Update: The National Police has apologized and rescinded the circular amid the public backlash.
Original story follows.
A fresh circular intended for internal viewing within the National Police has people on edge regarding media freedom in Indonesia, even as ambiguity regarding its enforcement has thrown up some degree of confusion.
National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo wrote the circular to regional police chiefs and PR departments to inform them about the limits to information that can be passed on to journalists. The circular, which contains 11 points on media coverage related to policing, was signed on April 5 and has immediately come into effect within the National Police.
While most of the points made perfect sense, such as the prohibition to broadcast reconstruction of sexual crimes and identification of underage culprits and victims, the very first point, if applied to the mass media, would effectively transform media outlets into PR mouthpieces for the police.
"The media is forbidden to broadcast police actions that depict arrogance and violence; [the media] is urged to portray police activities that are firm yet humane," the point reads.
At this point, it's crucial to note that the language in the circular does not specify whether the prohibitions apply to the mass media or just police-owned media outlets and networks. National Police spokesman Rusdi Hartono did not clarify the ambiguity but said the circular was meant for internal use only.
It's also not clear if the circular carries legal weight for enforcement, especially considering that the media operates under its own code of ethics and laws, which theoretically make outlets beholden to the truth and not the reputation of any one institution.
The Press Council has called on the National Police to address the ambiguity regarding enforcement of the circular.
"Is this an advisory for the PR departments within the National Police to enforce points 1 to 11 [on their own broadcasters], or is this an instruction for regional police chiefs to enforce the broadcast prohibitions on [independent] media outlets in their respective regions?" Press Council member in charge of complaint and press ethics enforcement Arif Zulkifli said today.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) called on the National Police to rescind point 1 from the circular if it is indeed intended for the mass media.
While the nation awaits clarification from the National Police, it's understandable that people are concerned about potentially another rule of law that could erode freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the country.
Just in February, the National Police launched its Virtual Police department, which is capable of sliding into citizens' DMs to warn them about potential breach of the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE). While the department was ostensibly launched to reduce the number of prosecutions under UU ITE, critics say it was a misguided move that puts Indonesia one step closer to becoming a police state.