Subject: Defamation Laws Help Roll Back Press Freedoms [+Good Job On Polls]

also: Praise for Media On Polls — And a Warning Against ‘Horse Race’ Reporting

The Jakarta Globe Thursday, February 26, 2009

Defamation Laws Help Roll Back Press Freedoms

Camelia Pasandaran

Indonesia has continued to enact laws that could send journalists to jail or force them to pay hefty fines even as much of the rest of the world moves toward greater press freedom, a noted media analyst has warned.

“Several Indonesian laws criminalize press freedom,” Atmakusuma Astraatmaja, the former chief of the Press Council, said on Wednesday in a discussion on the Law on Electronic Information and Transactions.

“Laws like the election law and the electronic information and transactions law hamper press freedom in the name of preventing blasphemy, defamation and slander,” he said. An election law article struck down on Monday would have mandated that electronic and print media allow all political parties equal opportunity to run campaign ads.

The electronic information and transactions law forbids people from passing on information and documents containing defamation or blasphemy. People violating the article could be imprisoned for six years or fined up to Rp 1 billion ($84,000).

“In the Criminal Code, there are at least 35 articles that could send journalists to jail with penalties up to 20 years,” Atmakusuma said.

According to him, countries around the world have taken measures to increase media freedom, but Indonesia has consistently gone with a tougher approach.

“More countries in the world have dropped criminal charges against false reporting or alleged defamation by media outlets,” he said. “Instead, they apply administrative law, which only requires guilty parties to pay small fines.” In a jab at the Indonesian authorities, he added that neighboring East Timor has started reforming its law on freedom of expression.

He also said that though there were laws on blasphemy in some European countries, most law enforcers there continued to emphasize freedom of expression.

“The media provides the right of reply, and people should use it instead of using laws or the Criminal Code,” he said.


The Jakarta Globe Thursday, February 26, 2009

Praise for Media On Polls — And a Warning Against ‘Horse Race’ Reporting

Hera Diani

Observers say the country’s media organizations have shown improvement in the early coverage of this year’s election season, demonstrating less bias and greater impartiality than previous years, but add that the industry is still trapped in a “horse race” mentality that focuses too narrowly on political elites.

Ignatius Haryanto, director of the Institute for Press and Development Studies, or LSPP, said media organizations rarely provided space for voters to voice their hopes and opinions.

“The coverage of the elections so far is still emphasizing political rivalries and questions of who is more suitable to be a presidential or vice presidential candidate,” he said.

Media groups rarely gave adequate attention to the visions and programs of presidential and vice presidential hopefuls, he said. As an example he cited platform promises from former President Megawati Sukarnoputri — who intends to run for president again this year — in which she claimed that if elected she would cut the price of basic commodities within the first 100 days of returning to the State Palace.

“The media should have been more critical by asking how she would achieve that,” he said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has boasted that he reduced fuel prices three times during his first term, another claim that Haryanto said “should be discussed critically.”

Bimo Nugroho from the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, or KPI, said media organizations should provide more information about the way the elections would proceed, an operation still regarded to as vague by some voters .

He pointed to a study carried out in January 2009 by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems indicating that public knowledge of the voting system was still abysmal.

“The foundation did a voting simulation and it turned out 26 percent of the voters mistakenly voted for the wrong candidates because of a lack of understanding of the mechanisms for casting their ballots,” Bimo said.

He said media organizations needed to take a harder look at the track records of candidates while remaining politically neutral.

“For example, Taufik Kiemas. He may be an excellent party executive, and does well in managing and organizing the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle [PDI-P], but as a legislator, he has a poor attendance record,” Bimo said of Megawati’s husband, who is also member of the House of Representatives’ Commission I, which oversees security, defense and foreign affairs.

Haryanto also criticized the tendency of newsrooms to give too much power to advertising departments, sometimes allowing political advertisements on front pages, a part of a newspaper some journalists might considered sacred and reserved for the most important news of the day.

“Political campaign ads are financially lucrative, but they should not disturb newsroom practices,” he said.

Dedy Mulyana, head of the Communications Department at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java Province, said media organizations often blurred the line between advertising and editorials. “The media should declare clearly whether an article has been paid for or not,” he said.

“Otherwise, people will question the media’s independence, critical stance and objectivity.”

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