BATAM - The perception of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo as a media darling took a battering on Monday, as senior press figures slammed the President during the official commemoration of National Press Day.
The usually cordial annual ceremony had an edge this year, with critical remarks launched in Jokowi's direction.
The absence of the President made it one of the rare occasions that the head of state has failed to attend the annual event.
"Only two things were consistently talked about during [the week-long] series of events of National Press Day. The first was tensions between the police and the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission], and the second was the absence of President Jokowi," said Margiono, chairman of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), during his opening address.
"But we should not be concerned, as now we have the Vice President here and Pak JK [Jusuf Kalla] is more experienced and a hot shot [compared to the President]," he said, adding that almost all the media community was represented in Batam.
The President was on the last leg of his trip to Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines on Monday.
Apart from the Vice President, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo and Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara were also present.
The absence of Jokowi was emphasised given that Malaysia sent a contingent to the commemoration, led by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Minister Dato Sri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.
Many political observers believe the rapid rise of Jokowi - from mayor of Surakarta, to governor of Jakarta, to President, is largely due to his popularity in the media.
And while the criticism on Monday was sparked by his absence at the national-level gathering, his perceived ponderous style of governance has produced growing frustration, particularly in the background of tensions between the KPK and the police.
In his address, Indonesian Press Council chairman Bagir Manan expressed his concerns over the continued political tensions faced by the government, and stressed that one of the duties of leadership was to make decisions.
"It's better for the press to question a decision, than question why a decision has not been taken," said Bagir, who served as a Supreme Court justice between 2001 to 2008.
In a light-hearted remark, the Vice President said he would have been willing to go to the Philippines on behalf of Jokowi so the President could be present in Batam, "but since it is a state visit I cannot replace him".
Kalla acknowledged the role of the press as the eyes, ears and mouth of the nation, but urged everyone to keep the standoff between the police and the KPK in proportion.
"We must maintain a presumption of innocence. If a decision is taken before legal judgment, we are criticised. When we wait, we are also criticised."
"If there aren't any problems, there wouldn't be any headlines," he said with a wry smile.
Responding to Bagir's analogy of the press as "bees busily working together for the benefit of the surrounding community", Kalla hit back at the media.
"What Pak Bagir didn't mention in his anecdote was that when the bee hive is disturbed, the bees all attack together."