Prodita Sabarini | 2013/14

2013-2014 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

When asked on her reaction to being named the 2013-2014 Neuffer Fellow, Indonesian investigative journalist Prodita Sabarini said, “I was quite speechless when I received the news. I am very happy to be selected and also grateful for this amazing opportunity.”

Sabarini hopes to use this fellowship to improve both her academic and professional skills as well as to find answers to what she calls “burning questions” of what causes people to carry out acts of violence because of religious intolerance.

But the reporter from the English daily The Jakarta Post did not always have her heart set on being an investigative reporter. “I studied Media Studies for my undergraduate degree at Padjadjaran University, Bandung, and I started out very skeptical of the media, as I learned that behind every text lies ideology. I thought I would be a researcher, deconstructing the texts behind media stories,” Sabarini told the IWMF.

Although not a fan of the media, Sabarini took a job in the media business soon after finishing her undergraduate degree in 2005 – a one-year training program at The Jakarta Post for reporters that involved both journalism and on-the-job training in the newsroom.

Consistently working her way up in position, Sabarini then moved to working at the City Desk, to the Bali section, to The Sunday Post, and then to the Features Desk, gaining a wide perspective on many topics ranging anywhere from stories of human rights violations, to environmental issues, and even to culture and art.

It was about midway through this time in 2008 that Sabarini realized that human rights issues were of great importance to her. “As a journalist, I encountered a lot of people who were marginalized and underrepresented,” Sabarini said. “Their experiences convinced me that their stories needed to be told. The first human rights issue that interested me was on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights.”

Sabarini proceeded to tell the highly publicized crime story of a serial murderer case that occurred in Indonesia in 2008. In this case, the perpetrator was gay. “The media blew the story out of proportion and connected the crime to the person’s sexual orientation, creating an image of gay people as sex-crazed psychopaths.” Sabarini described. “I wrote a story on how the media was biased towards LGBT people in the coverage of the serial killer case.”

The second human rights issue that drew Sabarini’s attention early was the attack against the minority group Ahmadiyah in 2008. “That year, the Indonesian government released an Anti-Ahmadiyah decree banning the group from propagating their teachings. Following the issue of the decree, a mob attacked a Mosque in Kuningan, West Java. I traveled there to interview the victims of the attack and reported on the increased amount of violence targeted towards Ahmadiyah,” Sabarini described.

After writing about human rights issues for several years, Sabarini left Indonesia for a year to head to Sydney, Australia in 2011 when she received an Australian Development scholarship to study a Master’s degree in Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of South Wales.

Sabarini remarked that it was during this time that she was able to see “the bigger picture” on human rights by connecting the local issues in the field to the global context. During her time in Sydney, Sabarini contributed to media outlets such as The Australian and 2SER Radio.

Returning to Jakarta in 2012, Sabarini was assigned to The Jakarta Post’s Special Reports Desk as an investigative reporter. She covered a variety of critical issues, including the Sunni and Shia conflict in Sampang, Madura, the tension between mining companies and local communities in East Kalimantan, the plight of indigenous people in North Kalimantan, the political dynamics in the restive province of Papua, and about the customary forests of indigenous peoples in Indonesia.

During the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship, Sabarini is planning on focusing her research on the phenomenon of religious intolerance and violence. “I think religious intolerance is one of the most important things to be covered in Indonesia at the moment,” Sabarini remarked. “Up until now, persecution against religious minorities has continued in a worrying pace and the government has either stood back and watched or at times been actively involved in impinging minorities’ religious freedom.”

Sabarini gives credit for her success in the field of journalism to Linda Christanti, an Aceh-based female journalist who focuses on narrative journalism on human rights issues, and also her female senior editors at The Jakarta Post such as Ati Nurbaiti: “I hope I can inspire young journalists the way that they have inspired me.”

“My advice for young journalists is to search for an area that is close to your heart,” Sabarini says. “Journalism is hard work – sometimes sources are hard to come by and field work is tough, but with passion the work that needs to be done will be an enjoyable challenge and will not feel like a job.”

Sabarini will begin the seven-month Neuffer Fellowship that combines access to MIT’s Center for International Studies and media outlets including The Boston Globe and The New York Times, in September 2013.

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Priyanka Borpujari | 2012-2013 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow
Jackee Batanda | 2011-2012 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow
Fellow Update: Catherine Elton | 2005-2006 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow