Challenges beyond the Press Law

The year 2014 can be seen as a crucial year for the Indonesian press, when a general election changed the regime of government. Many problems that surfaced began during the outgoing administration. Journalists and media are among the most vulnerable sectors affected by changes happening together with the process of general election.

Politicians control the frequencies

In the approach to the poll in Indonesia held on April and July 2014, many have expressed deep concern on the situation of the media, which is controlled by only a few people. The involvement of media owners and journalists in political parties has led many people to question the credibility of media in covering the general election.

AJI Indonesia found many ethical breaches by television stations related to the their coverage of the election, mainly about political advertisements. According to the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (Indonesian: Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia or KPI), television stations committed both journalistic and non-journalistic abuses in their broadcasts.

Media businessmen who are also high party officials violated journalistic responsibility for independent and fair coverage through news, special programming, and block-time political live shows. Meanwhile, non-journalistic content includes political advertisements that promote the presidential candidate or political party of the media owners.

A KPI evaluation found that at least six television stations had disproportionately political broadcasting and excessive political advertisements containing elements of political campaigning. These six broadcasting institutions are RCTI, MNC TV, Global TV, ANTV, TV One and Metro TV. Other television stations also violated political campaign ethics and broadcasting regulation standards (under the Code of Conduct of Broadcasters and Broadcast Program Standards, or P3SPS) on a different scale. Needless to say, politicians now control free-to-air TV frequencies by dominating broadcasting institutions.

Criminal complaint against journalism

The practice of impunity of perpetrators has resulted in a never-ending wave of violence against journalists on duty. Every year, AJI Indonesia documents a consistent number of at least 30 cases of violence against journalists in line with their jobs. Last year, AJI Indonesia recorded 40 cases from January to December 2014. [See: AJI Indonesia’s documentation]

In mid-2014, AJI decried the police decision to arrest The Jakarta Post editor-in-chief, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, as a suspect in a religious defamation case. AJI argued that the publication of a cartoon criticising Islamic State militants must be settled by the Press Council.

“The Jakarta Post has apologized and withdrew the caricature,” AJI Chairman Suwarjono said, explaining that the compliance with such orders from the Press Council made the filing of charges unnecessary.

Suwarjono added that the apology – delivered in two languages, Bahasa Indonesia and English – emphasized that the newspaper had no intention of making fun of Islam. In fact, he said, the caricature reminded the public of the threat from radical organizations that endanger civil order and even the freedom of speech in Indonesia.

AJI urged the police to stop the investigation against Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, saying that priority should have been made in letting the Press Council handle cases involving journalists. In this particular case, The Jakarta Post was willing to go through a process under the Press Council, as prescribed in article 15 of the 1999 Law No.40 on the Press.

AJI also urged the public to refrain from delivering complaints against the media to the Press Council in order to avoid criminalization of journalism. Suwarjono explained that press freedom is part of people’s right to freedom of expression.

“Revoke his suspect status and return this case to the Press Law which is lex specialis,” Suwarjono urged.

The Jakarta police named Meidyatama a suspect after examining a report number 687/VII/2014 dated 15 July 2014 filed by two Muslim organizations, Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) and Jakarta Preachers’ Corps (KMJ). The report was prepared by chairman of Majelis Tabligh and KMJ Edy Mulyadi about the 3 July 2014 edition of The Jakarta Post.

According to Head of Jakarta Police Public Relations, Senior Commissioner Rikwanto, Meidyatama was named as suspect following the questioning of witnesses,  experts on law and religion, and the Press Council.

“An MoU between the Press Council and the National Police had been signed by Pak Bagir Manan and Police General Timur Pradopo in 2012. It is clearly within the authority of the Press Council to deal with the case and settle it. The police decision to proceed with the case has been considered state criminalization against the media,” said Suwarjono.

Police investigation into the case will hurt press freedom in Indonesia. Any citizen intending to file similar reports against the press to the police would criminalize these acts. As a result, the press may again be silenced.

Online challenges

The rise of the internet has led to many behavioural changes among readers in accessing information. Initially, print and conventional media dominated preferences. However, as the internet became more accessible through mobile communication technology, readers then moved quickly to internet using their gadgets.

Indeed, internet in Indonesia has grown very rapidly, from only 1.5 million users in the early 2000s to around 80 million today, amounting to a 53-fold increase. The rapid growth of internet users has also opened the doors for the emergence of online media, and allowed the entry of foreign competitors to Indonesia. For example, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Youtube have gained a massive presence, utilizing their infrastructural advantage to reach a large user base, and make lucrative business in the country.

Besides opening opportunities, online media has also given rise to new approaches as well as new problems for the media industry in Indonesia. The emergence of online media is, in fact, changing the process of news search, presentation, and readers’ response. The journalistic standards that have held for years are being torn apart to give way to new practices. For example, journalistic principles, which previously emphasized verification of information, has given way to viral news in online media. The news is fast, in real time, and can be connected with each other.

On the other hand, these developments have boomeranged against freedom of expression, particularly in the context of regulation. AJI Indonesia observed that, between 2011 – 2014, an increasing number of citizens have been convicted under the Law Number 11 of 2008 concerning the Information and Electronic Transaction (UU ITE). As a result the quality of the freedom of Indonesian citizens’ expression has drastically decreased. In 2009, there were three cases of imprisonment with the provisions of UU ITE, while two and four cases were recorded for 2010 and 2011, respectively. UU ITE is increasingly used to imprison social media users.

The Internet and Electronic Transaction Law is no longer sufficient as a fair and democratic Internet management framework to regulates the needs of civil society, industry and government. In several cases, enforcement of this law has tended to place further restrictions on freedom of opinion on the internet as a public space.

Online media in Indonesia has contributed to the diversity of information and content for the public and also mainstream media. However, the freedom to express provided by the internet is also prone to abuse through spreading false information, hate speech, blasphemy, intolerance, insults against communities and religions or violations of personal privacy.

By comparison, Indonesian Press Law (Number 40 Year 1999) and the Indonesian code of journalist ethics which emerged from the press community, expressly prohibits the dissemination of hatred, blasphemy or violations of privacy.

Under Indonesian Law, any person who spreads information considered as blasphemy can be charged through article 156-a of the Criminal Code, with a penalty of up to 5 years in prison. This law is also applicable to the press if any person reports blasphemous content in a journalistic product to law enforcement officers.

In late March 2015, Indonesian government announced the blocking 22 websites for content considered to spread hatred and call for violence in the name of religion. This haphazard step caused a stir among the public.

While the Regulation of the Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information No. 19 of 2014 provides the legal basis for denying access to the Internet sites, several groups considered government action as ‘late’ in blocking news sites or blogs that are spreading hatred in cyberspace.

In the era of openness and freedom of expression, blocking of information, even if intentions are good, can cause controversy in the community. By comparison, journalists follow their code of ethics as an obligation to process information before dissemination, including religious content.

Double standards in Papua

A major thorn for Indonesian press freedom is the situation in Papua, which has remained the same since 1969. Until now, the Indonesian government has operated on a double standard for journalists who want to do reporting in this region. While government wants to give the impression that Papua is an open area for journalists, they undermine foreign journalists who cover the region by requiring permits.

In 2014, this double standard was applied to two French journalists who were detained and convicted for conducting journalistic work in the region under tourists visas. Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were detained for two and a half months for the breach and immediately deported to their country of origin after being found guilty.

Unfortunately, the courts never look beyond the “the fundamental problem” of visa violations, and how is should apply to journalists to prevent similar problems from happening again. Thomas and Valentine may have been targeted for describing rampant cases of violations of law and human rights in general in Papua.

AJI notes, however, that local journalists in Papua also operate under intense pressure. The case journalist MeraukeTV, Adriansyah Matrais who died in 2010 is still a mystery until now. Cases of violence against Papua journalists continue to occur, with two incidents recorded in 2014. And in early 2015, there was again a case of persecution against a journalist.

The Indonesian Government generally denies the existence of such policy regarding disclosure of information in Papua. And this is a key problem that effectively hinders freedom of the press in the region. Constraints in the press – particularly access to information and media development – puts the future of Papua at stake. This is aggravated by the absence of goodwill and political will of the government to disclose information in Papua.