Tue, 09 May 2000

Gus Dur reprimands 'Jawa Post'

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid blasted on Monday the Jawa Pos daily for erroneously reporting alleged corruption by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and charged that it was part of an attempt to topple his government.

"I know that this is part of a conspiracy to topple and discredit the government before (the General Session of the People's Consultative Assembly) in August ... and unfortunately Jawa Pos has been going along with it," Abdurrahman said during a media briefing at Bina Graha presidential office on Monday night.

He said the reports were "unacceptable" and admitted that he had "phoned friends" on Saturday calling on them to stop NU civilian Banser guards from "going too far" in their protest against the newspaper.

Abdurrahman even said that despite a front-page apology from Jawa Pos on Monday, both himself and NU, which he chaired for more than 15 years, could still file a lawsuit against the newspaper at any time.

"I am sorry to say that if we are not satisfied, we can file a lawsuit against them," he said adding that the newspaper had "smeared" his name.

But he was quick to add that he had nothing against media criticism as long as reports were "honest" and had "no bad intentions" against the government.

The controversy erupted when Jawa Pos in its Saturday edition quoted Tempo magazine which alleged that NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi received Rp 35 billion (US$4.37million) from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

However, the daily neglected to recheck its information as Tempo on May 3 sent a personal letter signed by executive editor Toriq Hadad to Hasyim apologizing and admitting that it made a mistake.

The magazine said it had wrongly written Hasyim's name instead of Hasyim Wahid, Abdurrahman's brother.

On Saturday afternoon, several Banser members went to the Jawa Pos office in Surabaya, East Java, demanding to meet the daily's general manager, Dahlan Iskan, to present a letter of protest from Hasyim Muzadi.

But Dahlan at the time was in Surakarta, Central Java, and by evening more Banser guards had descended on the daily's office.

While the source of the erroneous report was Tempo, Abdurrahman was forgiving of the magazine on Monday.

"Jawa Pos has violated all journalistic codes of ethics. Why? Because Tempo printed an apology, but Jawa Pos reprinted it as if I was really guilty," he said.

The President, however, neglected to mention that Tempo's apology was only printed in its May 8 edition, two days after Jawa Pos quoted the magazine.


Prior to Abdurrahman's Monday night outburst, comments from Jawa Pos and NU officials indicated a conciliatory tone, especially as the daily began the first of a week-long front page apology.

The chairman of the Ansor Youth Movement, coordinator of NU's Banser civilian guards, Saifullah Yusuf apologized for the misconduct of some Banser members at the Jawa Pos office.

"To all Jawa Pos employees and reporters, I, chairman of Ansor, apologize for making them feel threatened and worried, just as Jawa Pos has apologized to us," Saifullah said here on Monday.

He expressed concern over the action of Banser members in Surabaya, East Java, who occupied the daily's office and caused the loss of its Sunday's edition.

Jawa Pos managing editor Arief Affandi earlier said that the daily was "occupied" by NU Banser members on Saturday night, forcing the daily to cancel its Sunday edition.

But when contacted by The Jakarta Post by telephone on Monday, Arief appeared to backtrack his account of events.

He said no equipment had been damaged at the office: "They did not wreck a single thing".

Arief underlined that it was his own personal decision to cancel Sunday's edition, because by 11 p.m. only six pages had been completed by the editorial staff.

He said that some 30 Banser members were on the editorial floor between 7:15 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

"We were not allowed to work until they could meet Pak Dahlan," Arief said.

"We also agreed to publish a quarter-page apology on the front page for seven days in a row and build a mosque, along with disciplinary action against the reporters who wrote the story," he added.

Separately, NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi was fuming on Monday over reports that Banser guards occupied and damaged the daily's office.

"The media reports have turned the facts around, it's all untrue. No part of the building or equipment was damaged. Ansor never forced them to cancel the edition," Hasyim said.

"It was also the decision of the daily to cancel the edition. Actually, the boys (Banser guards) wanted them to run the Sunday edition so they could publicly apologize in that edition," Hasyim said, adding that Saturday's incident was purely spontaneous.


Strong public reaction continued over the attack on Monday.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in a statement signed by chairman Djoko Soegianto and secretary- general Asmara Nababan condemned the action of banser guards and described it as a violation of human rights.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, journalists grouped under the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Joint Forum of Makassar Journalists (Forbes) staged a protest to show solidarity for their colleagues in East Java.

AJI official Suparno said Saturday's incident was a bad precedent which could trigger further intimidation against members of the media.

"Abdurrahman, as an NU patron, must teach his followers not to be arrogant or use force to reach their goals," Suparno said.

Meanwhile, communications expert Astrid Susanto called on the media to be wiser and to understand the psychology of the masses to avoid public anger.

"We cannot expect the public, living in such a sick situation like now, to obey the law," Astrid from the University of Indonesia said on Monday. (dja/27/edt/jun/byg/prb)