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Indonesia 3 February 2006

Government urged not to adopt decrees on radio and TV stations

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned at the determination of Information and Communication Minister Sofyan Djalil to adopt a series of decrees that will ban Indonesian TV and radio from broadcasting foreign programmes.

These new regulations, due to come into force on 6 February 2006, would also give the government the power to licence radio and television.

It is particularly aimed at radio programmes in Indonesian on the BBC World Service, put out by around 80 FM radios, and TV broadcasts by Voice of America, which are relayed by several Indonesian stations.

"These decrees mark an evident setback for press freedom in Indonesia," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "Nothing can justify depriving millions of Indonesians from programmes the quality of which is rarely contested."

"In a region where press freedom is too often trampled underfoot, the Jakarta government should protect rather than obstruct it. We strongly urge the government not to go ahead with these decrees," it said.

The information minister announced to legislators on 30 January 2006, that the decrees would come into force on 6 February, saying "this regulation will mean avoiding anarchy in the broadcast industry". The previous week he announced that programmes produced by foreign media could be broadcast as long as they were edited in advance.

Contradictory official statements have successively suggested that all foreign programmes would be banned then that programmes could be put out, but never live.

"This will turn the media into the mouthpiece of the government", said one member of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), who saw the move as a return to the dictatorial methods of the Suharto era. He was also concerned that the decrees will remove the power to grant licences from the KPI, a role that it has been carrying out under the broadcast law adopted in 2002. The KPI says it will take the case to the Supreme Court.

"The proposed regularisation constitutes a violation of the 2002 law which set out quotas on foreign media broadcasts and not a complete ban on them," said Sinansari Ecip, vice-president of the KPI.

A complete ban on foreign programmes could deal a fatal blow to some foreign media, particularly the Indonesian service of the BBC that employs around 40 people. The BBC programmes, available to Indonesians since the fall of Suharto, are believed to attract more than 8 million listeners.

Indonesian TV and radio also put out programmes from Radio Australia, Deutsche Welle and Radio Hilversum, in the Netherlands.

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