Thu, 30 Jan 2003

Riau govt criticized for spending Rp 4b for journalists

Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau

The Riau administration spent at least Rp 4 billion of the province's 2002 budget in "fund assistance" for local journalists and their media organizations, a move that raised a number of serious ethical questions, legislators said on Wednesday.

There even could be a legal issue involved as most of the media organizations receiving the money are directly connected to several legislators.

Opposition legislators said the provincial government disbursed Rp 2.5 billion to several press organizations last August to "help journalists buy houses". Each journalist received at least Rp 10 million.

Late last year, the local government also approved more assistance funds amounting to Rp 750 million for five local publications owned or linked to councillors in the province.

In an addition to this, another Rp 750 million from the budget was also dispersed to journalists through the administration's 2002 assistance funds allocated for the Riau legislative council.

Furthermore, the Riau branch of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) even proposed more funds be allocated from this year's budget to install electric wiring at the journalist's housing complex.

Nurbay Juss, chairman of the council's budget committee, claimed that the assistance funds were given to the five media publications in order to help them, and the press in general, to develop.

"If the local media outlets, who receive the aid, go bankrupt in the future, they don't need to take responsibility for the funds because it is non-binding assistance. We will even provide them with more free aid if there is enough money in the 2003 budget," he told The Jakarta Post.

However, critics said that providing huge amounts of public money for each of the five local weekly tabloids was far from appropriate given that the publications are owned by or connected to local councillors.

Ahmad Jamaan, who chairs the Pekanbaru branch of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), said the move breached the journalist code of ethics, in which no legislative council has a right to subsidize the press with the "people's money".

"The question is, why didn't all the local publications receive such funds from the budget?" he asked the Post.

The five recipients included the Mentari tabloid that belongs to Riau legislative council speaker Chaidir M.M., and the Tirai tabloid whose chief editor is Fachruddin, who chairs the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction in the council.

The Intermizo tabloid, whose editorial board includes J. Nadeak who is another PDI Perjuangan legislator in the province, and the Pondasi tabloid led by Golkar legislator Indra Adnan and Lukman Edy from the National Awakening Party (PKB) faction, also received the funds.

The fifth recipient was the Genta tabloid chaired by local senior journalist Makmur Hendri.

Jamaan said the aid was part of "political collaboration" between the Riau administration and the provincial legislature ahead of this year's 2003 gubernatorial election.

Riau Governor Saleh Djasit will reportedly contest the gubernatorial race for his reelection.

Also criticizing the fund assistance for journalists was deputy council speaker Soeroto, who said it would seriously damage the press freedom in Riau.

He said journalists should have refused such "bribes" to ensure their independence. "If they received such money, can they now realistically present independent reports?