Wahyu Dhyatmika on investigative journalism and Threats against the Free Press

The world is changing and if you are trying to be a journalist, now is a difficult time. The seemingly less than encouraging words come from Wahyu Dhyatmika (Chevening 2004/2005, International Journalism of University of Westminster) Editor in Chief to Tempo.co. There is the ongoing process of digital disruption and with it, the shift in business model which left many conventional media to their demise the last several years. There is also rise of social media contributing to the decline of trust to more mainstream media.  And lastly, as what Tempo and Dhyatmika are personally currently experiencing, is the backlash and slander to media over its strong criticism to those in power.

It is good that he claims to be unfazed. Known to have led extensive work on investigative efforts for Tempo, the Balinese descent said that like any other independent media his mission is to hold the power accountable. Whilst it can be dangerous, risk is well accepted, he added, and journalistic works should carry on.

His previous works with Tempo on Panama Papers, a cross-border investigation project with a myriads of other news media, resulted in a lengthy list of business people, politicians, high ranking officials around the world suspected of involvement in environmental devastation, tax evasion, and corruption. Working as a group of media from different countries, instead of relying on singular effort, Dhyatmika said, is important since major mistreats in the world tend to be trans-national too. A quality reporting would exhaust resources and personnel, a factor that is avoidable by collaborating together with other newsrooms.

Dedication to investigation of corruption, crime and violation of human’s right has incurred awards and praise for Tempo. The proudest moment for Dhyatmika, however, does not come from the awards but from change the reporting has caused. A Tempo investigation into migrant workers insurance scheme in 2012 for instance, pushed the government to overhaul the system to ensure the insurance benefits migrant workers. And so, Dhyatmika keeps on going.

A year after Panama Papers, the Indonesia Leaks is launched to provide a whistle blower platform to the public in Indonesia. Tempo, amongst other local media, provides the journalistic resources to vet the information and investigate the leak. This kind of work, again, is prone to criticism and backlash especially from those in power and its support systems. Not least because amongst Tempo’s current focus is to criticizing parties – especially the government – it claims hiring social media buzzers “to spread disinformation, creating confusion and polarization” on things matter the most to public interest. Such conduct, Dhyatmika claims, diverts the public from genuine conversation and erode trust to lawful and democratic process.

Public opposition to certain legislations by the end of President Joko Widodo’s first tenure, together with tougher policing to dissenting opinions has also cautioned him to stay alert. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press, he said, are in danger if suppression is used to regulate speech, and control media narrative. No media should let this trend to continue, Dhyatmika said. And so, he will go on.