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Seeing is believing

Jakarta Post Editorial - May 17, 2024

Jakarta – Press freedom is facing a new challenge. The broadcasting bill currently being deliberated at the House of Representatives has sparked public uproar for articles that will limit the work of journalists.

While the bill tries to accommodate the expanded definition of broadcasting that now includes the internet and digital sphere, it leaves out the press, which used to be at the center of people's access to information and free speech.

There are at least two major issues that will isolate journalists from broadcasting. The first is in regard to a ban on investigative work. Article 50B paragraph 2 (c) stipulates that a guideline, to be called the Broadcast Content Standards (SIS), will prohibit exclusive broadcasting of investigative journalism content.

The article does not explain much about what it refers to as "exclusive" or "investigative journalism." But it is clear enough to directly block investigative journalism content in the first place or to give room for the authorities to implement censorship of media institutions.

The second is related to the new authority of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) that will be tasked with creating the SIS, including all limitations, bans, rules, obligations and sanctions for all parties in broadcasting.

Article 51 of the bill will mandate the KPI, instead of the Press Council, to deal with complaints, violations and disputes, including those related to investigative journalism. This further raises questions about lawmakers' commitment to press freedom in the broadcast media.

The new stipulations cast another shadow over the Indonesian press after the passage of at least two other laws that have curtailed press freedom. The first were restrictions on digital media implemented under the Information and Electronic Transactions Law (ITE), which came into force in 2008. Dozens of journalists have been jailed under that draconian law.

While it is still pending for implementation in 2026, the Criminal Code that was passed last year also paves the way for criminalization of journalistic work deemed as an insult to state institutions, the head of state or state ideology Pancasila. There are also articles that stipulate that journalists could be prosecuted for running libelous articles and for spreading what the authorities regard as misinformation.

Worse, the potential clampdown on broadcast media comes at a time when journalists across all platforms are embracing audiovisual media. These days, journalists' investigations do not only come in the form of text or rely on anonymous sources that can easily be denied by the parties involved. The reports also come in the form of documentaries that include video footage of actual misconduct or wrongdoing, which is harder to refute.

The smoke of forest fires and other environmental destruction that are captured by video journalists, for example, will be difficult to deny and the visuals are more powerful for the people to see.

If these are the truths that the lawmakers do not want people to know, we may further question their goodwill toward the public, especially those who elected them.

Some members of House Commission I overseeing communications and information, defense, intelligence and foreign affairs have tried to deflect the accusations, saying that it is not the work of journalists that they are trying to quash, but of entertainment media that monetizes "gossip news".

With the controversial laws that have been passed earlier, we have every reason to doubt that claim.

It is true that the press has much more freedom and support than was on offer during the Soeharto era, during which the government had the power to shut down press institutions that were considered hostile to the regime.

But the press today is not necessarily in a comfort zone. With shrinking space caused by the internet and social media and struggling for sustainable financial support, more restrictions on journalism means sucking out the already limited air that we breathe.

We will not believe that the government supports journalism and press freedom as a pillar of democracy until such time as we see it and lawmakers explicitly do so.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/17/seeing-is-believing.htm