The news media and news reporting has become steadily more diverse since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998. Indonesia now has at least 700 newspapers and magazines, and around 1,200 radio stations, mainly local ones. However, Indonesia’s 10 TV stations - the subject of a controversial law in 2002 - are still owned by the state or the associates of the former dictator.
Foreign journalists have found it increasingly difficult to work in regions torn by ethnic or religious conflicts. British journalist and academic Lesley McCulloch was sentenced to five months in prison for gathering information in the province of Aceh. Foreign reporters were also banned for several months in Moluccas.
The news media came under growing criticism for corruption and a lack of objectivity in 2002. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the most important journalists’ group in Indonesia, criticised "rampant corruption" in February. It estimated that 80 per cent of the country’s journalists receive bribes in exchange for favourable reporting, and that the government paid more than 150 million euros in such bribes in 2001. The AJI also criticised media sensationalism and the tendency to reproduce official statements without putting them in perspective.
Press abuses were also denounced by the political class and the army, which kept pressing for the reintroduction of controls. Some politicians blamed the media for all the problems the country was facing. Contrary to earlier fears, President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s government did not restrict press freedom in 2002. But the passing of a law on broadcasting in November showed that the government had not entirely abandoned the idea of having a say in the news media.
Indonesia has one of the most liberal press laws in Asia, but the criminal code continues to have 40 articles that allow journalists to be imprisoned for their views. The government still did not make any commitment to reform this code.
New information on a journalist killed before 2002
Dutch police conducted their own investigation into the September 1999 murder in East Timor of Sander Thoenes, a Dutch reporter with the Financial Times. In early 2002, they found eye witnesses who formally identified the main suspect, Lt. Camillo dos Santos of the 745th battalion, which was deployed in the East Timor capital of Dili at the time of the murder. In April, Dos Santos denied any role in the killing. The prosecutor’s office in Jakarta announced on 13 June that it would take no further action in the case because there was insufficient evidence to indict Dos Santos. It said the key witness found by the Dutch was unreliable and kept changing testimony, while the autopsy carried out by Australian forensic experts, which spoke of bullet wounds, was contradicted by the Indonesian autopsy describing stab wounds.
The announced surprised the Thoenes family and the Dutch government, which had been expecting the case to come to trial in Indonesia. There was "no reason to close this case" and "more than one reason" for bringing it to trial, Dutch foreign ministry spokesperson Bart Jochem said. The family, for its part, called for an international court to try this murder and other crimes committed in East Timor because, it said, the court for East Timor set up by the Indonesian authorities was making no real progress. On 17 July, the prosecutor’s office announced that it had met with the Dutch police officer doing the investigation and it had decided to reopen the case. "The Dutch police gave us a lot of information... we are going to compare it with our own," the spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said.
A journalist imprisoned
British journalist and academic Lesley McCulloch was arrested by a group of soldiers on 11 September 2002 as she was leaving a village in the south of Aceh province (in the northern part of the island of Sumatra) with an American nurse, Joy Lee Sadler, and their Indonesian interpreter. A resident of Australia, McCulloch worked regularly for the Australian radio and TV broadcaster ABC and the magazine Green Left Weekly. She was also known for her frequent contributions to Asian magazines on Aceh separatism. McCulloch had been visiting Aceh for several years, getting information on the conflict and human rights violations by the Indonesian military.
She was threatened during interrogation and her laptop and camera were examined. The police accused her of visiting a base of the GAM rebel movement, and of violating article 40 and 42 of the immigration law, because she had travelled with a tourist visa to avoid police controls. McCulloch and her companion were not told of the charges against them until their sixth day of detention, which was a breach of the criminal code requirement that detainees be informed within 24 hours. Conditions were bad in their place of detention and they complained of being sexually harassed and threatened with death.
The judge in charge of the case in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh announced on 3 October that he was extending their detention for further enquiries. Their health worsened in early November to the point that one of their lawyers filed a request for release on medical grounds pending trial. Their trial on charges of violating the requirements of their tourist visas and collecting documents about the GAM - charges carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison or a fine of 2 million euros - began in Banda Aceh on 25 November. But the trial was immediately adjourned until 19 December. Sadler went on hunger strike on 27 November to protest against the slowness of the proceedings. McCulloch was finally sentenced on 30 December to five months in prison for violating immigration laws and jeopardising Indonesia’s "security and unity." Sadler got four months. The prosecutors had requested nine months for both women. McCulloch told the press that her conviction was prompted by her reporting of military corruption in Aceh.
15 journalists physically attacked
Rudianto Pangaribuan, a reporter with the newspaper Metro Bandung, and Gani Kurniawan, a photographer with the same newspaper, were attacked by police in Bandung (western Java) on 3 January 2002. They were covering communal clashes when the police accosted them and tried to grab Kurniawan’s camera. When they showed their press cards, one of the policemen hit Kurniawan in the back with the butt of his firearm. Pangaribuan was pinned to the ground when he tried to intervene. Since then, he has had hearing problems.
Tantowi, a cameraman with the television station RCTI, was hit by police in Banjarmasin (southern Kalimantan) on 1 February when he and a press photographer were covering a clash between police and demonstrators hostile to President Megawati. The police turned on the journalists, confiscating their cameras and Tantowi’s video-cassette.
Police hit Wisnu Dewabrata, a journalist with the daily Kompas, when he took photos of them breaking up a protest by workers in Surabaya in eastern Java on 26 June. The police also took his film. The next day, journalists in Surabaya announced a boycott of all police news until the assault was investigated. The national police chief ordered that the police officers involved should be punished.
Four press photographers, Indra Shalihin of the online newspaper Detik.com, Cahyo Paksi Priambodo of the daily Sinar Harapan, Saptono of the agency Antara and M. Sholeh of the daily Media Indonesia, were injured in clashes between students and police in front of the House of Representatives in Jakarta on 1 July. The police announced a few days later that they were going to ask the photographers to come and identify their assailants so that they could be punished. But no sanctions were taken.
Two journalists with the regional daily Serambi Indonesia were slightly injured when they were attacked by members of a special police squad on 12 July in Bireun, in the north of Aceh province. The police accused them of biased coverage of Aceh’s separatist rebellion and criticised them for quoting a separatist leader. When the newspaper complained, the regional police chief said he had no knowledge of the incident, but promised to investigate.
Rizky Hasibuan, a journalist with Radio 68-H, was attacked by one of President Megawati’s bodyguards inside the House of Representatives in Jakarta on 3 August. He had just gone through a metal detector, where his equipment was checked, and was on the point of entering the main hall when a presidential bodyguard tried to give him a second security check. When Hasibuan protested, he was hit on the head and leg. Other journalists intervened and protested. To calm them down, the bodyguard and two of his superiors gave an improvised press conference in order to apologise.
A reporter working for the Jakarta-based newspaper Kompas was attacked by police in Sidoarjo (eastern Java) at the end of August as he was covering a demonstration by workers. The police seized his ID card and his camera.
Anton Perdana, a reporter with the daily Equator, and Rizal Ardiansyah, a journalist with Radio Volare, were assaulted in Pontianak on 7 November by a parliamentary representative of the United Development Party in the Kalimantan Barat provincial assembly. The journalists said the attack was prompted by a report on corruption among certain provincial parliamentarians in Kalimantan Barat.
Syaefullah, a photographer with the daily Lampung Post, was attacked by anti-riot police in Bandar Lampung (southern Sumatra) on 11 November while taking photographs of a fight between policemen and a truck driver who had collided with an armoured police vehicle. A dozen policemen grabbed Syaefullah and led him into an empty building, where they kicked and punched him, and confiscated his camera and film.
Ten journalists threatened
Yudi Sotomo, a reporter with the SCTV television network, and his cameraman Kiswanto, and Triyogo, a reporter with the state-run TVRI, and his cameraman Umarudin, were held captive for more than seven hours on 4 April 2002 by residents of the village of Guwo in the Boyolali region of Java. The journalists had gone there on the invitation of the lawyer of one of the parties in a land conflict. The villagers punctured the tyres of their vehicles, seized their video-cassettes, and threatened to kill and burn them if they continued to investigate the land conflict. They were finally let go during the night after promising not to report the incident. Police went there an hour after their release but made no arrests.
Around 150 journalists demonstrated in front of the Lampung provincial assembly (Sumatra island) on 3 June to demand disciplinary measures for a member of the assembly, Fauzi Makki, who openly insulted and threatened journalists after press reports about the many requests for official lodging and cars made by certain parliamentarians. In particular, Makki threatened a journalist with the daily Trans Sumatra with death and manhandled a reporter with the daily Lampung Post.
Effi Wijono Putro and Jayadi Kastari, reporters with the daily Kedaulatan Rakyat, and Y Suroso and I Gede Nyoman Wiryadinatha, photographers with the daily Bernas, were held captive for three hours by students on 29 August when they were covering a protest on Yogyakarta campus (Java island). The students took the photographers’ film.
Pressure and obstruction
More than 200 members of the Young Ox of Indonesia (BMI), a paramilitary youth wing of the ruling party, marched on the offices of the daily Jawa Pos in Jakarta on 2 January 2002 to protest against criticism of President Megawati. The newspaper had carried a report four days earlier about the cost to the state of a vacation in Bali by the president and a 40-member entourage at a time when her government was announcing austerity measures. Fifteen BMI representatives met with the newspaper’s senior staff after the protest. They said the report "degraded the President’s image in the eyes of her people" and demanded a correction. Rohman Budiyanto, the newspaper’s managing editor, promised to take account of their views and thanked them for not using violence.
The offices of the Journalists Association of Indonesia in Lhokseumawe (in the north of Aceh province) was the target of a bomb attack on 10 January. No one was injured.
Leaders of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second most important Islamic fundamentalist movement, said at their annual congress on 27 January that the news media were to blame for "national decadence." One participant said the superficial manner in which the media covered the news was responsible for the country’s economic and social instability.
A dozen individuals attacked the offices of the local daily Radar Madura in Madura (eastern Java) on 6 February, smashing computers. Some staff members thought the attack had been prompted by a report about a love affair between the offspring of two religious leaders in the area.
PT Indoprom, an Indonesian distributor, suspended distribution of the 11 February issue of the US magazine Newsweek on 7 February because it contained a depiction of Muhammad. A PT Indoprom representative told the Jakarta Post that this decision was taken after consulting with the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (religious leaders). Newsweek’s 10,000 subscribers receiving a note informing them that the issue would not be distributed until it had been examined by the ulemas and the Press Council. A representative of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas told the Jakarta Post that it "has the power to ban the publication if it finds that the article insults Muslims."
On 5 March, police opened fire on 400 demonstrators gathered in front of the offices of the Voice of the Muslim Struggle radio station in Ambon (Moluccas) to protest against the announced possibility that it would be closed. The station is sympathetic to the Islamist group Laskar Jihad, which has been implicated in religious violence in the Moluccas Islands and is opposed to the peace accords.
Minister of information and communication Syamsul Mu’arif announced on 13 March that the government was considering measures to restrict the publication or broadcasting of "suggestive" images. He cited the programmes Dansa yo Dansa of the state-run TVRI, Majalah X of the privately-owned station SCTV and Life and Love of the privately-owned Metro TV. He also said his ministry was discussing a definition of media pornography with the Council of Ulemas.
The Australian dailies The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald announced on 17 March that the Indonesian authorities had refused to renew the visa of their Jakarta correspondent, Lindsay Murdoch, which had expired on 10 March. Murdoch, 48, had been a correspondent in Jakarta for three years. He was known for his reporting in East Timor and had won several awards. Agence France-Presse quoted a foreign ministry official as saying he had been given a business visa that allowed him into the country but he could no longer work as a journalist. The official said his newspapers had been told three months ago to find a new correspondent because Murdoch’s press visa would not be renewed. He declined to give the reason. Murdoch left Indonesia a week later. He thought his forced departure was linked to two reports he wrote about human rights violations which had apparently irritated senior army officers. The first was about the refusal of the Indonesia authorities to let Timorese parents look for their children who had been put in orphanages on Java island. The second was about the death of a four-month-old baby in Aceh as a result of soldiers pouring boiling water on her.
Parliamentarians announced on 20 March that they were giving priority to a draft law on state secrets, thereby dashing hopes that they were about to pass a law on the right to information that would give the news media access to state information. The proposed state secrets law would allow government authorities, state-owned companies and the military to decide what information should be classified as state secrets, and would make the publication of state secrets punishable by nine years in prison. Lukas Luwarso of the Press Council deplored the fact that, in a time of reform, the governing was displaying some of the attitudes of the former dictatorship. Others accused legislators of assuming the repressive role played by the executive under the old regime.
On 10 April, the governor of the province of Moluccas banned any coverage of the anniversary of the Republic of South Moluccas secessionist movement, and foreign journalists were banned from visiting the province altogether. Paula Renyaan, the deputy governor of North Moluccas, said the aim was to create a climate of security for the population and to restore order. A curfew and state of emergency were also in force in the province. The ban on visits by foreign journalists was still in place in July. The sole exception was a group of Jakarta-based foreign correspondents who were allowed to accompany Vice-President Hamzah Haz on a visit to the province.
Dahono Fitrianto of the daily Kompas, Rohlani Mawardi of the daily Pos Kota and Ridwan Pamungas of the privately-owned television station SCTV were prevented from covering a press conference held by a cement company on 15 April. A company official confiscated their film and cassettes and threatened them. The company’s chief executive apologised a few days later, after the journalists filed a complaint.
The government invited journalists’ organisations on 8 May to help draft laws to make the news media more "responsible." Introducing a seminar entitled, "Responsible News Media and the Creation of a National Culture," information and communication minister Syamsul Mu’arif said "irresponsible" actions by news media encouraged the public to take justice into its own hands. He also accused journalists of publishing and broadcasting "racist and pornographic" information, for which they should be punished under article 282 of the criminal code, he said.
On 8 July, the minister voiced concern about the development of community radio and TV. "Community channels can trigger racial, ethnic and religious conflicts in a nation as diverse as ours," he said. Nonetheless, there was provision for community broadcast media in article 18 of a draft law on broadcasting before the House of Representatives.
Former army chief of staff Gen. Wiranto and three ofher generals - Djadja Suparman, Suadi Marasabesy and Sudi Silalahi - filed a libel lawsuit on 24 July against two daily newspapers, the Jawa Pos and Siwa Lima, for publishing an article by sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola in which the four officers are accused of helping set off the religious conflict in the Moluccas. A similar suit was already rejected by a court in November 2001.
The director of strategy at the ministry of defence, Maj. Gen. Sudrajat, accused the press of abusing its newly acquired freedom at a press conference on 1 August. The news media were not acting with the degree of responsibility that has to go with freedom of expression, he said. He charged newly-created newspapers with fomenting tension and said foreign coverage of Indonesia was "biased."
The privately-owned television stations SCTV and RTCI withdrew a liberal Muslim organisation’s campaign spot for tolerance among Muslims on 8 August after the Council of Indonesian Mujahideen (MMI) threatened to sue the stations for "insulting Islam." The MMI, which wants Indonesia to adopt the Sharia, objected to the spot’s use of the expression "Islam warna-warni" (Islam is multicoloured), arguing that "Islam is the same everywhere". The organisation behind the spot said "Islam" in this phrase referred to the Muslim community, not the religion. SCTV’s head of public relations, Budi Darmawa, said the spot was pulled because the MMI was right, not because of any threat.
Gen. Endriartono Sutarto took issue with the news media’s coverage of the rebellion in Aceh province on 30 August. He accused them of portraying the separatists as "heroes" instead of "traitors" and appealed for accurate reporting.
It emerged in October that radical Islamic organisations were pressuring several TV stations to stop broadcasting a message about AIDS and the use of condoms. Only the state-owned TVRI resisted the pressure and continued to run the spot until its contract expired with the NGOs combatting the spread of AIDS.
A truck being used to deliver the regional daily Serambi Indonesia in Aceh province was intercepted on 22 October by armed men, who set fire to the truck, destroying thousands of copies of the newspaper. The same thing happened again on 24 October. Employees aboard the trucks were not hurt. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A lawyer acting for the Indonesian army threatened to sue the Washington Post for 1 million euros in damages on 21 November if it did not publish an apology for a report by Alan Sipress and Ellen Nakashima on 3 November that blamed the army for an attack in western Papua in which two Americans and an Indonesian working for a mining company were killed. The lawyer said the libel suit would go ahead if the newspaper did not respond within 14 days. The Washington Post let it be known on 3 December that it would not apologise.
The House of Representatives passed a new law on radio and TV broadcasting on 27 November, replacing one that had been in effect since 1997. It set up a national broadcasting commission (KPI) with the power to censor TV and radio stations, rescind licences and assign broadcast frequencies, but gave the government a veto over its decisions. The commission, which was to have regional offices, was also given the job of writing a code of conduct for the news media. The new law additionally stipulated that no more than 40 per cent of broadcast time could be given over to foreign news programmes, but it was unclear how this would be applied to the many TV stations and cable networks that relay foreign news including the BBC and CNN. Broadcasters and press freedom organisations had mobilised against this law ever since the authorities first announced their intention to submit it to the parliament, and in May broadcasters had threatened to suspend programmes. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and media watchdog Article 19 said the law did not ensure that licences were assigned in an independent fashion and restricted the public’s access to foreign news media. On the day it was passed, hundreds of demonstrators opposed to the law were prevented by police from getting near the parliament building.
On 14 December, authorities in Samarinda (eastern Kalimantan) withdrew from sale and destroyed all the copies of the latest issue of the local magazine Dayak Pos, because of an article deemed insulting to Muhammad. An official said the local government was considering banning the magazine because of a complaint filed against its editor in chief, Minhayuddin M. H., who was also the article’s author.
Plans to screen the stage play "Alia, Luka Serambi Mekah" were cancelled by the state-owned television channel TVRI on 14 December. The play’s author, Ratna Sarumpaet, accused the army of pressuring TVRI’s management to break the broadcast contract. The play is about Alia, a woman who actively supports the cause of Aceh’s independence.