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Monday, April 4, 2011
Global Toolbox

Got a story? It's worth 55 cents

By Bruce C. Swaffield

How would you like to be a journalist in Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung or Medan?

Sure, the weather and scenery are great. But don’t count on getting rich or even living comfortably.

Journalists in some parts of Indonesia make as little as 55 cents per story.

Yes, that figure is correct, according to a recent survey by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), a national group founded in 1994 to fight for “the public right to information, (and) against the restraint of the press.”

To make matters worse, this meager payment of 55 cents is what journalists earned on average in Papua. Not much money considering the risk.

From December 2010 to January 2011, the AJI reviewed the salaries of those in the media in 16 major cities throughout the country. They found out most journalists were paid 300,000 to 700,000 Indonesian rupiahs, or the equivalent of $33.87 to $79.05, per month. If you do the math, the total comes to $406.44 and $948.60 annually.

LIVING EXPENSES IN JAKARTA

FOOD:

Milk (1 liter, regular) $1.35

Loaf of bread $1.13

One dozen eggs $1.44

Fresh cheese (1kg) $15.70

Chicken breasts (1kg) $4.24

Bottle of wine (mid-range) $27.23

TRANSPORTATION:

One-way ticket (local transport) $0.43

Monthly pass $6.92

Gasoline (1 liter) $0.58

New car (VW Golf) $47,615

UTILITIES (Monthly):

Basic (electricity, gas, water, garbage) $68.90

Internet (4 mbps, flat rate, cable) $44.71

SPORTS AND LEISURE:

Fitness club (monthly fee for 1 adult) $43.31

Cinema, international release (1 seat) $4.39

CLOTHING AND SHOES:

1 Pair of Levi’s 501s $62.98

1 Summer dress in a chain store $48.18

1 Pair of Nike shoes $76.54

1 Pair of men’s leather shoes $34.34

RENT (Monthly):

Apartment (1 bedroom) in city center: $430

Apartment (1 bedroom) outside city center: $252.54

Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city center: $952.11

Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside city center: $475.59

Source: Numbeo.com

Winuranto Adhi, a director at AJI, told The Jakarta Globe, “With such low wages and poor working conditions, journalists become prone to accepting bribes and are more willing to compromise their professionalism, which could result in impartial reporting.”

The article added that, “AJI chairman Nezar Patria said the alliance has made recommendations regarding the minimum adequate salary for journalists across the nation as part of a campaign to improve journalistic professionalism.”

They would like to see the monthly salary for beginning journalists in small towns at around 3 million rupiahs ($338) to nearly 5 million rupiahs ($564) for workers in large cities such as Jakarta. “Television news reporters in Kediri are paid as little as Rp 300,000 per month, while those working in Semarang receive Rp 700,000, without any transportation or communication allowances — both well below the amount recommended by the AJI,” The Jakarta Globe reported.

AJI pointed out that journalists working for newspapers in some areas receive far less than the minimum wage. Adhi commented that the “indicators used by the AJI in its survey were tailored to suit the working and living standard expected for journalists, covering miscellaneous needs such as food, clothing, housing and transportation as well as additional costs such as earning enough to purchase a laptop computer in installments throughout two to three years.”

Adhi was quoted as saying that the “survey did not base its recommendations on the minimum wage for each province because ‘it is meant to cover the minimum requirements (for those working in the profession), not simply cover an adequate standard of living.’”

Three media organizations — The Jakarta Globe, The Jakarta Post and Bisnis Indonesia — were commended by AJI for already paying their journalists an average salary of Rp 5 million to Rp 5.5 million, more than the recommended monthly minimum.

That certainly is a step in the right direction but still pales in comparison to actual living expenses. Consider the cost, for example, of living in Jakarta. See the sidebar for some examples, according to numbeo.com, an online consumer-driven database. Keep in mind that Rp 5 million equals $564.

Bruce Swaffield is a professor of graduate studies in journalism at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. He is a member of the SPJ International Journalism Committee. Contact him at brucswa@regent.edu.

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