Ghina Ghaliya, Jakarta – The House of Representatives Legislation Body (Baleg) is considering dropping proposed revisions to the Press Law from the omnibus bill on job creation. The proposed changes have been criticized by media groups as a threat to press freedom.
Some groups questioned the government's proposed revision during a hearing with representatives of journalist groups and media companies on Tuesday. They said the revision had nothing to do with the bill's main objective of job creation.
Subagyo of the Golkar Party – the main supporter of the bill – suggested that the government revoke the proposed revisions, saying the local media industry needed rules to support their freedom.
"The Press Law should not be revised through the omnibus bill. In order to prevent further misinterpretations, the Golkar faction proposes that the provisions be dropped from the bill," said Subagyo.
Media groups have been opposing the bill, which seeks to amend Article 18 – among other provisions – of Law No. 40/1999 on the press.
The revision to Article 18 in the omnibus bill would increase fines for anyone hampering the press' freedom to seek, obtain or disseminate information. It would also fine press companies that did not adhere to religious norms, morality or the presumption of innocence in reporting – or those that did not serve the right of reply.
Any violation of the provision will be punished with up to Rp 2 billion (US$141,920) in fines, according to the omnibus bill.
The proposed revision to Article 18 would also impose administrative sanctions on any media company that failed to obtain proper legal documents or to publicly list its address and the people in charge of the organization.
The specific administrative sanctions are to be outlined in subsequent government regulations (PP). Under the prevailing regulations, such a violation carries a potential Rp 100 million fine.
The Indonesian Television Journalists Association (IJTI) rejected the proposed provisions regarding administrative sanctions as well as the PP.
"We ask that the House to drop them as they may open up the possibility that the government could control the press," IJTI chairman Yadi Hendriyana said. "It is clearly stated in the Press Law that there should not be derivative regulations of the law. We also have the Press Council as our self-regulating body."
The association, however, said it had no problem with the proposed increase in fines, which they said could increase the press' professionalism.
Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) chairman Abdul Manan had previously questioned the rationale for increasing the penalty to Rp 2 billion if a press company violated regulations.
He said such a punishment did not reflect the purpose of educating the public and could be used as a tool to intimidate the press.
Taufik Basari of the NasDem Party said the House would question the government about the purpose of the proposed revisions, as the measures could potentially add to the controversy surrounding the bill.
"We should make it as acceptable as possible and minimize the number of things leading to controversy. I don't see the connection between the bill's objectives and the press," Taufik said.
"If the government's argument is not strong enough, we should drop [the press measures] and focus more on the main objectives."
Supratman Andi Agtas of the Gerindra Party echoed Taufik's concerns.
"We will discuss with the government whether the provision will be dropped. However, we are in the same spirit as the others – that the press already has the council to control itself," said Supratman.