Goenawan Mohamad, founder and editor of Tempo magazine in Jakarta, Indonesia, was selected by the Nieman Fellows to receive the 1997 Louis Lyons award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.
The 1997 Class of Nieman Fellows cited Mohamad for his courage in making information available in spite of government repression, and for his consistent commitment to the highest standards of journalism. Working in a dictatorial system in which the press was controlled by threats, intimidations, and banning, Goenawan Mohamad was the most consistent and visible voice for freedom of the press in the country for two decades.
His magazine, Tempo, was closed and all its journalists banned by the Suharto government in 1994 after publishing details of the corrupt purchase of aging East German destroyers by the Suharto government. It was the second closure of the publication.
The ban on the magazine and staff this time meant that they were not allowed to work at any news organization‹all of which had to be licensed by the government.
Rather than leave the country Mohamad chose to stay and to continue to work to broaden freedom in Indonesia. He formed the Alliance of Independent Journalists to continue pushing for press freedom and was responsible for publication of an underground newspaper, Suara Independen, which documented attacks on journalists and investigated serious stories ignored by the controlled press. It, too, was seized and banned. Mohamad nonetheless still published an Internet version of Tempo.
As head of the Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information and the Independent Election Monitoring Committee, Mohamad continued his free press struggle.
As the selection committee said, “He has shown a consistent commitment to the highest standards of journalism, an unchallenged commitment and courage to spreading information and to freedom of expression for all throughout Indonesia. He has shown bravery and valor in the face of consequences that can only be described as grim. In doing so, he has given hope to the struggling journalists of Indonesia who look to him for guidance in the profession and in the greater fight for a truly democratic Indonesia.”
In announcing this year’s Lyons Award, the Fellows also made a special mention of the 69 Algerian journalists who have been killed since 1993 by the military-backed regime in Algeria. The Algerian journalists were honored by the Nieman Class of 1994 when the award was presented to Abdelhamid Benzine who valiantly tried to save his newspaper, Alger Republicain.