Andreas Harsono, Jakarta – Indonesian journalists are protesting a government ban that has kept two private television channels here from airing live a parliamentarian hearing on Indonesia's financial crisis, saying that government had violated press freedoms and manipulated the Broadcasting Law.
"It shows again that that the Press Law and the Broadcasting Law are effective on paper only. They have no power when standing in front of the government, and even become a tool to legitimize the government's decision," said Lukas Luwarso, president of the officially-unrecognized Alliance of Independent Journalists (AIJ).
Information Minister R. Hartono earlier this week prohibited two private television stations, AN-teve and SCTV, from broadcasting live the plenary session on Monday [Nov. 10] of hearings by the House of Representatives on the nation's economic crisis, including a speech by Finance Minister Mar'ie Muhammad.
Mar'ie was to give a speech about an International Monetary Fund reform package that included the liquidation of 16 banks, some of which belong to members of President Suharto's family.
Although AN-teve and SCTV had obtained permission the night before from House Speaker Harmoko, a former Information Minister himself, to broadcast live, government authorities informed the two television stations that they would be prohibited from broadcasting live the proceedings.
Journalists and workers of the two stations stood idle during the hearing as their equipment, including satellite dishes, communication trucks and several cameras, were only allowed to record part of the packed hearing on the $23-billion IMF bailout.
President Suharto last month asked the IMF to help heal Indonesia's ruptured economy after the value of its currency, the rupiah, decreased by about 35 percent since July.
Speaking to reporters, Hartono, a former army chief, said that he had based his decision on the newly-passed Broadcasting Law, claiming that private television stations could not broadcast live events from the parliamentary house.
"A private television violates the rules if it broadcasts live coverage without informing the government. This should not happen again," said the minister, who is widely known to be a close associate to Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, Suharto's eldest daughter.
"Is it that difficult for a private station to ask for our approval if it intends to run live or delayed broadcasts?" asked Hartono.
However, he failed to elaborate on which sections of the Broadcasting Law stipulates the ban.
Media analysts said the law contains no sections which regulate live broadcasts from the House. The law in fact permits private television stations to broadcast live events alongside the state-own TVRI.
"The minister has manipulated the law," said Luwarso on Wednesday.
Sofjan Lubis of the government-controlled Association of Indonesian Journalists, however, said that he could "understand" Hartono's decision.
Sources within both AN-teve and SCTV said that they had received phone calls from an aide to Hartono on the eve of the hearing in which he ordered the channels to cancel the live coverage.
The ban sent a mixed signal to media observers here. It is not clear in whose interest Hartono had based such a controversial decision, since both channels are owned by people close to the Suhartos.
SCTV is controlled by Halimah Trihatmodjo, wife of Suharto's middle son Bambang Trihatmodjo, who had earlier filed a lawsuit against Finance Minister Mar'ie over the closure of Bambang's Bank Andromeda.
Bambang, however, humiliated himself in some eyes on Wednesday when he announced that he had decided to withdraw his lawsuit from a Jakarta court, saying that he had done it in "a broader national interest."
His remark prompted speculation here that President Suharto himself had asked his son to stop the suit.
Indonesian tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, of the widely-diversified Bakrie Brothers, is the major shareholder of the Jakarta-based AN-teve, whose president is Agung Laksono, a member of the ruling party Golkar's inner circle.