Rape, Mass Media and Clerkism


For unknown reasons, the incidence of a journalist who reported her rape case to police – suddenly  uproar in the public. “Official Report” from Regional Police quoted by many mass media said that the reporter had made a lying report (proved by lie detector), her story makes no sense, and so on.

Amazingly, many mass media directly received and spread this raw information without doing fact-check or verification. They directly presenting the news to the public in vulgar ways: presents the uncensored full name that would tarnish the victim. They violated the most fundamental purpose of journalism, to inform the fact. They are not sensitive to the negative effect for the victims.

At the same time, none of them is able to explain why her left eye was swollen, her forehead scratched along eight centimeters, and her lips slightly broken. The case shifted into drama which clearly described their poor journalism quality.

This incident also happened to my personal life. Two years ago, my little cousin killed by someone. The motive remains mysterious. Without cross-examining the victim’s family, the police deploy an official statement to the media that my cousin is robbery victim. The family strongly believes this is a murder case. Why? Because a lot of valuable items such as mobile phones and laptops are not touched.

In this case, I am not try to discuss about right or wrong. I just want to show that my family was shocked when the next day found the newspaper wrote that my little cousin was murdered – quoted by the police official statement. No interview. All the content just quoting police official report. That’s all.

I tried to clarify but none of them asking our apologize for the unverified news. Miraculously, one of them justify themselves by saying that they already write as quoted from the official police statement!

Another story. One day, my friend got statement from the police that his father suddenly died by suicide. Suicide? My friend strongly believes that his father will not do that. Several witnesses saw him like he was banging his head against the wall. Another possibility, his father stagger, then find the handle to the wall, falling, trying to stand up, fall down again, and so on.

Not clear that the incident was a suicide case but the police once again issued an official statement to the mass media, saying that it was suicide case.

My friend shocked by the media coverage which wrote that his father committed suicide. None of them interviewed him to make verification before writing the news. Can you imagine how my friend’s feeling when he saw her father’s name clearly displayed in the paper as people who commit suicide?

Can you see the pattern?

Journalist experts, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in a book entitled “Blur: How To Know What’s True In The Age Of Information Overload”, wrote journalism model shifting from verification journalism or put facts on the highest score to journalism that simply prioritize fastest time in reporting information. This journalism model do not pay attention to the fact.

In the same book, Kovach and Rosenstiel write the story of Homer Bigart, a New York Times reporter and Pulitzers winning because of his diligence to do fact check again and again. Bigart ways in reporting news different from his colleagues. He called journalist who just rely on official statement as “clerkism”.

I do not want to generalize entire mass media in Indonesia as clerkism, but the cases should be enough to be important lessons. If the case of my little cousin and my friend’s father at a local scale mass media is quite annoying, how about the journalist who reported as a liar on national scale?

Mass media should have been more sensitive and diligently verify before writing a story, not get stuck on shallow “clerkism” official statement which is not necessarily true. The high quality mass media should be the frontline in inform the truth, not just show the gossip to draw more attention.

Hopefully violations of journalistic ethics do not happen again and Indonesian media more mature in reporting news. Do not get stuck on speed demands of conveying information or highlighting dramatic motive for the sake of ratings to won as many respondents.

As public who read or listen the news from mass media, we also must be smart. We face the age of information overload. Sometimes we don’t know the truth. The first step to be a smart respondent is not directly believe the news. Do a self fact-check, be careful of clerkism. As Kovach and Rosenstiel wrote, responsibility to know what is true or not is now in your own hands. *** (Sylvie Tanaga)

Photo Source: http://www.g4tv.com

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