September 6, 2002
Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
Via facsimile: 62-21-778-182
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply alarmed by a landmark broadcast regulation bill in Indonesia that will impose severe restrictions on the news content available to Indonesian broadcasters.
The draft broadcast bill, due for final consideration on September 29 by the Indonesian parliament, is set to ban the rebroadcast of foreign programming--including news shows--by Indonesian radio and television stations. The new law could make violating provisions on carrying foreign news broadcasts punishable by a jail term of up to five years.
Most Indonesian journalists organizations are opposed to the restrictions. In critiquing the bill, The Indonesian Society of Press and Broadcasting, noted that at least a third of the 63 articles in the bill carry the threat of fines or imprisonment.
In addition to the ban on foreign news, the bill also requires that a "government official inspector" be placed in each broadcasting company, presumably to oversee content restrictions. "The national press is obliged to report news and opinions respecting religious norms and the public's sense of moral values," according to the bill.
The law, which sets rules for broadcasting in Indonesia, has been under consideration and debate for more than two years. Earlier drafts of the bill contained no mention of restrictions on foreign news broadcasts, and analysts in Indonesia have been shocked by the sudden move to clamp down on information flow.
Information Minister Syamsul Muarif first told reporters on September 2 about the restrictions on foreign broadcast relays, saying that the only relays allowed would be those that are considered to be "incidental" to Indonesian interests, said press reports. He did not define the term incidental. An advocate of the restrictions, Amin Said Husni, the deputy head of the parliamentary team drafting the bill, told Reuters, "We don't want our stations and radio to be foreign kiosks (selling their products)."
A lecturer with the Indonesian Press Institute, Abdullah Almadi, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that "the bill turns the clock back nearly 40 years to 1964, when President Sukarno, during the height of Indonesia's confrontation with Malaysia, banned the public from listening to foreign broadcasts."
Since the ouster of former President Suharto in 1998, the Indonesian press has become one of the freest in Asia with a host of new radio and television stations emerging in recent years. Many of those stations routinely carry news programs from VOA, the BBC, and other foreign news organizations.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists working to guarantee press freedom worldwide, CPJ urges Your Excellency to do everything within your power to see that this bill does not become law. This blatant act of censorship, which violates basic rights under international law, would not only do grave damage to Indonesia's burgeoning press but would severely harm the country's standing within the world community.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.