.
Mr. Anthony said after what he thought was an "exclusive interview" that covered "sensitive but pertinent issues involving Indonesia, the West Papua issue, and the Pacific," he was escorted, accompanied by at least three Indonesian government officials, out of the reception area.
A token of appreciation
That's when Mr. Anthony said Mr. Nuswantoro told him the Indonesian delegation would "like to offer you a token of appreciation," saying it was "money."
"I declined to accept the money and told him I cannot take money because it compromises the story and my credibility and integrity as a journalist," Mr. Anthony said.
"At that point, I was shell-shocked because I had never experienced something like that in my career."
Mr. Anthony said the Indonesian official "looked visibly withdrawn" at the rejection and "apologised for offering money." Afterward, RNZ reported the alleged bribery to the Indonesian government.
However, a local media representative at the Summit said they saw Indonesian officials following and constantly moving around Mr. Anthony.
"It seemed obvious that one particular Indonesian delegate was pestering Kelvin and following him around," they said.
Mr. Anthony said he felt a "little intimidated" and tried to "stick around with the local journalists" as much as he could "so I could avoid the Indonesian officials coming up to me."
Mr. Anthony said meanwhile, an official messaged him a video clip showing Indigenous Papuans committing violent acts. He said it was the same official who offered him the money as an alleged bribe.
Another local Ni-Vanuatu journalist at the alleged bribe said, "I saw what was happening and knew exactly what the Indonesian guy was trying to do".
"My advice to the RNZ journalist was to hold the story until he was out of the country because I was worried about his safety," they said.
Mr. Anthony confirmed the local Ni-Vanuatu journalist was present at the allegation and said his "local fixer saw and heard everything, and as we drove off, he said I should report on it but only when I am out of Vanuatu. I immediately communicated the incident to my superiors back in Wellington to put everything on record."
However, an Indonesian official asked Mr Anthony, "When will RNZ publish the interview?" RNZ said they would choose not to go to air.
West Papua independence movement under the microscope
RNZ was the only international media with a journalist on the ground to cover and carry out interviews at the MSG meeting for its Pacific audience.
The total membership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was a big-ticket item at MSG, along with a packed agenda.
ULMWP was a "secessionist movement," Dr. Siswo Pramono, Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, who walked out of the meeting when the movement's representatives made interventions.
Indonesia is an associate member of the MSG and had the largest delegation at the meeting. The Southeast Asian country was on record saying it does not support or recognise the ULMWP as a representative body of the Indigenous Papuans.
The MSG is a crucial sub-regional bloc that includes an umbrella group for pro-independence political parties in New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu Fiji FLNKS.
The meeting concluded when leaders rejected ULMWP's application to become a full member of the sub-regional group.
The Epoch Times reached out to RNZ for comment.