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Habibie lashes out at press freedom

Agence France Presse - January 5, 1999

Jakarta – Indonesian president B.J. Habibie on Tuesday lashed out at the country's press here Tuesday, accusing it of exaggerated and unbalanced reporting that threatened to spread confusion and unrest.

"Behind the dynamics of the (press) freedom, it is now felt that there is a worrisome press attitude currently developing," Habibie told parliament in a speech to unveil the draft state budget for 1999-2000.

He said the attitude was "press reporting which is exaggerated or unbalanced, that has the potentials to give rise to confusion and unrest within the society."

Although stating a free press was important in a democracy, Habibie said the press also had a responsibility to maintain the unity, cohesion and survival of the nation.

"Press freedom which prioritizes objective, complete, balanced, just and responsible reporting is needed," he said. He urged the press to pay attention to developing professionalism and to the journalistic code of ethics.

It was the toughest criticism yet by the president, who freed the Indonesian press from decades of repression soon after taking over from former president Suharto last year. After taking power, Habibie revoked restrictions on new publications, eased formalities for new publishing permits and revoked the monopoly of the Indonesian Journalists Association as the sole media workers' association.

But his government has since criticized the media several times for their straightforward and comprehensive reporting of the tumultuous events following Suharto's fall, which has included violence between soldiers and students as well as rioting.

Unlike the Suharto era, the press has also felt free to voice repeated criticism of both Habibie and his government. An earlier suggestion by Habibie that journalists be licenced like doctors was rejected by the press as untenable.