Increasing restrictions and violence in the media

[Indonesia country report for Working within Bounds: Southeast Asia Press Freedom Challenges for 2013. Original/print title: Increasing restrictions and violence in the Indonesian media]

The decade since the fall of Soeharto’s military regime in 1999 was followed by a series of efforts to reduce the political role of the Indonesian military, which included the separation of the Indonesian National Police (Kepolisian Nasional Republik Indonesia/Polri) from the Indonesian National Army (Tentara Nasional Indonesia/TNI) command chain. However, in the last two years, the situation has begun to reverse, giving the TNI fresh powers, particularly in internal security. In May 2012, the Parliament approved the legalization of bills concerning the Handling of Social Conflict (Penanganan Konflik Sosial/PKS) allowing the TNI to participate in handling conflicts in Indonesia.

TNI also showed a tendency to defend itself against any demands for public transparency and accountability. In 2012, TNI faced an accusation relating to price mark-up in the purchase of weapons, such as in the purchase of Russian-made Sukhoi combat aircraft. The press found they could not report adequately about the issue as decisions and actions of the military are often protected behind secrecy provisions. Violence perpetrated by soldiers against media workers are confined to military courts, thus limiting public and judicial scrutiny of the military.

With the 2014 Presidential elections looming, the return of former military top guns like Prabowo Subianto (businessman, politician and former special forces soldier) and Wiranto (retired Indonesian army General), both who have contested in the past, raise concerns about the influence of the institution in Indonesia’s business and politics.

New threats

The adoption of the Law concerning the Handling of Social Conflict (Penanganan Konflik Sosial/PKS) on 10 May 2012 is a continued threat against press freedom in Indonesia. Articles 26, 27, and 28 in the law gives absolute authority to the Regent/Governor/President to restrict access of human rights defender and journalists to enter or leave conflict zones.

The media has a role to play in reporting conflicts and in post-conflict resolution as well as society’s recovery. Restricting access to the media could be seen as a deliberate attempt to cover any wrongdoings or abuses by the authorities.

Compounding this situation is the controversial State Intelligence Law (SIL), passed by Parliament in 2011, which has broad powers to deem issues relating to the threat of state’s security. The Alliance of Indonesian Independent Journalist (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen Indonesia/AJI) has categorized the State Intelligence Law (Law Number 17 Year 2011) as a clear threat to press freedom, among others, because of the heavy penalties imposed for the use and dissemination of information related the government. For example, a journalist can be jailed for 10 years for exposing a document relating to the wrongdoings and corruption by any governmental institutions, since various state institutions may unilaterally classify various information as intelligence information. The law can also cancel out the citizen’s right to public information guaranteed by the Law on Access to Public Information 2008 (Undang-undang Kebebasan Informasi Publik/KIP).

On 5 January 2012, AJI together with four non-governmental organizations, as well as 13 individuals, registered the request of judicial review of the SIL at the Constitutional Court. The petitioners argued that the law was unconstitutional as it violated Article 28F, which guarantees citizen’s right upon information and freedom of expression. The Constitutional Court on 10 October denied the request for judicial review, thus affirming the law.

Impunity continues

The year 2012 saw an increase in violence towards journalist in the country. AJI Indonesia documented 56 cases of violence toward journalists between December 2011 and December 2012, as compared to 49 cases in the previous year.

Of the 56 cases, 17 among them were in the form of physical attack, 13 cases of threat, nine cases of equipment destruction or seizure, seven cases of expulsion and prohibition to cover the news, and three involved demonstrations followed by mass mobilization against the media. Three others involved a case of censorship, website hacking, and destruction of the offices, each.

A journalist from Metro Manado, M Aryono Linggotu alias Ryo, was killed on 25 November. The District Commands of Manado only reluctantly investigated the possibility that it was work-related. Ryo was known as critical journalist who covered various criminal news handled by the District Commands of Manado. Ryo’s case was considered closed when the authorities named a child with the initials JFK, as the suspect in Ryo’s murder.

Of the 51 cases of violence, only seven were investigated, either by the police or the military police. The remaining cases have been left unattended to, sending the signal that perpetrators are beyond the reach of the law. One of the challenges to combating impunity is the Law Number 31 Year 1997 concerning military courts given the time consuming procedures and the general immunity of the soldiers from criminal liabilities. Of 56 cases of violence toward journalist happened in 2012, nine cases involved TNI soldiers, including two high profile cases.

In the first case, journalists covering raids of store owners in Padang, West Sumatera Province were attacked by the Indonesian Navy Marines in May 2012. In the other incident, Marines soldiers beat some of the journalists and seized their cameras when the latter were covering a crash of a TNI combat aircraft in Riau, on 16 October. Here, it was reported that Lieutenant Colonel Robert Simanjuntak attacked the journalist who covered the fall of Hawk 200 aircraft. The attack was recorded by a journalist. TNI stated that the case was resolved after Simanjuntak apologised to the journalist. The case has come under the purview of the Military Police but to date, there has been no progress.

Law enforcement agencies also failed to protect citizens’ right to expression when it succumbed to pressure and disallowed a book launch and discussion on liberal Islam by a Canadian feminist, Irshad Mandji, in Komunitas Salihara, Jakarta on 4 May 2012. The Gadjah Mada University (UGM) head also banned a similar talk on its campus in Yogyakarta. A group of people still attacked the talk in Yogyakarta after it was moved, resulting in injuries to six participants of the discussion.

Positive developments

In the midst of the negative trends, there is optimism from the Supreme Court (Mahkamah Agung/MA), which granted the request for Judicial Review (Peninjauan Kembali/PK) proposed by Prita Mulyasari, after her five-year struggle as a result of a criminal defamation conviction. The outcome of the judicial review freed Prita of the suspended six months jail term, and offered a positive boost for citizen’s rights to expression and information.

In February 2012, the Indonesian National Police (Polri) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Press Council on the Coordination in Law Enforcement and Protection of Press Freedom. The most important point in the MoU is Article 3 paragraph (5), which states that the national police will advocate for complaints related to press coverage to be directed to the press dispute resolution mechanism under the Press Council. Work is ongoing to also encourage law enforcement agencies and the courts to use the Press Law instead of criminal laws, and both AJI and the Press Council report seeing a shift in the right direction.

Within the media advocacy groups, AJI and the Jakarta-based Press Legal Aid have set up chapters of the latter in regions to facilitate the handling of cases of violence against journalists. Chapters have been formed in Banda Aceh, Surabaya, Padang, Makassar, Mandar, Manado, and Yogyakarta, thus enabling journalists at the regions and provisions to have access to legal support.

Media conglomerates

The media ownership landscape in Indonesia today is one dominated by large conglomerates with political agenda. In the run up to the 2014 general elections, media owned by businessmen with strong political interests, have manifested their position vis-à-vis the editorial content.

In the MNC Group, for instance, the headlines in its newspaper Koran Sindo and television stations, such as RCTI, MNC TV, and Global TV, clearly show their support towards the National Democratic (Nasdem) Party, where its owner, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, chaired the party’s board of experts. When he left the party to join Hanura Party, and established civic organization Perindo the media shifted their political reporting according to his affiliation.

The other large group is Media Group (Media Indonesia Newspaper, Metro TV, and Prioritas Tabloid), owned by Surya Paloh, who supports Nasdem Party. Similarly, Viva Media Group with its TV One, advocates for the interests of its owner, and General Chairman of Golkar Party, Aburizal Bakrie, one of the country’s richest men. Another group, the Trans Corp – which has Trans TV, Trans 7, Detikcom and Detik Daily in its media stable – is close with the power circle of current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The flip side is the impact on journalists who now have to work for a multi-platform media company – or popularly known as “three in one” journalism – producing content for video, text and audio, online and offline. However, these additional responsibilities may or may not be compensated as there is no industry standard.

Ethics and professionalism in media

It is undeniable that a new media through internet in Indonesia has rapidly spread. In the last five years, the number of people who access internet continually rise in line with the availability of infrastructure, which is now widespread and more affordable. In 2011, the number of internet users in Indonesia had reached 55.23 million, rising from 42.16 million people in 2010. It means that a quarter of Indonesia’s population has access to the internet.

The popularity of the digital media has brought with it challenges to the accuracy and quality of information. Often faced is the “dilemma” between the speed of information delivery with the demands of information completeness and accuracy. In television, ratings are of primary concern, while online media reach is measured in “page views” to determine the number of people accessing and reading the information presented. There is competition among online media to get the most readers, which may lead to sensational reporting and publication of unverified information.

In addressing the concerns about unethical practices among journalists, the Press Council together with the journalists associations have promoted a Standard Competency Test for Journalist since 2011. Certified journalists will be registered with the Indonesian Press Council. In addition, the Press Council has also endorsed the Guidelines of Cyber Media News, drafted by the managers of online media as well as journalist associations and journalists working in online media. The guidelines are particularly important as the online platform is growing in popularity and at the same time, complaints of unethical journalism practices are also common.

Women in Media

In 2012, AJI Indonesia conducted a research about is the coverage of women in Indonesian media. From that research, AJI found that media coverage on women’s issue were based on events that occurred and were not considered a major issue for journalists. Typically they were featured in domestic issues and were of public interest only when related to some mainstream major issues, such as politics, economics, and so on. Stereotypes were still common and in most sectors, including the media, were held subordinate positions.