Indonesia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


The media landscape saw both positive and negative turns in 2006, with certain gains in the legal environment and setbacks in the rising number of attacks against journalists. The legal environment for the press improved owing to several important court decisions that signaled what the Jakarta Post daily called “a seismic shift in the Indonesian judiciary.” On February 9, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the criminal defamation conviction and one-year prison sentence of Tempo magazine chief editor Bambang Harymurti, stating that the 1999 Press Law rather than the penal code should be used in defamation cases. The editor had been convicted of defaming Tomy Winata in a March 2003 article that linked the business tycoon to a suspicious fire in the Tanah Abang textile market. In September, a south Jakarta district court similarly agreed to use the Press Law when Rakyat Merdeka editor Teguh Santosa was charged with insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Later, presiding Judge Wahyono dismissed charges against the editor, who had posted three of the controversial Danish cartoons on the newspaper’s website. The judge stated that “what the defendant did was not based on disrespect. The pictures only appeared as background to the news.” Despite these developments, the question of whether the 1999 Press Law should be used as a special law, or lex specialis, in cases involving the press remained up in the air, with outcomes seeming to depend largely upon the educational background of the presiding judge. At the end of 2006, at least four defamation cases were still being tried under the penal code. On December 6, 2006, the Indonesian Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling that declared as unconstitutional the articles of the penal code (134, 136, and 137) that criminalize the dissemination of insults against the president and vice president of Indonesia. The Court ruled that these articles violated Indonesia’s 1945 constitution, which guarantees freedom of “verbal and written expression.” Nevertheless, a new draft penal code now under consideration contains 49 articles pertaining to defamation, including criminal penalties for libel, insulting public authorities and state institutions, disseminating news that could lead to social disorder, leaking state secrets, and spreading Communism or Marxism-Leninism.

New regulations came into effect in February that prevent the direct relay of foreign broadcast content by local private radio and television stations, confining them to shortwave radio and cable television networks. The regulations were greeted with considerable protest from those who argued that Indonesians’ access to news and information would be severely limited. An article that transferred the power to issue broadcasting licenses from the independent National Broadcasting Commission to the Ministry of Communications and Information likewise raised concerns that the process of obtaining licenses would become politicized.

Violence against journalists continued to be an issue in 2006. In April, supporters of the political party Golkar attacked striking Timika Pos journalists in West Papua. That same month, freelance journalist Herliyanto was found dead of stab wounds in East Java, his camera and notebook stolen. Local police officials said that Herliyanto’s murder was directly related to a newspaper report concerning official corruption in a nearby bridge project. The April launch of the Indonesian version of Playboy magazine sparked intimidation and threats of physical violence against the magazine’s Jakarta office, as well as acts of vigilantism in other Indonesian cities. Rightist Islamic elements demanded the banning of the magazine. Although the magazine contains no nudity, the magazine’s editor, Erwin Arnada, was charged with indecency. If convicted, he could face 32 months in prison.

The Indonesian government continued to ban foreign journalists from entering West Papua. Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono explained that their presence would “encourage Papuans to campaign on issues of human rights.” In September, five Australian television journalists were expelled from Papua for traveling on tourist visas. In April, U.S. journalist William Nesson, who had written about the war in Aceh from the rebels’ perspective, was denied entry into Indonesia on the grounds that his reports were “hostile to Indonesia.”

Indonesia is home to a large independent media generally able to provide a wide variety of opinions and perspectives. The broadcast market includes some 60 private radio stations in the Jakarta area alone and 10 private television networks nationwide that operate in competition with the public Televisi Republik Indonesia. Strict licensing laws have created more than 2,000 illegal television and radio stations that operate on a regular basis without a license. In a countrywide survey, half of the journalists questioned revealed that their salaries were too low to cover basic living costs, as more than 60 percent of journalists earn less than US$200 a month. Internet access is on the rise, used by over 8 percent of the population, and there are no reported government restrictions on its access.