IFJ Blog: Remembering Ging Ginanjar, Founder of AJI Indonesia

A founder of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI Indonesia), senior BBC journalist Ging Ginanjar, died aged 54 on Sunday, January 20. Ging was known for his commitment to protect press freedom, freedom of expression, and human rights.

Ging Ginanjar protesting for the release of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar. Credit: Supplied

His career in journalism began in the 1980s when he joined Gala daily in Bandung, West Java. He then moved to the weekly tabloid DeTik, an outspoken critic of the government. On June 21, 1994, DeTik, Tempo and Editor were shut down by the authoritarian government.

Ging was also an activist; he was then a member of the Independent Journalists’ Forum (FOWI) in Bandung, West Java. At that time, the government only acknowledged the Indonesian Journalists’ Association (PWI) as the single organisation for journalists. The policy to only have one mandatory organisation was a strategy for the government to control the press. Ging refused to follow this rule.

Ging continued to be actively involved with the movement after the closing of the three news organisations. On June 21, 1994, Ging and several other FOWI members published a second bulletin to inform the public about the media shutdowns. The information was missing from mainstream media because newsrooms did not want to risk a similar fate. The Suharto government was authorised to revoke press licenses at any time it perceived a media outlet crossed the line.   

The first bulletin circulated a year earlier on National Press Day, which was celebrated every February 9 to mark the birth of the PWI, an effective reminder of the government’s media restrictions.

Ging was among dozens of journalists who gathered in Sirnagalih, West Java on August 7, 1994 to draft the Sirnagalih Declaration. This declaration was based on several principles, such as rejecting all kinds of censorship and media restrictions, and open access to information. They also refused the idea of a single compulsory organisation for journalists and announced the establishment of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

When the FOWI bulletin transformed its name to Independen and became the official underground magazine of AJI, Ging was appointed as its chief editor. The content was written from members of AJI in various cities, including Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya. The underground magazine was an alternative to the restricted mainstream media, providing various reports, which were considered sensitive and were unlikely to appear in mainstream media; topics included Soeharto’s family business and an interview with Xanana Gusmao, the freedom fighter of the future Timor Leste. The popularity of Independen increased, reaching thousands subscribers. In 1995, three activists behind the Independen’s publication and distribution were arrested; Ging took over as a managing editor.

During his activism under the New Order regime, Ging was arrested for his role in organising the Indonesian People’s Congress on March 10, 1998. The meeting was a symbolic event to vote for the ‘people’s president. Ging pleaded guilty.

When Suharto resigned after 32 years in power, Ging remained loyal to journalism. Whilst many activists joined the pursuit of power during the early Reformasi era, Ging never left the profession. For his dedication to journalism, he was a nominee for the 1998 Reporters Sans Frontières-Fondation de France prize.

After Suharto fell,  press freedom in the country improved. The permit for media businesses, a main hindrance to press freedom and the public’s right  to information, ended. As a result, national and local media mushroomed. Ging continued his career with a number of media houses in Indonesia and Europe, including KBR 68H, an independent   radio news agency, Deutsche Welle, and the BBC.

Ging has been known for his continuous efforts to give a voice to the voiceless. In his work we can see his efforts to improve gender equality. He was also in the frontline to protect minority rights and urge the public to embrace diversity.

Ging also continued his activism and was actively involved in various training programs to enhance journalism skills and awareness of journalists' safety. In 1999 for instance, he helped IFJ to re-establish the IFJ media safety service in Dili, East Timor.

Abdul Manan, the current AJI Chairman, said the death of Ging is a great loss for AJI. “He made history by publishing the FOWI magazine which later changed into Independen. The publication was a symbol to fight the authoritarian regime,” Manan said.

Manan also remembers Ging as a person with a great personality, being humble, and with a great sense of humour. “He knew how to make us laugh and was always very friendly. No wonder he had so many friends,” Manan said.

Similar remarks have come from Ging’s family and his multitude of friends. Two different occasions to commerate Ging, one on Monday, January 21 in Jakarta and another one on Sunday, January 27 in Bandung, flowed with expressions of mourning, love and laughter in remembering Ging. Friends also remembered Ging as a fun storyteller.

As quoted from a column wrote by his best friend Hawe Setiawan, whilst friends and relatives gathered in the funeral of Ging on the afternoon of January 22, they were not saying goodbye to Ging, but to make sure the memory of Ging always live on.

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram