New Era for AJI

The 11th Congress of the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) was characterised by change. New leaders were elected, new structures were created and a new format was used to hold the congress, writes Ratna Ariyanti.

The 11th Congress of the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) saw the election of a woman to an executive position for the first time in 20 years. Credit: AJI Indonesia / Facebook

New Leaders
The winds of change swept through the 11th Congress as new journalists were elected to key roles. Ika Ningtyas, a freelancer and fact-checker for Tempo, was elected as Secretary-General and Sasmito Madrim, a journalist for VoA Indonesia, as Chairman. There was a ballot for both positions and the result was tight. Sasmito and Ika ran on a ticket against the incumbent, Revolusi Riza, Deputy Editor in Chief at CNN Indonesia and his running mate, Dandy Koswara, the Head of Division at Anadolu Agency. Revolusi and Dandy got 109 formal votes while Sasmito and Ika got 119.

New Structures
New life was breathed into the structures of AJI with changes to the organisations’ rules, code of ethics, code of conduct and list of programs. There were revisions to AJI’s constitution and articles of association. Congress delegates agreed to add two new chapters, one in Pangkalpinang, Bangka Belitung and one in Samarinda, East Kalimantan. In total, AJI now has 40 chapters throughout the country. Congress also highlighted sexual harassment as a serious offense and included sanctions in its code of conduct.

New Format
The inaugural virtual congress of AJI was attended by 600 people from delegations spanning the width and breadth of Indonesia. Abdul Manan, the previous AJI Chairman, said that the 11th Congress made history, “In general, the congress went well. Only we slightly miscalculated the number of days. We assumed it was only for two days, but it turned out we ran out of time and we needed to extend the congress for 1.5 days. In total, we met for 3.5 days.”

Although in general the congress went smoothly, some challenges did arise, including the three different time zones in Indonesia, the different quality of internet access between cities and technological glitches. In addition to that, organisers, the national board committee, and participants were not located in the same place, meaning coordination was delayed.

New Female Governance
The 11th Congress saw a remarkable rise in female leadership. Ika is the first female General Secretary of AJI. Although the organisation has consistently fought for gender equality, the last time it had a female in an executive role was when Ati Nurbaiti, formerly a Jakarta Post journalist, became the chairwoman in 2001. Ati, now retired, continues to help AJI as an Advisory Committee member.

Ika said that not having a female in the executive leadership for 20 years was one of the reasons that inspired her to nominate, “In general, AJI only had around 20% of females in its board committee. The small representation is basically replicating the media industry in Indonesia where we only have few female media workers. Only around 6% of those total workers are at the decision-making level. I want to contribute more so that we can have more females in our alliance.”

In the previous board, Ika has served as the AJI Coordinator for Central Java, Yogyakarta, and the East Java region. She noted the importance of regional involvement, “As an organisation which is supported by 40 chapters in different provinces, it is very important that we emphasise local perspectives in our decision-making process. It is also essential to engage more with them to tackle different challenges in press freedom as well as to improve journalists’ welfare”.

New Era
The new board committee, which includes increased representation from women and from journalists based outside of Jakarta, has stated that their focus will be on developing new protocols and guidelines for sexual harassment responses, tackling digital attacks, ending impunity and developing programs to increase journalists’ skills. The committee will ramp up its effort to assist journalists who were laid off from media houses. They also announced various fellowships aimed at giving freelancers income during the pandemic.

Manan said the previous board had significant achievements, particularly in terms of initiating collaboration in the investigation project between newsrooms, called IndonesiaLeaks, and in fact-checking projects, which are essential amidst a flood of disinformation. He highlighted the advocacy of his era which succeeded in pressuring President Joko Widodo to withdraw his decision to pardon criminals who have murdered journalists. Manan, who is now helping the current board as a member of the ethical committee, said he believes the new Chairman and Secretary-General will be able to run AJI in these difficult times, as the pandemic ravages the people of Indonesia.

Ratna Ariyanti is the International Federation of Journalist’s South East Asia specialist.