Philip Jacobson
Philip Jacobson, American journalist, sits at Palangka Raya immigration detention center last year. Courtesy of Pantau Foundation.

American journalist gets Oktovianus Pogau award 2021 for environmental stories


West Papua No. 1 Portal | Jubi


Jakarta, Jubi – Philip Jacobson, a journalist from the United States (US), who had worked on Indonesian issues for a decade, received Oktovianus Pogau Award for Courage in Journalism from Pantau Foundation on Jan. 31.

“Phil Jacobson has been courageous in making a decision to move to Jakarta, learn Indonesian language, report and later edit various environmental news stories including those on the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests in Indonesia,” Alexander Mering, one of the members of the jury appointed by Pantau Foundation, said in a press release made available on Sunday.


Read also: The story of illegal logging from the forests of Papua



In December 2019, Jacobson was arrested in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, detained for 45 days, and then got deported, and banned from entering Indonesia. “(He went through those) without complaining, he even demonstrated resolve that the works had to be continued. He encouraged us to work harder to fight against evil land grabbing or customary forests, both by palm plantation company or by mining companies,” said Mering, a member of Dayak ethnic group from West Kalimantan and the founder of Kampung Journalism Movement in Pontianak.


Jacobson is a contributing editor at environmental news portal Mongabay. He led several collaborative projects in Mongabay including The Gecko Project, which involved several reporters in Mongabay in Indonesia and other countries. His works included The making of a palm oil fiefdom, Ghosts in the machine, and The secret deal to destroy paradise.


The collaborative project received prestigious Fetisov Award in 2020.


In 2018, Jacobson wrote Revealed: Paper giant’s ex-staff say it used their names for secret company in Borneo, on how Asia Pulp & Paper used their employees’ name to make a shadow company, PT Muara Sungai Landak and PT Cakrawala Persada Biomas, in Kalimantan. Both companies had done violations in forestry.


Read also: When Sago Forests Make Way for Buildings, Where to Go for Justice?


Pantau Foundation regards Jacobson’s fight in line with the vision of Pogau award, which aims to promote courage in journalism to improve the quality of Indonesian journalism.


Jacobson was born in January in 1989 and completed his degree in journalism in 2011 at Northwestern University. He came to Jakarta to work as a copy editor in Jakarta Globe daily.


He later became a freelance reporter for several publications in Asia before working for Mongabay in 2015. At Mongabay he coordinated with about a dozen Indonesian journalists and edited their works to English articles. He sometimes flew to Indonesia to coordinate with the reporters.


On Dec. 17, 2019, when he sat in a meeting held by Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)  in Palangka Raya, immigration officers came to arrest him for entering Indonesian without a “journalist visa”. Jacobson entered Indonesia using “business visa”.


The immigration held his passport and he got a city detention until in January he was interrogated and jailed in immigration detention center there. His detention prompted an outcry from indigenous people organizations, environmental NGOs and journalists unions and organizations that fight for press freedom.


They criticized the immigration law of 2011 that made administrative violations of visa become a criminal case with 5-year imprisonment sentence. They considered the article a violation to press freedom.


On Jan. 31, 2020, he got released and deported.


In June 2020, he completed a report “The Consultant: Why did a palm oil conglomerate pay $22m to an unnamed ‘expert’ in Papua?”, made in collaboration with The Gecko Project, Korean Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa and Al Jazeera.


Pogau award took its name from Oktovianus Pogau, a journalist-cum-activist in Papua, born in Sugapa, Aug. 4, 1992. Pogau died in 2016 when he was 23 years old in Jayapura. The award is given every year to brave journalists by Pantau Foundation in memory of Pogau’s courage in journalism.


In 2011, Pogau founded Suara Papua, an independent media established to fill the media gap in Papua Land. Besides Mering, other members of the jury are: Andreas Harsono (Human Rights Watch, Jakarta), Coen Husain Pontoh (Indo Progress, New York), Made Ali (Jikalahari, Pekanbaru), and Yuliana Lantipo (Jubi, Jayapura).


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