Celebrated Indonesian journalist Najwa Shihab has been reported to the police over a stunt she pulled in which she interviewed an empty chair instead of the country’s health minister, which has been deemed “hurtful” by supporters of President Joko Widodo.
Last week, Najwa became the talk of the nation when she asked a series of hard-hitting questions about Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto’s perceived failures in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The “interview” became a metaphor of sorts about government culpability in its poor handling of the health crisis as Najwa directed her questions to an empty chair, where Terawan would have sat had he accepted her numerous invitations to appear in her talk show.
Today, a group of Jokowi supporters, who call themselves United Jokowi Volunteers, filed a criminal complaint against Najwa with the Jakarta Metro Police over what they described as “cyber-bullying” of a public official.
“The empty chair interview hurt our feelings as supporters of the president, because Minister Terawan is a representation of President Joko Widodo,” United Jokowi Volunteers Chairwoman Silvia Devi Soembarto told reporters after filing the complaint today.
Silvia added that the group was worried Najwa’s interview would set a bad precedent for other journalists to forgo ethics and “parody” public officials like Najwa apparently did.
For the alleged cyber-bullying, the group believes that Najwa should be charged with violations of the Information and Electronic Transactions Law (UU ITE), which criminalizes online libel.
Silvia acknowledged that Najwa may be protected by the Press Law, and so the group may seek advice from the Press Council on the matter.
“The Press Council has opened the door for us to discuss the matter. We don’t want to attack one individual but we just want what Najwa Shihab did, in front of millions of Indonesians, to not be repeated by other journalists,” she said.
Terawan himself has not publicly responded to Najwa’s empty chair interview despite her challenging him to answer her questions in person.
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