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News clampdown as polls near

South China Morning Post - November 17, 1997

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – The Government appears to be clamping down on the media in the run-up to the presidential elections after it pulled the plug on the Finance Minister's live broadcast to Parliament last week.

Private television stations SCTV and Anteve were set to air Finance Minister Mar'ie Muhammad's speech but it was banned after a last-minute phone call.

Information Minister Raden Hartono said only the state-run Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI) station was allowed to air live parliamentary broadcasts.

The broadcast was to have been the first time Mr Muhammad had spoken publicly since the Government closed 16 banks on November 1.

TVRI, however, did not screen the address.

Anteve's editor-in-chief Azkarmin Zaini described the decision as regretful.

Misinformation and rumours have recently caused a number of runs on banks. On Friday, thousands of people withdrew funds from Bank Central Asia on rumours that the chairman of the Salim group, which controls the bank, Liem Sioe Liong, had died.

Jakarta wants to prevent any anti-government statements or sensitive remarks on live broadcasts before presidential polls next March.

Since his appointment to the Cabinet in June, former army chief Mr Hartono has been reining in the media.

Analyst Wimar Witoelar, whose popular Perspektif TV show was banned in September 1995, said Mr Hartono had a "very limited but powerful mandate to control the media until March. Until then, he is not going to share TVRI's news base".

Mr Witoelar said the Government was concerned that live parliamentary coverage could be politically damaging at a time of a financial and environmental crisis.

Mr Hartono, a front-runner for vice-president, said private stations must get permission from the Ministry of Information for live parliamentary feeds.

Any television station found to have broken the regulations would have its licence withdrawn.