Subject: Indonesian Journalists Call for End To Defamation Charge

The Jakarta Globe February 6, 2010

Journalists Call for End To Defamation Charge

by Emmy Fitri & Ismira Lutfia

Slapping criminal libel charges on journalists constitutes a major threat to freedom of expression, because such charges have long since been eliminated in the world’s democracies, seasoned journalist Bambang Harymurti said on Friday.

Bambang, a member of the Press Council, pointed out that Indonesia must eliminate criminal defamation charges against journalists in the country.

“It is a matter of choice. Do we want to be a modern country or a primitive one? This is a simple matter, but elite groups in developing countries like ours complicate things.”

Bambang said those with power and money in Indonesia regarded “the readers, listeners and viewers as stupid and non-critical.”

“Their argument is, they must protect the public, when media consumers here are not easily taken in by media reports,” said Bambang, the former editor-in-chief of Tempo news magazine.

Bambang is one of several noted journalists who have had to face criminal defamation charges for writing investigative and critical pieces attacking corruption, collusion and nepotism across the country.

In 2006, he was cleared of all charges by the Supreme Court following years of battling controversial businessman Tomy Winata in court, after Tomy filed a defamation suit against the magazine for its investigative report alleging that he was involved in a fire that razed the Tanah Abang retail market in 2003.

The allegations were never proven.

Nezar Patria, who chairs the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), concurred with Bambang’s statements, saying that even Cambodia had scrapped such practices.

“Such legal regulations are used to politically repress people. In Indonesia, the New Order knew how to take full advantage of such regulations,” Nezar said on Friday, referring to the 32-year reign of former autocrat Suharto.

The statements by both Bambang and Nezar were made two days after journalists, legal experts, law enforcers, activists and academics gathered on Wednesday at the Press Council to discuss the use of criminal defamation charges to repress the voices of news organizations and journalists.

“We’re still trying to determine what sort of news reports can be categorized under the term defamation,” said Leo Batubara, deputy chairman of the Press Council.

A staunch opponent of journalists being charged with criminal defamation, Leo has repeatedly said that a number of laws deemed as restricting press freedom ­— including the Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law, the Public Information Law, the Pornography Law and the bill on state secrecy — had loopholes that could be exploited to prosecute journalists or other citizens.

In the most famous case, Prita Mulyasari was jailed for writing an e-mail complaint about a hospital’s service. The ongoing legal battle has drawn public outrage.

Leo said that he proposed that unless a news report was made intentionally to hurt someone’s reputation or to blackmail a source, journalists should not be charged with defamation.

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