A Culture of Transparency: Training Tomorrow’s Independent Journalists

Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Marina Nasution interviews a local resident and traditional medicines user during her investigation into the traditional medicines industry in North Sumatra.
Photo courtesy of DAAI TV Indonesia.

A diverse, enthusiastic, media has helped to sustain the civic momentum behind Indonesia’s young democracy-- and facts are its bread and butter.

To report accurately on issues that matter to the public, the media needs access to reliable data, such as research, surveys and reports, including from government sources. They also need skills to analyze this data and use it strategically in their reporting. These tools help the media get the public the information it needs to hold elected officials and decision makers accountable.

In Indonesia, the government is steadily opening up access to official data. Reporters like Marina Nasution from DAAI TV Indonesia Bingkai Sumatera take their role in communicating this information to the public very seriously.

“The quality of journalism can really influence the quality of the public’s awareness and thinking. How do we as journalists help the public clearly understand important issues? And what happens if media reports aren’t based in facts?” said Marina.

Last year, Marina attended training on investigative journalism supported by the United States Agency for International development (USAID) and Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI). At the training, she learned how to access public data, to understand its significance, and to incorporate it in her reporting.

“Before, I would look at raw data-- numbers-- but I couldn’t see anything useful. Now, I can see the patterns in data. I have a better understanding of how I can use these patterns. And I see a difference,” she said. “My narratives are richer and more accurate.”

Marina put her new skills to work during her investigation of the role of government in oversight of the booming traditional medicine industry in North Sumatra. She combed public data available through Statistics Indonesia, the government’s statistical survey institute, to illustrate that even though access to modern medicine is on the rise, traditional medicines aren’t going anywhere given their affordability and deep cultural roots. 

“But there’s a lot of fraud in this industry,” she said-- and this puts citizens at risk. The facts in her report highlighted the need for greater government involvement in preventing such fraud and overseeing the production of traditional medicines given their enduring appeal and the harm that an unregulated industry can pose.

In other provinces, government oversight over this industry is stronger. In Central Java, for example, the government has put a quality standard into place. Now, patients at government-run hospitals can access quality-assured traditional medicines-- in addition to modern options.

By using reliable data to underpin her reporting, Marina sparked public awareness and pushed forward an informed discussion how the government should protect people. "I featured two sources in my report-- people who are professionally involved with traditional medicines. When I showed the report to the provincial health office, they were very interested in these two individuals. They asked them to help them with training and in developing a quality assessment for traditional medicines."

Increased transparency can democratize decision-making; journalists like Marina have seized this opportunity to bring fresh ideas to the table. These ideas, when discussed openly and publicly, bring unique, data-driven perspectives to policy-making discussions.

“With data, our work can be truly comprehensive,” said Marina. “Journalists can take all the information that’s available to create reports that spark real solutions for real problems.”

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Story by Samantha Martin and Genevieve Grant. 

Last updated: August 08, 2019

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