COMMENT After a reporting trip into a more remote mountainous region, a reporter gets a text message from a public official who arranged the trip.
“Have you arrived safely?” he asked.
It is a reasonable question. It was a long trip out of the city through at times isolated areas.
The reporter answers “yes” and thanks the official for the assistance.
“What will you do now?” the officer replies.
It was late after a long day of reporting.
“Going to bed,” she replies.
“What are you wearing to bed?” he asked.
The reporter stops replying and cuts off all contact with the officer.
This was among examples of harassment faced by female reporters on duty in the Papua region of Indonesia, a region far east of the country that it is often viewed in Jakarta as a wild country.
The incident was revealed to journalist Adi Marsiela, who while on a fact-finding trip to Papua last week discovered a persistent trend of harassment against female media personnel there.
“It ranges from everything from inappropriate text messages, to in person propositions of sex,” he said in Jakarta on Saturday, when presenting on the fact-finding trip supported by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).
In one instance, he said, a public official invited a female reporter to a hotel for sex.
When rejected, he replied, “Why not? But the others often agree.”
“This to me signals that this happens more often than reported,” Adi, who is a member of the Independent Journalists Alliance (Aji) said.
Unlike in Jakarta or Bandung (where Adi is based), where any whiff of such harassment elicits rounds of condemnation, such conditions are considered par for the course in remote Papua.
Parts of the Papua rates as “less free” in the Indonesian Press Council’s media freedom index on working conditions of journalists in the country.
Journalists are routinely trailed by intelligence officers, for example, and while the restriction on foreign journalists entering Papua was lifted last year, international media who visit still face problems.
Getting sleazy messages from horny politicians is viewed as hardly an issue in the face of other troubles.
“Sexual harassment is seen as ‘normal’,” Adi said.
So normal, in fact, that the local news outlet Jubi no longer recruits female reporters to avoid such complications.
This was a decision made after a 2004 incident involving a secret relationship gone sour between a public official and a female reporter led editors to discover the conditions faced by their women journalists.
Reporters facing such harassment still rarely speak of it, said Jubi editor Victor Mambor, to avoid being fodder for industry gossip.
“Now we only hire female editors because we believe public officials view editors with more respect, and will not take advantage of them,” Victor told me.
Kuala Lumpur is not a remote region with strict information and immigration controls - at least not comparable to Papua.