Tempo editors refuse to bow down and apologize to Islamic Defenders Front over political cartoon

FPI representatives (left) meeting with Tempo editors demanding an apology on Friday, March 16, 2018. Photo: Tempo Video

Last Friday, Islamic hardline groups headed by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) protested at the offices of national news outlet Tempo over a political cartoon published in their magazine that they perceived to be mocking their leader, pornography case fugitive and firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab.

This morning, Tempo published an editorial piece explaining why they agreed to meet with representatives of FPI but refused to apologize for the cartoon. The editorial, which was published in today’s edition of their newspaper, was also posted online.

These are some of the well-articulated points made by the publication as to why they chose not to say sorry:

“The mass demonstration by FPI against Tempo was over the top. We criticize the way they expressed their intimidating behavior. The police should have processed the protesters in accordance to the law for acting excessively.”

“They believed that the cartoon insulted FPI’s founder, Rizieq Shihab, who went on umrah (pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia) but has not returned to Indonesia after being named a suspect by the police. The picture and text on the cartoon didn’t directly point to anyone’s specific identity.”

Tempo added that FPI’s representatives, when meeting with the editorial team, acted aggressively by banging on the table and one of them even threw a cup of water at the editors.

“They demanded that Tempo’s editors apologize to all Muslims. This demand clearly made no sense. How could FPI claim that all Muslims have the same opinions, behavior, and actions as they do?”

In the end, Tempo’s editors apologized to those who felt offended by the cartoon, but they did not apologize nor do they think they were wrong for publishing it in the first place. Under the code of  journalism ethics, Tempo has agreed to give FPI a right to response statement regarding the cartoon, which will be published this week.

“We believe that once intimidation can change editorial policy, it’s not just Tempo’s reputation that is on the line. If we don’t fight back, the intimidators will get addicted. The victims can be Tempo and other media. This endangers press freedom and the right to information for the public.”

On Feb. 26, Tempo published this cartoon which is a clear dig at Rizieq Shihab for anyone who follows Indonesian news:

If you don’t get the reference, the cartoon is a parody riffing on an oft-quoted scene from 2016’s mega box office hit ‘Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? 2’. In the scene, main character Cinta tells Rangga, “What you did to me was cruel” after he didn’t call her or something following the romantic climax of the prequel (we don’t really know, we’re one of the few people who didn’t watch the movie).

In Tempo’s cartoon, Rangga was replaced with a man in Islamic clothing. Though we only see his back, it’s clear the artist heavily implied that he’s Rizieq Shihab as he says, “I’m sorry I didn’t end up coming home”, which refers to the firebrand cleric repeatedly canceling his plans to return from Saudi Arabia, disappointing his many followers each time.

Rizieq has been hiding in Saudi Arabia since he was named a pornography suspect in the infamous “baladacintarizieq” pornography case in May 2017. Explaining his long refusal to return to Indonesia, one of the firebrand cleric’s lawyer’s once said Rizieq would rather stay in Saudi and be called a coward than return to Indonesia and get arrested.

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