Jayapura, Jubi – Several Indonesian media outlets have mistakenly quoted a dead Free West Papua (OPM) founder, who died four years ago, in the news as the misidentified person was bashing human rights lawyer Veronica Koman for speaking up about Papua, calling her a provocateur.
A press release made by Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) said the media quoted, without further verification, a press release made by the police’s Nemangkawi Task Force on Thursday, May 6, 2021, following a webinar discussing the resolution to Papua’s conflict held by the Indonesia Public Institute (IPI) on the same day.
Jubi received a copy of the release from the Nemangkawi Task Force, which was said to be circulated among some journalists. The release did not include any contact information or the identity of the writer. Journalists believed the release was from Nemangkawi because the senders were those working in that circle. The release contained a statement from someone referred to as Nicholas Youwe, one of the founders of the OPM. In fact, Youwe died on September 16, 2017.
The statement said Koman had no right to talk about Papua as she was not a Papuan, as well as asking Koman not to interfere with Papua’s affairs anymore and calling her a “cowardly provocateur hiding abroad”. In September 2019, Koman tweeted about the racist attack on Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java. The East Java Police later named Koman a suspect for allegedly provoking protests and riots in Papua and West Papua. She’s currently on her run in Australia.
It was known later that the person making a statement about Koman was Nicholas Messet, or Nick Messet, a former OPM member, not founder. Messet was present in the webinar but not as a speaker.
A Google search with keywords “Veronica Koman Youwe” over the weekend would result in dozens of media outlets, big and small, national or local, quoted the wrong person. The same search on Monday, May 10, 2021, resulted in less number of news as some of the outlets retracted the news without any explanation.
One of the outlets was Warta Ekonomi, a national outlet with some credibility, that ran their own heading: “Hey, Veronica Koman, use your ears! You are a provocateur, don’t meddle in Papuan business”. When Jubi clicked the link, it went to a blank page for several minutes.
JPNN.com, one of the largest news network in the country, still ran the news as of May 10, 2021 at noon Jakarta time with a heading: The founder of OPM warns Veronica Koman: You are a cowardly provocateur!.
Most took the news from Antara news agency, which directly published the police’s press release on Sunday. Antara is Indonesia’s state-owned news agency that worked for the government.
Antara admitted its mistake, made corrections, and apologized to the public, AJI said in the release. However, many other media outlets have yet to clarify and apologize for the false quoting. Some online media even took down the news without making the clarification.
AJI condemned the false quoting and urged all journalists and media to always be skeptical in receiving information and never forget the discipline of verification.
“Falsely writing the names of the source and not verifying facts violates Article 1 and Article 3 of the Press Council’s Journalistic Code of Ethics,” AJI chairman Sasmito Madrim said on Sunday.
Madrim also urged the media to immediately apologize and made corrections instead of taking down the news without clarification. “Taking down the news without clarification violates points 4 and 5 of the Cyber Media Coverage Guidelines,” he said.
Moreover, AJI encouraged the journalists covering human rights violations in Papua to act independently and not rely on a single source to provide accurate, balanced, and comprehensive information.