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Indonesia slumps in press-freedom index

Indonesia | Press Freedom

A COLLEAGUE RECENTLY ASKED ME - a bit surprised - why Indonesia had dropped 29 places in the 2011 Global Freedom of the Press rankings. 

The French NGO Reporters Without Borders published the disappointing report, which showed Indonesia sinking from position 117 in 2010 to 146 in 2011.  The report mentioned one cause of the decline was the increasing cases of intimidation, threat and violence (including kidnapping and killing) against journalists.

“A corrupt judiciary that is too easily influenced by politicians and pressure groups and government attempts to control the media and internet has prevented the development of a freer press,” the report added.

According to Legal Aid Institute for Press (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Pers, or LBH Pers) there were 96 cases of intimidation of journalists, 49 of those were violent, even including killings.

For example, in January 2011, Alfred Mirulewan, the chief editor of Pelangi Maluku (a weekly published in Maluku Province, around 3000 km from Jakarta) was killed when investigating fraud in a local district. His killers are now sentenced to jail.

In another case, the house of a journalist from Rote Ndao News, Dance Henukh, on Sunday, December 11, 2011, was attacked and torched by a mob. Henukh had been covering a corruption case in a local organization at the time. In 1996-2010 period, 10 journalists in Indonesia were killed, mostly due to investigating corruption cases.

Laws That Threaten Freedom of the Press

Indonesia is the largest archipelago on our globe, with more than 17,000 islands. Most killings take place in very remote locations, where local leaders can behave like kings. In such areas, the safety of journalists is not guaranteed. The situation is a bit different for journalists who work in big cities, where many NGOs and human-rights organizations exist and can watch and help if there is a threat to journalists. 

In general, journalists in Indonesia enjoy considerable freedom following the passage of Law Number 40/1999 on the Press. That law is much improved over previous laws that restricted the press in the past.

The new legal environment sets up peers who watch and control the government rather than being controlled by the government.  Government may not meddle in media life because there is no legal means to do so.  There is no longer a requirement for government permission or a license to produce media. We also now have an independent Press Council.  And if reporters make mistakes or face challenges to their work, the disagreements must be settled through mediation by The Press Council, which guarantees an answer or correction.

But, despite this good Press Law, there are still some laws that do put journalists at risk of punishment, including imprisonment.  These press-unfriendly laws include: Law Number 11/2008 on Electronic Information and Transactions, Law Number 14/2008 on Public Information Openness, Law Number 1/1946 on the Penal Code, Law Number 23/1959 on Emergency Situations, Law number 44/2008 on Pornography, Intelligence Law, etc. All of those laws permit imprisoning journalists just for doing their jobs.

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