Tips for Foreign Journalists

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A few days after earthquake and tsunami hit Aceh in late December 2004, a man is scavenging the ruins. Credit/Jon Warren (World Vision).

Disasters in Indonesia on a large scale have sometimes become the centre of international attention. During the 2004 Aceh earthquake and tsunami, for example, around 200 foreign journalists from all over the world flew to Aceh to cover the devastating disaster that killed more than 170,000 people.

Foreign journalists assigned to cover disasters in Indonesia need special preparation before leaving for coverage. Many rely on local journalists as fixers and hire translators or drivers during their time in the country. However, this does not mean that foreign journalists are free from the cultural gap that occurs when they arrive at a new place, especially when they have to work quickly to cover disasters.

“Covering disasters in Indonesia is a complex work due to the differences of local cultures and languages in each region. This means that the emergency response process, the characteristics of disaster victims, and the evacuation team, also differ from one another, thus determining the reporting process,” said the Director of the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, Agnes Ide Megawati.

According to Agnes’ experience, foreign journalists often find it difficult to establish local contacts. There are some ways to find them:

The Alliance of Indonesia Independent Journalists. This is a non-profit networking group of journalists that work for the betterment of the industry. Their networking group expands to the local chapters in most of the provinces in Indonesia. Local journalists that are part of this Alliance group understand the importance of networking and helping foreign journalists. They can be contacted at sekretariat@ajiindonesia.or.id

Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club. JFCC is a non-profit organization of international journalists based in Indonesia and Indonesian journalists working for international media. They can be contacted to help new correspondents establish local contacts or sources.

Contact a specific media organization or journalist. Sunudyantoro from Tempo, Ahmad Arif from Kompas, and Asnil Bambani from Kontan are several Indonesian journalists who work closely on natural disasters issues. There are also commercial fixer organizations like Indonesian Fixer who is part of ProductionCenter.TV or IndonesiaFixer.id that can help foreign journalists find their way to Indonesia.

Here are some tips for foreign correspondents assigned to cover disasters in Indonesia.

  • RESEARCH. Thoroughly researching a region before traveling there is essential to staying safe. Closely review news reports reflecting a range of perspectives, diverse academic sources, travel and health advisories from the World Health Organization and other governmental or multilateral agencies. Common travel guides in some areas in Indonesia can provide essential information about cultures and mores.
  • ESTABLISH LOCAL CONTACTS. Local journalists, the local Red Cross team, or the consulate-general of your country can be your local contacts during your time in Indonesia. Contact them first to figure out how to get into the country and where to start reporting and for how long are you going to stay in the location of the disaster.
  • FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. Indonesia ranked 119 out of 180 for the press freedom index in 2020 according to Reporters Without Borders. This means that there might be hostility to journalists in some regions and be aware of it. The trick is to always bring your credential and always connected with a local support system, be it the local journalists, the embassy of your country, or consulate-general.
  • SEEK ADVICE. Before traveling to a region in Indonesia, especially for the first time, seek the advice of journalists with experience in that locale. Situation-specific advice from trusted colleagues is crucial in planning an assignment and assessing risks. If you are inexperienced in the profession or new to a particular location, you might also consider asking seasoned colleagues if you can accompany them for a time as they work.
  • INSURANCE AND MEDIC. Research travel routes in and out of the area along with the status of available medical facilities. You should also carry an international vaccination card as well as official documentation of your blood type and any allergies or other medical conditions. Identify the availability of medical care in the reporting area, including the locations of hospitals, clinics, and primary-care physicians.
  • STAY CONNECTED. Before departing, establish clear points of contact with editors, colleagues, and family members or friends. Your contacts in the field should know how to reach your family members and editors; your relatives and editors, in turn, must know how to reach your local contacts.
  • LODGING. Choose lodging in advance. Your choice of a hotel or other lodging depends in part on the profile you want to keep. Your local contacts should know where the best lodging that is close to the location of disasters but still safe from the potential of another wave of disasters while you are there.
  • LANGUAGES. According to Agnes, make an effort to learn basic expressions in native languages to enable daily interactions and to show respect, both of which can enhance your safety and easier access to information.
  • CLOTHING. Appropriate clothing, including foul-weather gear, should also be purchased before departure. It would be preferable to wear earth tones or dark colors that will not stand out at a distance and are distinct from the blue used by law enforcement or the army green or camouflage colors used by military units. Due to the climate in Indonesia, also pack a hat, sunscreen, anti-musquitoes lotion, umbrella, rainproof backpack, and supportive footwear. Also, prepare comfortable sleeping gear in case you have to sleep somewhere in the shelter and can’t make it back to your lodging.

Teks: Indri Maulidar

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