President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made statements in favour of press freedom but took no significant steps towards any improvement. On the contrary, the government tried to restore its control over the granting of broadcast licences and a new anti-terror law gave security forces very wide powers.
Pluralism of news and information continued to develop in the world’s most populous Muslim country, which boasts at least 700 publications and 1,200 radio stations, as well a score of local and national TV channels. Enthusiasm for electronic media has led to the launch of hundreds of pirate radio and TV channels which the government struggles to regulate
The Constitution and the press law guarantee freedom of expression, and in December, a constitutional court edict decriminalised “insult to the head of state”. Unfortunately, the still archaic criminal code continues to allow prison sentences for press offences.
Sadly, journalists still suffer violence in some regions. In May, independent journalist Herliyanto was murdered in the east of Java Island, after investigating a local corruption case. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) recorded more than 20 incidents of physical assault or threats against the press. Half of these violations were committed by criminals or angry mobs and the other half by police officers or officials.
Businessman Tomy Wiranta continues to harass journalists working for the press group Tempo. In February the Supreme Court overturned a one-year jail sentence against prominent journalist Bambang Harymurti. Wiranta had seen to it that the “defamation” case had gone before the lower court under the criminal code and not under the press law. For their part, Islamist groups directed their demonstrations against local publications Petra and Rakyat Merdeka Online which had carried the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed produced by Danish cartoonists, but also the Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine. The authorities, in response to pressure, took legal action against the editors of the three publications. In September, the editor of Rakyat Merdeka Online was acquitted of a blasphemy charge.
The 2005 peace accord between the government and rebels in Aceh had very beneficial effects for press freedom. The media there has experienced a huge reduction in attacks on it from security forces and separatists. The peace has also allowed a consolidation of independent media, which were long term victims of the war. For all that, the authorities do not accept all criticism. The radio regulator had two independent radio stations shut down in July. Elsewhere, US reporter William Nessen is still banned from entering Aceh, and one of his documentaries on the Indonesian Army’s “dirty war” was banned from being shown at a festival in Jakarta. Four other films on East Timor, also exposing human rights violations by the army, and the Bali bombings, were censored. The Indonesian Army, often criticised for its conduct in separatist regions, refuses to sanction its troops. As a result, Jakarta has never carried out serious investigations into the murders of foreign reporters in East Timor, including the Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes in 1999 and the Balibo Five in 1975, in which suspicion fell on elements in the Indonesia Army.
The authorities have refused to lift a ban on the foreign press from working in Papua, scene of a crackdown on an independence movement. An Australian TV crew was expelled form the island and a score of Indonesian journalists have been assaulted by police in the province.