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Pushback against Indonesia's revised broadcasting bill; journalist groups fear threats to press freedom

Channel News Asia - May 16, 2024

Jakarta – Indonesian journalist organisations have voiced concerns over stifled press freedom and threats to investigative journalism following proposed changes to the country's broadcasting law.

The Press Council on Tuesday (May 14) said that a recently amended broadcasting bill goes against the principles laid out in the press law and will only churn out bad journalism in the future.

"Why do we reject this bill? Firstly, because there is an article that prohibits investigative journalism. This contravenes the mandate of the press law," said chairwoman of the Press Council Ninik Rahayu as quoted by local media Tempo, adding that the press law underscores investigative journalism as a cornerstone of professional journalism and vital for quality reporting.

The bill, initially proposed in 2020 by lawmakers from the House Commission I, which oversees communications, defence, intelligence, and foreign affairs, was finalised in October 2023 but kept largely under wraps until recently.

It was debated in the House Legislation Body (Baleg) earlier this year, with minor revisions made on Mar 27. The latest update was on May 16.

The updated bill aims to revise the 2002 Broadcasting Law to address challenges posed by new media platforms, but has so far been met with criticism from journalist associations who fear that it will restrict press freedom.

A key point of contention is a provision that prohibits the exclusive broadcasting of investigative journalism content, which the Indonesian press sees as undermining the mandate of the press law, which bans censorship and has guaranteed press freedom since its inception in 1999.

Another controversial provision in the bill is that it aims to expand the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission's (KPI) authority in resolving any journalistic disputes in broadcasting, a role currently held by the Press Council according to the press law.

Critics argue this change would undermine the authority of the Press Council to give its consideration in seeking resolution to public complaints on cases related to press coverage. Hence, the proposed change to the law could lead to overlap between the two jurisdictions: the Press Council and the KPI.

"The draft bill ignores the press law. This shows that the draft (is not aimed at) producing quality journalism in broadcasting," Ms Ninik told a press briefing on Tuesday.

"Our rejection (of the bill) is also based on the fact that when drafting laws and regulations, steps to harmonise them must also be taken into account to avoid the overlapping of laws," she added.

Ms Ninik also said the drafting process has ignored the constitutional court's 2020 decision requiring meaningful public participation in the legislative processes.

"There must be community involvement. It is the people's right to have their opinions heard and considered," she added, highlighting that the Press Council was not included in the drafting process.

Meanwhile, Minister of Communication and Informatics Budi Arie Setiadi has also weighed in on the issue by questioning the rationale behind the provisions in the bill that could result in the banning of investigative journalism.

"Journalism must be investigative; how can it be banned? Journalism must continue to develop to meet the growing demands of society," Mr Budi said as quoted by Antara on Tuesday.

Responding to the latest public outcry of the proposed bill, members of the legislature involved in drafting it now said that the bill is not finalised and that they are still open to input from the public and the journalism community.

Chairman of the house's legislation body Supratman Andi Agtas assured that the House would address the contentious issues "as soon as possible" and would invite input from those in the overseeing commission as well as other stakeholders.

"The bottom line is that we will listen to our friends in the journalism community about the problems," he said.

Commission I member TB Hasanuddin was also reported by Jakarta Post as saying that the bill was not "100 per cent finalised" and remained open for changes.

He acknowledged the need for a careful consideration of the bill's impact on journalism reporting while emphasising that press freedom should be exercised with caution and should serve the public interest.

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/indonesia-broadcasting-bill-press-freedom-434067