Subject: State Secrecy Bill 'Flawed;' Should Be Delayed: Experts [+Op-Ed: Free Press Not a Luxury]

also: JP op-ed: A Free Press Is Not a Luxury [by UNESCO's Kochiro Matsuura]

The Jakarta Post May 8, 2009

`Flawed' State Secrecy Bill Should Be Delayed

Legal experts, researchers and legislators have agreed that the state secrecy bill should be delayed for further scrutiny to ensure it meets the needs of society.

The process so far for devising the bill has seen little public participation, they argued.

Agus Sudibyo, deputy director for the Science, Aesthetics and Technology Foundation, said the bill was heavily flawed.

"This is a serious issue. If the bill is to be restructured, it will need more time for deliberation and now is not an encouraging time in politics to discuss such matters," he said.

"It would be better if the process was postponed."

He said the bill suggested the public's right to extract information from the government was somehow a threat.

"The bill provides room for government officials to define public information as in fact containing state secrets," he said.

Hendrayana, the executive director of the Press Legal Aid Foundation, said the definitions of the bill were unmeasurable.

"State secrets are defined in exemptions, such as *what is not considered state secrets'. Such a definition is very weak.

"In the present draft, there is no room for civilians to be involved in defining which matters are included in state secrets."

He also said that since criminal sanctions were applied more to those who used the secrets and not to those who leaked them, the content of the bill really threatened national press freedom.

Djoko Susilo, a legislator from the National Mandate Party (PAN), said he was concerned about the drafting process because it was listed as item 79 out of 350 to be discussed. The list was later shortened to around 200 items.

Drafts of this bill have been repeatedly revised and moved among institutions for almost four years, dragging out the deliberation process. The bill was born from an earlier plan conceived by the State Code Foundation in the New Order era.

Andi Widjajanto, an expert on military issues and a member of the working group examining the bill, said it was better for the country to have the state secrecy law passed as soon as possible. He claimed as long as the nation did have such a law, the government could simply define all information as confidential and prevent any public access to it.

However, Fajrul Falaah, a member of the National Commission on Law, said definitions of state secrets in the bill were too general and could be interpreted at will by the state.


The Jakarta Post May 8, 2009

A Free Press Is Not a Luxury

by Kochiro Matsuura


Every year, World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity to affirm the importance of freedom of expression and press freedom - a fundamental human right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On World Press Freedom Day 2009, UNESCO is highlighting the potential of the media to foster dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation.

Communicating across cultural differences is a central challenge of the contemporary world where globalizing forces have accelerated interactions among peoples. The media, viewed as an arbitrator, has an important role to play in encouraging and facilitating this communication and in providing an open platform for debate among all parts of society.

Respecting cultural differences while preserving freedom of expression will always exist as a tension to be debated and negotiated in any democracy.

UNESCO believes that frank, even harsh speech is our right unless it seeks to incite discrimination, hostility or violence. Any attempt to restrict the right to freedom of expression must be balanced against this criterion.

Strengthening the principles and practices of a free and professional media is the most sustainable way of encouraging a media culture that works towards building peace. Only a media that is vibrant, independent, pluralistic, inclusive and fair, editorially free and beyond censorship and influence from owners or interests can contribute to dialogue and reconciliation across divides.

By challenging prevailing attitudes and stereotypes about other cultures, religions and peoples, the media can help to strip away the ignorance that breeds mistrust and suspicion, thus promoting tolerance and an acceptance of difference that values diversity as an opportunity for understanding.

We must strengthen our efforts to build a media that is critical of inherited assumptions yet tolerant of alternative perspectives; a media that provides the information that enables people to make well-informed decisions; a media that brings competing narratives into a shared story of interdependence; a media that responds to diversity through dialogue.

On World Press Freedom Day 2009, let us all commit to furthering press freedom and freedom of expression worldwide. We have the principles and frameworks to measure our actions and those of others. The fuller implementation of these standards is something we should all be working towards. A free press is not a luxury that can wait until more peaceful times. It is, rather, part of the very process through which they may be achieved.

The article was issued in conjunction with the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2009, by Director-General of UNESCO Kochiro Matsuura.

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