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Revisions to Indonesia's Broadcasting Bill threaten press freedom, say journalists and netizens

Straits Times - May 17, 2024

Hariz Baharudin, Jakarta – Journalist organisations and netizens in Indonesia have slammed proposed changes to the country's broadcasting law, saying this could stifle press freedom and affect the quality of news reporting.

They said the recently amended Broadcasting Bill risks lowering the quality of news reporting and goes against the principles laid out in the country's press law, which bans censorship and has guaranteed press freedom since 1999.

Indonesia's Press Council rejected the proposed Bill at a press conference on May 14, with its Chairwoman Ninik Rahayu saying: "The draft ignores the Press Law. This shows that the draft [is not aimed at] producing quality journalism in broadcasting."

Initially proposed in 2020, the Bill was finalised by lawmakers in October last year but was largely kept out of the public eye, before resurfacing at the House Legislation Body (Baleg) earlier this year; minor revisions were made in March, and the latest update was on May 16.

The updated Bill is currently being discussed at the Baleg, and was thrust into the national spotlight when reactions to it started pouring in earlier this month.

A key point of contention is a provision that prohibits the exclusive broadcasting of investigative journalism content.

"The draft Broadcasting Bill prohibits the media from broadcasting investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is the crown of journalistic work," Ms Ninik told local media on the sidelines of a workshop in Bandung, West Java on May 16.

Well-known television journalist Najwa Shihab, who hosts her own talk show on YouTube with more than 10 million subscribers, took to social media platform X on May 15 to speak out against the bill.

"If you check the latest draft of the revised broadcasting law, content like this could be banned," she said in a tweet that was attached to a video highlighting some of the investigative journalism work she and her team have done.

Veteran politician and vice-presidential candidate Muhaimin Iskandar, who lost in the recent Feb 14 polls, also weighed in on the issue on May 16.

"If breaking news, live reports and even viral news can be taken over by social media, then investigations are the lifeblood of journalism today," he said in a tweet with a hashtag of the broadcasting bill.

Another point of contention is that the Bill aims to expand the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI)'s authority in resolving journalistic disputes in broadcasting, a role currently held by the Press Council whose members comprise journalists, publishers and members of the public.

Critics say this move would limit the Press Council's ability in matters such as seeking resolution to public complaints on cases related to media coverage, and could also lead to overlap between the Press Council and the KPI, which is an independent regulatory body overseeing media in the country.

Bayu Wardhana, secretary general of Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), told local media that the Bill's drafting process was not transparent and did not involve media organizations.

"The KPI is an independent entity and should not be obligated to consult with the House of Representatives," he said.

Currently, an online petition by television watchdog Remotivi on change.org demanding that the proposed Bill be dropped has gathered almost 10,000 signatures since it was started on May 6.

It is not immediately clear for how long the bill will be discussed and when the changes will be effective, if passed.

Indonesian lawmakers returned from recess on May 14 to discuss long-standing and urgent bills, but the Broadcasting Bill was not on the table that day.

Lawmakers have defended the Bill, saying they would consult with journalists and members of the public and bring up the points raised in discussions at Baleg.

The Jakarta Post on May 14 quoted Baleg chairman Supratman Andi Agtas of the Gerindra Party saying that Baleg was hoping to resolve sticking points in the draft "as soon as possible", although he did not mention which issues and when.

"Bottom line is, we will listen to our friends in journalism about the problems," he said.

In an article he shared on his Instagram page on May 16, Indonesia's Minister of Communication and Informatics Budi Arie Setiadi, who is himself a former journalist, gave his assurance that the government does not want to silence the press.

Discussions regarding the revision must involve various parties, including members of the press, said Mr Budi.

"The government is fully committed to supporting and guaranteeing press freedom, including in investigative reporting. The various journalistic products presented by members of the press are proof that Indonesian democracy is increasingly advanced and mature," he said.

Just days before the Feb 14 polls, a controversial documentary titled Dirty Vote was uploaded on YouTube and immediately went viral. The team of President-elect Prabowo Subianto called the documentary "slanderous" and a "hate narrative".

The documentary on alleged electoral fraud also accused the authorities of not being fair and of favouring Mr Prabowo and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is President Joko Widodo's elder son.

Official election results released on March 20 showed a resounding victory for Mr Prabowo, with nearly 60 per cent of votes.

Mr Prabowo said on May 15 that his election victory was proof that the Indonesian people approved of him, and said that claims about how his incoming leadership may negatively affect the country's democracy were made up by the press.

"Why don't you ask the Indonesian people? I [have been] to elections four times already. I go to my people," Mr Prabowo said, referring to how he had lost elections in 2009, 2014 and 2019.

"I asked [for] their consent. Three times they did not give their consent. This time they [did]. Where are the concerns about democracy? The concerns about democracy are, I think, made up by people in the press" he said.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/revisions-to-indonesia-s-broadcasting-bill-threaten-press-freedom-say-journalists-and-netizen