Freedom of the Press
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The Indonesian media environment remained relatively stable in 2015, the first full year of the presidency of political outsider Joko Widodo. Concerns remain about the use of criminal defamation laws and the effect of the 2008 Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law on freedom of expression on the internet.
- President Joko Widodo lifted restrictions on foreign journalists covering Papua, though some obstacles to reporting in that and other sensitive regions continued.
- From 2008 through March 2015, 85 people had been sued under the ITE Law, with at least five people sentenced to prison.
Legal Environment: 16 / 30
Constitutional and legal provisions allow for freedoms of speech and of the press, though both the government and private actors sometimes obstruct these rights. The 1999 Law on the Press created the independent Indonesian Press Council, whose mandate includes protecting the press from outside interference, creating a code of ethics, and finding solutions to public complaints lodged against the press. Although the Press Council is supposed to adjudicate all media disputes, authorities continue to undermine the council’s mandate by bringing defamation charges to the courts. Defamation is an offense covered by more than 40 provisions of the criminal code. Defamation cases brought in 2015 included one in March against two commissioners of the Judicial Commission and another in May against two activists of the Indonesian Corruption Watch and a former consultant of the Corruption Eradication Commission. Those who filed each of the two cases had been the subjects of criticism in the media.
Criminal sanctions for digital expression, including penalties for criminal defamation, are more severe under the 2008 ITE Law than they are under the Penal Code. In 2015, the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) expressed concerns about use of the ITE Law to stifle internet users with spurious defamation claims. From 2008 through March 2015, 85 people had been sued under the ITE Law, with at least five people sentenced to prison. Freedom of expression advocates criticized a revised draft of the law, completed in December 2015, under which criminal penalties for online defamation were retained, though the sentence was reduced from six to three years in prison.
A 2011 Constitutional Court decision to uphold a law prohibiting blasphemy had negative implications for freedom of expression, as did the judges’ apparent endorsement of the government’s argument that prohibition of blasphemy is vital to protecting religious harmony. In July 2014, the Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s leading English-language daily, published a cartoon showing a man raising a flag with the Arabic phrase “There is no God but Allah” over a skull and crossbones, along with an image of a group of blindfolded people apparently about to be executed. After complaints from Muslim groups, the paper retracted the cartoon and issued an apology just days after its publication, stating that the cartoon was intended to criticize the Islamic State (IS) militant group. However, in December 2014, the paper’s chief editor, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, was summoned by police as a suspect under the country’s blasphemy law, a charge that carries a punishment of up to five years in prison. In January 2015, Jakarta police referred the case to the Press Council—a decision that was praised by press freedom advocates. In a previous analysis of the cartoon, the Press Council had deemed it insensitive, though not criminal in nature. Nevertheless, police can still charge the chief editor at any point, and there is no deadline for the Press Council or law enforcement officials to conclude their investigations.
The 2008 Law on Public Information Transparency provides for the right to freedom of information, but implementation remains flawed. The State Intelligence Law (SIL), passed in 2011, can easily conflict with the 2008 law. SIL Article 26 prohibits individuals or legal entities from revealing or communicating state secrets, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines exceeding 100 million rupiah ($10,000). This article is open to misinterpretation and abuse by state officials, as state secrets are not clearly defined.
Print media are regulated through the Press Council, while broadcast media must be licensed by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI). Both the Press Council and the KPI appear to operate for the most part independently. Although there are hundreds of community radio stations in Indonesia, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters has called for legal reform and equitable distribution of frequencies to promote the growth of community radio in the country, pointing to the slow process of licensing, the lack of proper enabling legislation, and a lack of transparency and fairness in licensing decisions as the major obstacles to the sector’s development.
Political Environment: 18 / 40
Indonesia’s print and electronic media are generally free from government interference. However, the powerful, politically connected owners of private print and broadcast outlets often influence the tone of coverage; this was evident during the 2014 election campaign. The country’s media environment is diverse, and independent outlets express a wide variety of views. However, some reporters practice self-censorship to avoid possible prosecution under the country’s civil and criminal libel laws. The Attorney General’s office can request a court order to ban written material.
Under the 2002 Broadcast Act, local stations are prohibited from disseminating foreign broadcasts. The act has drawn criticism for its limits on content and severe penalties for violations, and the government has occasionally used it to restrict broadcasting.
The Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) is also empowered to block content deemed to be “negative” or “culturally inappropriate,” such as pornography or gambling sites. iLab, an Indonesian nongovernmental organization that promotes open data and transparency, reported in 2014 that more than 10 million websites had been blocked over the previous three years by Indonesia’s filtering system because of content that is deemed either to be “negative” or “culturally inappropriate.” If a post is labeled blasphemous, authorities can block the entire site.
Despite a May 2015 announcement by President Joko Widodo to lift restrictions on foreign journalists covering the restive provinces of Papua and West Papua, access is still not automatic, unimpeded, or granted quickly. For decades, foreign media seeking to travel to these provinces had to apply through a multiagency “Clearing House” that included the National Police and State Intelligence Agency; on June 17, the Foreign Ministry announced that the “Clearing House” had been abolished. Nevertheless, access remained problematic, with obstacles to coverage still being raised by local military and police, presumably in order to prevent coverage of sensitive issues such as Papuan separatism and other regional disputes. The AJI noted that the practice of free reporting should be applied in other sensitive regions such as Central Sulawesi and Aceh.
The documented presence of government informers within the press corps of Papua and West Papua has led to serious concerns about the reliability of news coming from the provinces. According to Human Rights Watch, the military has also financed and trained journalists and bloggers, citing alleged foreign interference in the region, including by the U.S. government.
In May 2015, British journalists Becky Prosser and Neil Bonner and a group of nine Indonesian crew members were arrested as they filmed a documentary for National Geographic about piracy in Batam, in northwestern Indonesia. The Indonesians were released on bail two days later, but Prosser and Bonner were kept under house arrest before being transferred to prison in September. They were sentenced in November to two and a half months in prison and fined about $1,850 each for violating immigration regulations by working while on tourist visas. The AJI noted that the government should have applied the appropriate administrative sanction for foreigners violating visa provisions as set out in the Immigration Law, rather than criminalizing their actions.
Journalists remain subject to attacks and physical harassment from both the authorities and nonstate actors. The AJI reported that the number of incidents of violence against the press held more or less steady at 43 in 2015, up from 40 one year ago. Many of the 2015 incidents involved harassment and assaults against reporters as they attempted to cover sensitive news stories or protests, and in 14 of these cases the instigators of the violence were the police.
Economic Environment: 15 / 30
In general, the Indonesian public has access to a variety of news sources and perspectives provided by a large number of private print, broadcast, and digital outlets. Television is the most popular medium, and the sector is competitive, with approximately 10 national commercial networks in addition to the state-owned Televisi Republik Indonesia. In 2015, the internet was accessed by about 22 percent of the population.
A 2012 report by the nonprofit groups Hivos Southeast Asia and the Center for Innovation, Policy, and Governance found that nearly all of the 12 most prominent media companies had ties to political parties in some respect. These 12 companies also own the country’s roughly 10 major national television stations and 5 of the 6 major newspapers. Although a wide range of privately owned local publications operate across Indonesia’s provinces, the print sector is dominated by two media conglomerates, Jawa Pos Group and the Kompas Gramedia Group. Media coverage of the 2014 presidential election campaign confirmed fears about the ability of political parties, large corporations, and powerful individuals to control media content, with major media outlets openly reflecting the political affiliations of their owners. Under the 2002 Broadcast Act, foreign ownership of broadcast media is banned.
The lack of high-speed infrastructure outside major cities limits the medium’s use as a news source in rural areas. Social-media sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have become extremely popular among users in Indonesia.
Advertising remains a robust source of income for newspapers and television companies, and the shift to online news sources has been slow, though this appears to be changing. Working conditions for Indonesian journalists are poor. According to AJI, media companies do not pay competitive salaries, leading many journalists to take second jobs with corporate sponsors or accept bribes for coverage.