The right to freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution. This includes freedom of belief, of expression of thoughts and attitudes in accordance to one’s conscience as well as the right to organise, assemble and express opinions. The right to obtain and communicate information is also recognised. However, the Constitution also recognises the need to accept the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, which include morality, religious values, security and public order of a democratic society. The constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression is not adequately translated in Indonesian society.
Press Law No. 40/1999 was adopted to replace the earlier version, Law No. 11/1966. Concerned with the rights of the press, this law was symbolic of the freedom that was denied to the institution in the long oppressive and authoritarian regime of President Suharto. It recognises freedom of the press among the rights of citizens (Article 4). The same article categorically states that the national press is not subject to censorship, bans or restrictions of broadcasting and also guarantees the right of the press to seek, receive and impart ideas and information. Article 4(2) forbids prior censorship of both the print and the broadcast media. The Press Law also acknowledges the rights of the journalists to protect the confidentiality of the sources of the information; this clause, is however, conditional and can be overridden in case of public interest for reasons of safety or public order of the state. The hampering of press freedom is also punishable by imprisonment and fine (Article 18(2)).
Despite the accommodation of such clauses, the Press Law has not been able to adequately protect press freedom in Indonesia. This is because it also imposes certain restrictions on the content of both print and broadcast media. Article 5 makes it obligatory for the media to respect religious and moral norms; Article 13 prohibits the media from degrading the dignity of religion or promoting conflict between religions. A breach of these provisions can be punished by fines, which are exorbitant by Indonesian standard. The provision related to the right of response (referred to as right of reply) also tends to infringe press freedom by facilitating prior restraint. Any individual or group is entitled to the right of responding or denying news that may be unfavourable to their reputation (Article 1). This also includes the obligation of the media to respect other’s right of reply (Article 18); offenders of this law can be punished by fine. The provision of the right of reply is objectionable on the ground that it makes no requirement for a particular news item to be false as a condition for granting the right of response. Besides, legal provision of the right of reply retains the risk of it being used unfairly by powerful political and commercial stakeholders to prevent news that can affect their interests. Such clause also leads to the influence of media content. It needs to be amended for fair and justified implementation.
Media scholars in Indonesia have also pointed out in interviews that the Press Law falls short in being vague in its guarantees of press freedom. Despite the presence of this law, press freedom continues to be infringed by other laws like criminal defamation, libel and laws of criminal and civil affair. Ahmad Faisol, programme coordinator of ISAI (Institute Studi Arus Informasi/ Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information), said in an interview that the Press Law fails to address legal complexities, thus being ineffective in protecting media freedom adequately. The legal loopholes of this law need to be addressed through amendments. The clauses of limiting press freedom on the ground of religious and moral norms and harmony require revision apart from the one on right of reply.
The Openness of Public Information (KIP) Law No. 14 Year 2008, though seeks to legally confirm the principle of openness of information, ends up threatening journalists through Article 51. This article states that any person who intentionally uses the public information against the law will be punished with imprisonment of 1 year and / or a maximum fine of Rp 5 million. Journalists, who regularly access public information as part of their job, remain exposed to the misuse of this law. The KIP law should only regulate access to rather than use of public information. The expression – use of public information against the law – remains vague and offers discretionary power to the authorities of accusing journalists of misuse of public information.
Law No. 10 Year 2008 of General Election requires the media to maintain balance in the allocation of space (for print media) and airtime (for broadcast media) in news, interviews and advertisements of contending political parties (Article 97). The breach of this provision may result in sanctions including revocation of licenses. Media scholars have described this provision as the authorities’ lack of regard for the democratic role of the press.
These legal challenges are further compounded by lack of awareness on the importance of freedom of the press among the people. Ahmad Feisol said in an interview that the public fails to understand the role of the press in checking the excesses of power. Besides, as also observed by Feisol, the industry lacks solidarity and union to prevent the abuse of press freedom.
The broadcast media are regulated by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), an independent regulatory body entrusted with the task of granting licenses to both radio and television stations. The KPI was set up in accordance to a new Broadcasting Act (Act No. 32/2002) that was passed in 2002 to check state control and increase public participation in the industry. However, despite some high points of this law, it has been opposed by the broadcasting industry for the restrictions it imposes on broadcasting content.
Act No. 11 of 2008 on the Information and Electronic Transactions that was passed in Indonesia to regulate the regulate cyber transactions too remains objectionable on certain grounds. This law enables the government to impose six years of imprisonment and fine on anyone caught sharing pornographic material, false news or religious and hate messages.Back to top