Jakarta – Supreme Court Chief Justice Muhammad Syarifuddin, Communications and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) and the Press Council should revisit the long-standing practice of live TV broadcasting of court hearings, especially if they involve a murder case as in the killing of Brig. Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat. There are seven defendants in the high-profile case and their trial will last for weeks.
In fact, the government and the House of Representatives want to restrict these live broadcasts now that they are revising the Criminal Code. Article 280 of the draft revision outlaws live broadcasts or streaming and audio-visual broadcasts of a court hearing. Live coverage can be punishable by fines of up to Rp 100 million (US$6,300), while an act of disrespect to the court proceedings or the panel of judges can be punished with a fine of up to Rp 10 million, according to the draft.
It seems the government and lawmakers realize the adverse impacts of live broadcasts on court hearings.
There are legitimate reasons to allow live coverage, including to ensure transparency. But the negative impacts can be much more devastating. This is why court hearings of sexual violence cases or those involving minors are held behind closed doors.
It is horrifying that Indonesian audiences of all ages are given access to detailed information in relation to a case, especially high-profile cases, being heard through live broadcast, editing of which is impossible. Advice for viewers on the need for parental guidance is not available either, even if the facts and testimony revealed in court include graphic content.
Worse, the public feels free to spread the entirety or specific parts of the court hearing via social media. What makes it more horrifying is that TV stations give a podium to academics and observers to comment on the court hearing, if not actually playing at being judge, as if the trial is akin to a soccer match. Trial by the media, by nature an unfair trial, stems from this practice.
When the murder trial of former two-star police general Ferdy Sambo began on Monday, details of how he and his aides killed Yosua at his house in South Jakarta on July 8 were freely available for all.
The audience may have felt disgusted when the prosecutors read the indictment, which centered on the bloody killing. The indictment also provided details of the sexual harassment allegedly committed by Yosua against Ferdy's wife Putri Candrawathi, which Ferdy claimed as the motive behind the murder. We can only imagine that children watched this broadcast.
Ferdy, who was the powerful head of National Police's internal affairs when the killing occurred, is charged with orchestrating the murder and cover-up of the alleged crime.
We call on all relevant parties to reconsider the live-coverage policy. Live broadcasting of a court hearing without strict regulations can do more harm than good, especially if the case involves egregious acts of violence
Clearer rules are therefore needed so as to promote both press freedom and a fair trial, while protecting minors from harmful content. We simply do not want our courtrooms to become disseminators of horror.