'Tempo' advertorial case under spotlight

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Print media companies should revisit the journalistic code of ethics to distinguish between editorial and business interests, Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, the chief of Voice of Human Rights News Center, has said.

"The press should not neglect the idealistic goals of journalistic products due to the self-interest of the business or commercial aspects. The mixture of advertisements and news content can distort the content of pure journalism," he said.

Atmakusumah noted over the weekend in a discussion that commercial factors should be considered only in support of journalistic content, rather than dictating the content of the newspaper or magazine.

He said the controversial case of advertorial pages in a recent edition the weekly Tempo that negated the content of articles on the Kemayoran investigation was an example of a blurring of the line between editorial and commercial interests that should not be repeated.

Tempo ran an in-depth investigation about the Kemayoran development case in its April 17-23 edition.

The article reported that The Hok Bing had influenced several individuals and institutions in 2002 in order to get land use rights and develop 17.7 hectares of land into a commercial zone with a budget of about Rp 4 trillion.

The land is the former site of the now defunct Kemayoran Airport.

Hok Bing's acquaintances included Mohamad Rizky Pratama -- whose mother, Megawati Soekarnoputri, was the president of Indonesia from 2000 to 2004 -- and also the director, founder and supervisor of PT Dana Pensiun Perkebunan (Dapenbun).

Tempo stated that The Hok Bing, 42, a businessman from East Java, had used PT Dapenbun only as a means to achieve his end.

In the subsequent April 24-30 edition, Tempo printed an eight page advertorial titled Acknowledgement and Clarification, which tried to negate several statements made in the previous investigative articles.

Critics said the problem was that the clarification pages looked too much like an editorial rather than being clearly identified as an advertorial.

Tempo then made a statement in its May 1-7 edition that the publisher had made a mistake in printing the advertorial without clearly marking it as a paid advertisement, and announced it would not take any money for the appearance of the piece.

"There was a slip in our administration, so we failed to check the content of that advertisement," said Tempo journalist and leader of the publication's internal investigation team Arif Zulkifli.

He said the advertiser was clever enough to wait until the last minute to submit the material in the hope that nobody at the magazine would have time to change or even notice the editorial format of the advertisement.

The chief of the Advertisement Monitoring Association, Ridwan Handoyo, said a good advertisement would be "righteous, honest, responsible" and not denigrate certain groups or elements of society.

He said the format of the Kemayoran piece should have indicated that it was not an editorial product because "the format did not fit the journalistic code of ethics".

Ridwan said advertisements should take into consideration the product or service, the media and the consumer. He said had found the eight page clarification confusing, and had wondered at the time what sort of promotion it was.

Media law expert Hinca Panjaitan said the damage had been done, but added "Tempo should be applauded for their courage in admitting their mistake."

He added "The ones who got hurt the most by this incident were Tempo's readers."

Hinca said Tempo could maintain their credibility by running a follow up investigation on the case by their editorial department.

Meanwhile, press critic and Pantau magazine journalist Andreas Harsono said Tempo should publish the names of the individuals who made the mistake in order to be fully accountable. In other countries, such as the United States, he said, the responsible person would offer to resign in the event of something like this.

Andreas said a good newspaper would not have any advertorial section at all in order to maintain its credibility. (03)
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