Tri Indah Oktavianti, Jakarta – Following reports of high rates of newsroom layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID) has urged the government to financially aid media companies in order to help them survive the crisis.
"INFID urges the Manpower Minister to make a maximum effort to help media workers by using [a] COVID-19 financial scheme provided by the government," the letter states.
Sent to Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah on Tuesday, the letter also addressed the potential of a mass layoff among journalists at The Jakarta Post.
In August, the Post announced that it would lay off two-thirds of its employees in a bid to reduce costs and ease financial hardship. After leaving its employees in uncertainty for months, the company offered a voluntary resignation scheme on Oct. 12 with a severance package for employees. This resulted in the departure of more than 20 journalists from the newsroom.
The organization further called on media companies not to use the health crisis as justification for unjust treatment of employees.
"Journalists and media workers have taken a risk of getting infected by COVID-19 while reporting in the field and going to the office to deliver news. Thus, they need to be helped," the letter states.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) previously received a number of reports of media companies that had cut wages, delayed salary payments and laid off employees, citing COVID-19 as the reason for the cost-cutting measures.
In addition, at least 242 journalists have tested positive for COVID-19, according to AJI data from March to September.
"The government should not let the COVID-19 pandemic kill independent media in the country," INFID chairperson Sugeng Bahagijo told the Post on Tuesday.
"For civil society, media like The Jakarta Post must stay afloat because their contributions go beyond business. Media is for transparency, for balance that strengthens democracy."
Sugeng further called on the government to provide easy access to financial relief for industries impacted by COVID-19, as he deemed the current strategy too complicated.
"If the ministry does not respond to the letter, we will find a way to forward the message to the Finance Ministry and to President [Joko] 'Jokowi' [Widodo]," he added.
Finance Ministry special staff member Yustinus Prastowo said that the government's COVID-19 financial aid scheme was provided to all business sectors, meaning that media companies were also entitled to the fund.
He listed several aid schemes including full exemptions from income tax payments for employees.
According to Finance Ministry data per Oct. 14, the government has prepared a Rp 120.6 trillion (US$8.2 billion) stimulus to help businesses stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the budget disbursement for businesses has only reached Rp 29.68 trillion, accounting for 24.61 percent of the total budget.
Eight months into the pandemic, Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) director Ade Wahyudin said that he had received more than 100 reports on violations of employment rights from journalists.
Even during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, LBH Pers and the AJI received 61 reports of journalists from 14 Greater Jakarta media organizations who were laid off, furloughed or given pay cuts.
Upon this writing, the Manpower Ministry was unavailable for comment regarding the crisis faced by the media industry amid COVID-19.