Freedom of the Press
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Freedom of the Press Scores
Key Developments in 2016:
- Amendments to the 2008 Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law retained criminal penalties for online defamation, but reduced the maximum sentence. The amendments also introduced a provision media watchdogs said could permit the censorship of past news articles.
- The governor of Jakarta was charged with blasphemy over a remark he made about a verse in the Koran.
- Authorities refused to issue a media visa to a French journalist who had produced a documentary that made allegations of state-backed human rights abuses in the eastern Papuan provinces.
Indonesia’s media landscape is vibrant and diverse, though outlets’ editorial positions frequently correspond with their owners’ interests. Concerns remain about the use of criminal defamation laws and the ITE Law to suppress free expression. Amendments to the ITE law approved in 2016 introduced the “right to be forgotten,” by which individuals could appeal for the removal of online content deemed “irrelevant.” Media advocacy groups expressed concern that the new provision could be invoked to censor past news reports.
Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) noted an uptick in reported incidents of violence against the press in 2016. Meanwhile, blasphemy charges against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”) were filed in November in connection with remarks he had made about the Koran weeks earlier. The case against him served as a reminder that individuals could still be charged and potentially imprisoned for making statements perceived as insulting religion.
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. The 2008 ITE law contains criminal sanctions for digital expression. Under 2016 amendments to the ITE Law, the maximum penalty for online defamation was reduced to four years, from six previously. The amendments also introduced the “right to be forgotten,” by which individuals could appeal for the removal of online content deemed “irrelevant.” That provision prompted concerns that the ITE Law could be invoked to censor past news reports.
A 2011 Constitutional Court decision to uphold an article of the criminal code banning blasphemy had negative implications for freedom of expression, as did the judges’ apparent endorsement of the government’s argument that the prohibition of blasphemy is vital to protecting religious harmony. In November 2016, Ahok, Jakarta’s Christian governor, was charged with blasphemy over a remark he made in September about a verse in the Koran. His trial was ongoing at year’s end.
The 2008 Law on Public Information Transparency established the right to access public information, but implementation remains flawed. The State Intelligence Law (SIL), passed in 2011, can conflict with the 2008 law. Article 26 of the SIL 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 ($7,400). This article is open to misinterpretation and abuse by state officials, as state secrets are not clearly defined.
Print media are regulated through the independent Indonesian Press Council, while broadcast media must be licensed by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), both of which appear to operate for the most part independently.
There are no barriers in Indonesia to becoming a journalist, and professional groups such as the AJI are outspoken in their defense of journalists’ rights and interests.
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.
While President Joko Widodo in 2015 announced the easing of restrictions on the presence of foreign journalists in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, access is still not automatic, unimpeded, or granted quickly. In January 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to issue a media visa to French journalist Cyril Payen, a senior reporter for France 24 television; Payen produced the 2015 documentary “The Forgotten War in Papua,” which covered allegations of human rights abuses and conflict-related casualties sponsored by state actors over the previous quarter century in the Papuan provinces. Local military and police also raise obstacles to media activities in that area.
The attorney general’s office can request a court order to ban written material. Freedom of expression advocates have criticized the amended ITE Law for permitting censorship, noting that as of early November 2016, the MCIT had already invoked it to restrict access to 11 websites it determined were “spreading hatred.” The MCIT is empowered to block online content deemed to be “negative” or “culturally inappropriate,” such as pornography or gambling websites.
Some reporters practice self-censorship to avoid possible prosecution under the country’s defamation laws, or to avoid intimidation or harassment.
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. Social-media sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have become extremely popular in Indonesia.
Journalists remain subject to attacks and physical harassment from both the authorities and nonstate actors. The Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LHB Pers) reported 83 incidents of violence against the press in 2016, while the AJI documented 78, which was nearly double the 43 it had documented for 2015. The AJI found that 19 of the instances it documented in 2016 were instigated by either the military or the police.
Economic Environment: 15 / 30
Twelve media companies own the country’s roughly 10 major national television stations and 5 of the 6 major newspapers, and nearly all of these companies have ties to a political party. Additionally, the state operates Televisi Republik Indonesia. Although a wide range of privately owned local publications operate across Indonesia’s provinces, the print sector is dominated by two media conglomerates, the Jawa Pos Group and Kompas Gramedia. Political parties, large corporations, and powerful individuals can influence media content, as was demonstrated during the 2014 presidential election, when major media outlets’ coverage openly reflected the political affiliations of their owners.
About 25 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2016, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The lack of high-speed infrastructure outside major cities limits the medium’s use in rural areas.
Although there are few restrictions on news production and distribution for Indonesians, foreign ownership of broadcast media is banned under the 2002 Broadcast Act.
Advertising remains a robust source of income for newspapers and television companies. 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.