Jakarta media decries draft law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2007, 12:00am

Indonesian journalists have attacked proposed legislation that would allow reporters to be jailed or fined as likely to harm press freedom.

Lawmakers are debating a draft bill on general elections but the Indonesian Association of Journalists (AJI) said the country already had a press law as well as a press council to solve journalism-related disputes.

'We certainly don't need a law that threatens to send journalists to jail,' said Eko Maryadi, the co-ordinator of AJI Jakarta.

Article 260 of the bill says that an 'editor-in-chief who violates a ban on reporting on campaigns during a cool-off period will be sentenced to between three and six months in jail and fined between 1 million and 5 million rupiah [HK830 to HK4,130]'.

Indonesian journalists can be jailed for defamation, an offence local courts deal with under the criminal code rather than the press law.

The press law, passed by decree in 1999, is due for revision and some of its new provisions would limit journalists when covering religious and other sensitive issues.

In a copy of the press law revision draft that Tempo magazine obtained, Article 4 reportedly includes a point that emphasises 'censoring, banning or stopping programmes will be applied against media that contain news, pictures or advertisements which weaken religion's esteem, disrupt the harmony of devotees' living or endanger the defence and security system'.

Information minister Muhammad Noeh said the government was committed to protecting press freedom and was not involved in revision of the press law, which he said 'is up to the media community'.

The Indonesian media gained much freedom after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. It has grown into one of the most vibrant media environments in the region, and it enjoys one of the most liberal press laws in Asia.

The recent drive to regulate the industry follows accusations, including those from the industry itself, that the press has gone overboard.

Kompas newspaper senior editor Nugroho Yudho recently noted that not all of the 600 media organisations have permits.

'Without government intervention in media organisations, the news published is sometimes not based on facts, resulting in people questioning the credibility of newspapers,' he said.