Thou shalt not take with a pinch of salt anything your government says was essentially the message given by Indonesia's Communications and Information Technology (Kominfo) Minister Johnny G. Plate during what has become a hotly discussed interview about Indonesia's controversial new jobs creation law.
Johnny appeared on celebrated journalist Najwa Shihab's talk show (the same Najwa who interviewed an empty chair in the place of another controversial minister) on Wednesday to discuss misinformation about the new law. He said that the ministry had received hundreds of reports of hoaxes about the law, which may have fueled the protests against it.
Remy Hastian, an executive at the National Association of University Student Executive Bodies (BEM-SI), who was also a guest at the show, redirected blame to the government and lawmakers for passing into law a bill without making the final draft available to the public.
The jobs creation law, which lawmakers say would cut red tape and attract investment into the country, has been widely panned for potentially eroding workers' rights and bringing harm to the environment. Rather comically, since it was approved by the House of Representatives (DPR) last Monday, four "final" drafts of the law circulated in public, varying between around 800 to 1,300 pages. The final-final draft submitted to President Joko Widodo for ratification on Wednesday was 812 pages.
The official line of the government seems to have been that the nationwide protests against the law – which saw hundreds arrested – were sparked by misinformation or deliberate misreading of the legislation.
"If the government says it's a hoax, then it's a hoax!" Johnny barked at Remy in response to his concerns.
Such a statement hasn't gone down well in Indonesia, which experienced decades of authoritarian control of information during the New Order era.The Press Legal Aid Institute (LBH Pers) condemned Johnny's statement, saying, "If the minister's statement generalizes all things, then we have entered an era where the truth only belongs to the government. And that is not a characteristic of a democratic nation."