Culture And Media

Indonesia: Press council warns against new media controls

Jakarta, 22 August (AKI/Jakarta Post) - The Indonesian press council has asked the government to cancel a review of a media law because it fears it could restore government control over the mass media.

Bambang Harymurti and Abdullah Alamudi, members of the council, said it was important to preserve the freedom of the press.

"In a democratic country, the government doesn't have the right to interfere with the public's affairs," Abdullah said.

"And the press is a part of the public."

It has been widely reported over the past two months the information and communication ministry was planning to revise the press law - law no. 40 of 1999.

The ministry intended to insert articles which would allow the government to close down any mass media company that violated those articles.

The new bill stipulates the government has the right to shut down media companies that publish news or pictures which are unethical, threaten national security or disparage certain religions.

Some activists fear a revision of the law would take the country back to the authoritarian rule that existed in the Suharto period when the media was under tight censorship control and any criticism of the government was unacceptable.

"(The law) isn't perfect, but it's the best (press law) in our country's history," Abdullah said.

"As long as the government controls the press, it will only have one news source, which is the government."

According to press council data, only 30 percent of the media in Indonesia is making profit.

"Since the reform era in 1998, more than 1,000 publications have ceased," Abdullah said.

"Compare that to 57 years of both Soekarno and Soeharto, when 400 publications were closed down.

"The public isn't stupid," he said.

Legal expert Bambang Widjojanto said the government had the right to draft a bill on the press as long as it did not threaten the freedom of the press.

Koesparmono Irsan, former member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said freedom of the press was a part of the people's sovereignty and it was very important the government guaranteed it.

Djadjat Sudradjat, deputy news director of Media Indonesia daily, said the media was currently facing a systematic threat from the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

Indonesian journalists have recently been seeking a constitutional amendment to clarify legal guidelines and guarantee greater freedom for domestic media outlets.




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