The Terror of Journalism
Jakarta bombing on January 14th is an act of terror. Media coverage on the event spread panic and disinformation even wider.
An act of terrorism shook Jakarta. A number of armed men launched a series of bombs followed by open fire with members of the authorities. In the heat of the shocking situation, media ironically spread further terror by broadcasting news that amplified public’s fear.
Instead of clarifying false information spreading through WhatsApp and other social media platforms, the media in fact became the bullhorn for dubious, unverified information. At the early hours of the event, several media were caught to spread rumors and sensational news.
One of the media at the front in misguiding the public is TV One. After a report on the bomb explosion on MH Thamrin Street, on their “Breaking News” program TV One presented another report that there had been subsequent blasts in Slipi, Kuningan and Cikini—other parts of the capital city. The information then was proven wrong. TV One neglected to verify the various information pieces it received. This negligence created assumptions that terror acts were happening in many places; Jakarta was besieged by terror. This problematic report of TV One was even relayed by BBC World News.
Metro TV’s reporting was no less misguiding than TV One. Primed with information “allegedly” coming from the public, Metro TV broadcast a speculation about an explosion in Palmerah—another part of the city—telling viewers, “We’re trying to confirm it”. However, confirmation is supposed to be done in prior to the broadcasting. This kind of tactic became the common norm done by news stations such as TV One and Metro TV in the reporting of the terrorism yesterday.
Another embarrassing thing is how Metro TV used the occasion to promote Surya Paloh, Chief of Nasdem Party, who is also the owner of the station. Metro TV published Surya Paloh’s statement condemning the terrorism at least twice on January 14. Compared to the public’s need to listen to government officials’ statements concerning the terror, Surya Paloh’s statement is irrelevant. It is difficult not to judge that what Metro TV did was an attempt to steal the show and the spotlight.
Online media, too, seem eager to join the chaos of false news publishing. Strategies being used are interrogative sentence as title. Viva.co.id quoting TV One mentioned that several bombs exploded in several places in Jakarta.
Mentioning explosions in several other places positively without confirming clarified sources is clearly an irresponsible action. The argument that the situation was chaotic can’t be the justification for the broadcasting of a matter as crucial as terrorism in such a reckless way.
Unverified news is published also by Warta Kota Online, writing about a story spread on social media about a security officer who became a victim. The story was originally posted by a Facebook account by the name of Nanik Sudaryati and until today has been shared by 38.583 accounts. It was published by Warta Kota Online without any verification. Later on, a clarification by the CEO of Sarinah stated that no Sarinah security officer died in the event.
Sensational Reports that Neglect the Ethics
After the blast at the police post near the traffic lights at Sarinah intersection, a corpse suspected as the terrorist’s lied by the road. Television stations quickly found the pictures to be attractive as visuals to display. True enough; TV One, Indosiar, INews TV soon used the pictures in their news.
Alas, the visuals were presented as they were, unblurred. Not only this violates Broadcast Behavior Guidelines/Broadcast Program Standard of Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) that regulates terrorism reporting, such vulgarity also neglects journalism ethics and is insensitive of both the public and the victims.
In this case, Remotivi appreciates KPI that penalized the TV stations proven to be in violation of P3SPS. KPI’s quick response at least can be a warning for media that are likely to use similar sensational means in garnering ratings.
Unfortunately, KPI’s measure is yet to be followed by the Press Council (Dewan Pers), the independent institution that serves to develop and protect Indonesian press. The problem is the sensational reporting style is not exclusively used by TV stations, the KPI’s authority, but also online media. The sensationalism can be seen from JPNN’s reporting, for example, entitled “NGERI! Masih Ada Lima Bom Aktif di Badan Pelaku yang Sudah Mampus Itu” (SCARY! Five Bombs Still Active on the Body of the Dead Terrorist) and “SELESAI! Pelaku Bom Sarinah Sudah Mampus Semua” (DONE! The Sarinah Bombing Perpetrators Are All Dead). The word ‘mampus’ literally means ‘dead’ but in colloquial usage it is a profanity to degrade or to express glee over misfortune of someone being hated.
Tempo.co even briefly published a news item with the title and content that imply a sentiment toward immigrants: “BOM SARINAH, Pelakunya Warga Asing?” (SARINAH BOMBS, Foreign Perpetrator?) Interestingly, unlike the Indonesian version, the English version of the news underwent changes accompanied by corrections.
This obsolete formula that effectively reaps clicks and readers is, of course, pathetic. From here, it is clear that media only think of profits instead of considering the likelihood of bad impacts due to overdramatization in news that in certain cases can amplify the trauma and fear experienced by the public.
Among a society more and more mediated by digital technology, various kinds of information can spread uncontrollably. Journalism should be the navigator to guide the public in selecting the right information. In such a terrorized situation like yesterday, the role of Indonesian journalism is tested. Journalism’s existence among the public is determined by how far media and journalists can be a compass in the flood of information that tosses people to the sea of uncertainty. Spreading rumors will only enhance the public’s apathy to media and journalists. It isn’t impossible that media and journalists, consciously or not, are slowly killing journalism.