What is IndonesiaLeaks? Who is behind it? Is it connected to Wikileaks, the international organisation that publishes classified and leaked government and corporate materials? These have been the questions on everyone’s lips after five Jakarta-based media organisations published an explosive report from the IndonesiaLeaks joint investigative team on 8 October.
The report focused on the destruction of key evidence relating to the bribery case involving former Constitutional Court Chief Justice Patrialis Akbar and cattle importer Basuki Hariman, which was being investigated by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in 2017. The IndonesiaLeaks investigation alleged that in April 2017, two police investigators on loan to the anti-graft agency from the National Police, Roland Ronaldy and Harun, tore nine pages from a red bank transaction record book.
The removed pages allegedly documented the flow of funds to dozens of public officials, including then Jakarta Metropolitan Police Chief Tito Karnavian (now National Police chief). An internal KPK investigation in 2017 found that the two police investigators were guilty of destroying evidence and violating the KPK Code of Ethics. Given that obstructing a corruption investigation is a criminal offence (under Article 21 of the 1999 Anti-Corruption Law, as revised in 2001) the KPK could have pursued charges against them. But the two investigators were simply returned to the National Police and the case vanished. Both are still on active duty and, in fact, received promotions soon after their return to the police institution.
Wikileaks sparked worldwide outrage in 2010 when it released thousands of classified military documents relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as sensitive diplomatic cables issued by the US Department of State. Its founder, Julian Assange, became an international celebrity and has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.
While not on the same scale, the IndonesiaLeaks reports have also shocked Indonesia. But not for revealing classified government secrets. Few of the politicians and observers criticising IndonesiaLeaks have actually sought to understand the content of the investigative reports published in early October.
Instead, there have been a series of reactionary and concerned statements, as well as several people who are clearly attempting to use the report to their own advantage. The strongest reactions have come from the police and supporters of the two figures squaring off in next year’s presidential election, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, who have dismissed the claims.
In an effort to obscure or play down the revelations of criminal behaviour described in the IndonesiaLeaks joint report, many have dismissed the report as a hoax, or claimed that it lacked credibility. By describing the report as a hoax, police then have justification for taking action against those who created and distributed it, and the public are given “permission” to dismiss its contents.
However, there is a clear difference between an investigative report made by professional journalists that fulfils journalistic ethical standards and a hoax, a story not based on facts and spread for the benefit of the creator.
This is also a clear difference between IndonesiaLeaks and Wikileaks. Information and data released by Wikileaks is made available to anyone and is not subject to the same level of journalistic confirmation and verification. IndonesiaLeaks is a safe platform for anyone who wishes to report a crime with relevance to the public interest, commonly referred to as whistleblowers or public informants. Anyone who witnesses a crime can send documents, data and information and be reassured of anonymity: their name or identity will not be revealed to the public.
IndonesiaLeaks’ digital security system means that the member reporters who receive tip-offs from whistleblowers will not be able to trace the identity of the sender. This digital security system underwent rigorous testing in July and August 2018. Hackers were not able to penetrate the security system and determine the identity of whistleblowers.
The platform can only be accessed by journalists that are members of IndonesiaLeaks. These reporters have been trained in digital security and in the handling any reports that come in. Reporters first determine which leaks or information fulfil requirements and have the potential to be developed into a journalistic investigation. One of the key requirements is that the crime must have relevance to the public interest (and not simply interest the public).
The process continues with verification of documents through journalistic investigation and confirmation. When reports are verified, the journalistic team will work to enrich the report, searching for additional information, checking facts and evidence, conducting interviews and research and then writing a news report. Although the joint team discuss and agree on a broad angle, the content of the final published report is up to the individual media outlets themselves.
IndonesiaLeaks clearly does not create investigative reports itself, let alone disseminate them. Its function is simply a “letterbox” to receive data and information from whistleblowers and then channel them to competent journalists.
Why, then, are member journalists described as members of the IndonesiaLeaks team? This is because the process of creating reports is done in a collaborative manner, with journalists from multiple news outlets working together.
If there are those who still consider the IndonesiaLeaks report to be a hoax, there are a few important matters to consider. Journalistic activities in Indonesia are protected by Law 40 of 1999 on the Press. This Law created the Press Council, which is responsible for responding to and resolving all complaints against journalistic products.
What about those who claim that political interests are behind IndonesiaLeaks? Who has been implicated in the IndonesiaLeaks report? The police investigators allegedly involved in the destruction of evidence had already been named previously and former Constitutional Court Chief Justice Patrialis has already been sent to prison. Neither presidential candidate nor members of their team were mentioned. Only the National Police and the KPK have been asked to take responsibility for the events.
As citizens who care about the realisation of clean and responsible government, as well as the rule of law, we must value all efforts from the public to participate in law enforcement. IndoensiaLeaks is a platform that connects the media and wider public, especially whistleblowers, to work together to promote good, transparent governance.
In the future, it is hoped that IndonesiaLeaks will continue to assist in the production of investigative reports that focus not only on corruption by public officials, but also corporate crime, human rights violations, failures in the delivery of public services, and exploitation of natural resources.
Dismissing investigative reports that reveal public sector crime as being politically motivated does the country a disservice. It undermines journalism’s vital fourth estate role.
At a time when Indonesian media is often derided as being captured by oligarchic and politically partisan interests, this is the last thing that Indonesia needs.
PPMN is one of the founding organisations of IndonesiaLeaks.