Rizki Fachriansyah and Alya Nurbaiti, Jakarta – The Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) has expressed dismay over a widely circulated image of a list detailing the names of several journalists who went on an overseas business trip with the government, calling it a "malicious" attempt to discredit members of the press.
In a written statement issued on Monday, PWI dignitary board chairman Ilham Bintang clarified that the image merely showed a list of journalists who were invited to cover former maritime affairs and fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti during her official visit to a number of countries, and that in no instances did reprehensible practices take place.
"There's an irresponsible party who framed the list as something that it is not. It's [framed] as if the [accommodation] budget paid for by the government is a form of bribery," Ilham stated.
"It's a malicious assumption. It harasses and discredits journalists' professionalism and credibility."
The image, which went viral on social media, lists the names of journalists working for several top news outlets, including The Jakarta Post, Kompas and Tempo. The journalists covered Susi's official visits to several countries in Europe and Asia, as well as the United States.
The Jakarta Post joined the visit to New York under an official invitation from the ministry, during which Susi represented Indonesia as a "sherpa" for the international High-Level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
Ilham said that the invitations from the government were not unusual and did not affect the press' commitment to impartial news coverage.
"[The government] did book tickets and hotels for the journalists. But it doesn't mean that it's an attempt to co-opt the press," he said, adding that the journalists who went on the overseas trip did not violate any codes of conduct.
The PWI suspected that the attempt to discredit the press may have come from individuals who took offense at Tempo weekly's coverage of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo's decision to allow the export of lobster larvae after it was previously banned by his predecessor Susi in 2016 over conservation concerns, Ilham said.
"Don't let all this noise about the list of journalists distract us from the real problem, namely the ministry's policy," Ilham concluded.
Similarly, chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia Abdul Manan said it was curious to note that the list came out not long after Tempo's report on the export of lobster larvae.
He alleged that the article aimed to have the public believe that the new minister was being criticized "because he did not invite journalists on overseas trips".
Abdul said it was a false assumption to think that journalists, as a result of being invited on trips, would only cover the positive aspects of their experience.
"There are indeed efforts to discredit and intimidate journalists just because the minister's policy was lambasted," he told The Jakarta Post over text message on Tuesday.
Abdul stressed that it was of utmost importance for journalists to maintain their objectivity in delivering information to the public when invited by government officials.