Subject: CPJ on Indonesian Press & Foreign Press in E Timor
Date: Fri, 04 Jun 1999 17:39:54 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>


Below is a report on the press situation in Indonesia prepared by the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is also available on the web at Please circulate to other journalists and press organizations.

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS 330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA Phone: (212) 465-1004 Fax: (212) 465-9568 Web: E-Mail: A. Lin Neumann, Consultant on Asian Issues, CPJ Phaya Thai Court Unit L, 65/2 Soi Kolit - Thanon Phaya Thai Bangkok, Thailand 66-2-653-7393-office 66-2-252-3429-residence email:

NO TURNING BACK: Indonesia's Press Strives to Maintain It's Hard-Won Freedom

Introduction On the eve of Indonesia's first free elections in more than a generation, government officials eagerly point to the country's open and virtually unfettered press as one of the major accomplishments of interim President B.J. Habibie's tenure. With the Indonesian economy still reeling from the Asian economic crisis, unrest simmering in many provinces, and the corrupt legacy of former President Suharto's "New Order" regime still virtually untouched by either official investigators or the courts, the expansion of press freedom is one of the current administration's few tangible reforms.

"You may do anything," Habibie told a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute during a May 14 meeting. "I will never, never tolerate that the Indonesian government will interfere with the freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is very important. Not only for politics but also for economics."

Habibie's comments notwithstanding, the newly free media still face a range of threats-everything from onerous laws that remain on the books to armed paramilitary groups offended by press coverage of their activities. Journalists also risk being blamed by reactionary forces for fomenting disorder and unrest, merely for covering the turmoil that continues to rattle Indonesian society.

And even as Habibie acknowledges the important role the media play in educating a citizenry and sustaining a healthy economy, he has been unwilling to use the power of the federal government to ensure the safety of journalists working in embattled East Timor, the territory facing its own historic vote just a month after the federal elections. Despite evidence that elements of the Indonesian military have armed many of the pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor that are responsible for attacking both foreign correspondents and local journalists there, the president and other high-ranking officials say they can do nothing to curb the violence.

In this special report, CPJ explores the new status of the media at this critical crossroads-measuring the extent to which progress has already been made in freeing up the channels for vigorous political debate, and identifying some of the challenges facing the media during this difficult transition period. Part Two of the report concentrates on the particular hazards facing journalists working in East Timor, where violence and threats against the press occur almost daily.

The research and reporting for this work was conducted in Jakarta by A. Lin Neumann, regional consultant to CPJ's Asia program, who joined the recent delegation to the country sent by IPI. Co-authored by Neumann and CPJ's Asia program coordinator, Kavita Menon, the report includes excerpts from CPJ's conversations with Indonesia's President B.J. Habibie; East Timorese publisher Salvador Ximenes Soares; and opposition party leader Abdul Wahid.

Supplementary information-including CPJ's documentation of press freedom abuses, the text of the draft press law currently under consideration in Indonesia, and details about the joint IPI-CPJ mission to the country-can be found on CPJ's website at:

Part I Indonesia's Press Flourishes Despite Uncertainty Officials Point to Flowering of Media as a Sign of Progress Journalists in Jakarta estimate that 1,000 new publications have sprung up throughout the country since Suharto was forced from office a year ago. While some of them are supported by one or another of the 48 political parties vying in the June 7 elections, many others profess independence and seek readers rather than partisan victories. Where once a single official journalists' union, the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), held sway over the entire profession by official decree, some two dozen new press associations have formed in the past year. The Ministry of Information, which used to be the chief gatekeeper and stumbling block to anyone seeking to open a newspaper or magazine, now processes license applications in a matter of hours and aims to do away with official registration altogether.

Indeed, the aggressiveness of the new press can be startling. One paper is called simply Oposisi! (Opposition), and its regular broadsides against Suharto's legacy of corruption and nepotism leave readers no doubt about what it is opposed to. Another is called Gugat!, which means "accuse" in Indonesian. The tabloid has as its motto "Trial by the Press."

"What we have done here is for the sake of the country," Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah told the CPJ-IPI delegation. "Because we do believe that freedom of the press will help our democracy."

Yunus is an unlikely champion of the free press, given his past as the military commander who led an October 1975 assault on the East Timorese town of Balibo in which Indonesian troops murdered five journalists-two Britons, two Australians, and a New Zealander-who were attempting to film a documentary on the invasion. In a recent interview with Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, Yunus for the first time admitted leading the military campaign in Balibo, but continued to deny any direct responsibility for the massacre of the journalists. CPJ has called for an official investigation that would clarify his role in the infamous attack.

Indonesian journalists have been loath to push Yunus about his past, giving him high marks for the work he is doing now to protect their interests. In addition to reforming the licensing process, Yunus has invited experts from the London-based anti-censorship group Article 19 and representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to help reshape Indonesia's restrictive press laws. He has also quietly sought out senior journalists for advice, and risked the ire of his colleagues in suggesting that the government ought to get out of the information business. By abolishing regulations that allowed the information ministry to revoke publishing licenses, censor foreign publications, and blacklist foreign journalists, Yunus has given further evidence of his commitment to improve conditions for the independent media. Many say that without him, Habibie would not have gone as far or as quickly down the road toward a free press.

Despite the rapid improvement in working conditions, journalists in Jakarta note that they still must operate with virtually no legal protections. A draft press law-known as Draft 10B-has been endorsed by both Yunus and most journalists' associations, but it has yet to be passed by the parliament. If adopted, the law would end government licensing, create a press council to mediate disputes, and enshrine the media's right to scrutinize government affairs.

Currently, both local press groups and international organizations such as CPJ and IPI have urged the government to enact the press law as soon as possible. Many press observers are hoping the government will use the lame-duck parliamentary session scheduled after the June elections as the opportunity to push through the new law.

While a pending broadcast law provides for greater government regulation of electronic media than that proposed for print, it is still a great improvement over past practice, in which the government dictated the content of all broadcast news programming. The country's electronic media have already become quite open, despite the fact that most television networks and many radio companies are still Suharto's cronies.

The ongoing problems with ownership are apparently mitigated by the fact that the newly open marketplace has shown little tolerance for the party line. With Suharto discredited and requirements for pro-government content lifted, the ruling Golkar Party no longer has the ability to dominate the political scene unchallenged. Owners of broadcast outlets are under pressure to meet the public's appetite for credible news and information. Leaders of the major opposition parties voice little criticism of broadcast coverage, and most insist that they are getting a fair amount of airtime for their views.

It can, however, be a sobering experience to push even reform-minded activists on the subject of a free press, because there exists a deep fear of disorder and chaos in Indonesia, and many worry that a free press might become irresponsible. "A press law is needed to give responsibility to the press," said Abdul Wahid, the international relations chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB), a major Muslim-based opposition party. "Sometimes there is too much freedom with the press. It needs to obey the rules."

Fikri Jufri, the publisher of Indonesia's leading news magazine, Tempo, worries about the impact of such attitudes. "We are used to living in an environment in which order and development are needed and constantly emphasized. That breeds a mentality of censorship." Banned by the government in 1994, Tempo resumed publication last October, and Jufri says it is a race against time to see if the press can convince the public and political leaders that the benefits of free expression far outstrip its costs.

Journalists are attempting to forestall future repression by holding seminars and discussions on ethics and working to build a press council that will be responsive to public concerns over irresponsibility. Publishers are quietly hoping that new publications don't offend public sensibilities by pushing the envelope too far in what remains a conservative, overwhelmingly Muslim country. Media groups have supported the creation of a dozen or more watchdog organizations around the country that investigate and respond to complaints against the press. Even the most vocal of Indonesia's press associations, the once-banned Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Alliance of Independent Journalists, or AJI), has started a monthly publication called Independen Watch to monitor the quality of press reports.

But Leo Batubara, the executive director of the Indonesian Newspaper Publishers Association, says that the focus must remain on watching the government, whose operations remain opaque and where access to information is still severely limited by an official culture of secrecy. And the proposed new press law will not prevent journalists from being subject to criminal penalties as stipulated under Indonesia's harsh criminal code, which contains an estimated 35 provisions that could be used to intimidate the press. Such vague offenses as discussing Marxism, defaming public officials, disturbing social harmony, creating unease in others, and intruding on privacy can still be invoked against journalists, and it seems likely that press advocates will turn their attention to revisions of the penal code once the press law is enacted.

Yunus has convened a committee to review such statutes, and Habibie has pledged to revise the criminal code if he is re-elected. Other reforms-such as a freedom of information act modeled on the law in the United States, or a blanket constitutional provision guaranteeing free speech-have been discussed but are not yet on the legislative agenda.

Older media professionals caution that the euphoria of the post-Suharto era could prove short-lived. In the first years after "President for Life" Sukarno was overthrown in 1966, there was also a burgeoning public debate and greater openness before Suharto gradually shut the door to a free press. "We have to say never again," said Batubara. "We have to keep fighting."

Part II Disappointing Response to Attacks on Press in East Timor It's Not Our Problem, Say Indonesian Officials In the run-up to August's United Nations-sponsored vote on East Timor's future status, political instability in the territory has escalated dramatically, prompting fears of a full-scale civil war. This grim backdrop is darkened further by the scarcity of independent news and information reaching East Timor's citizens as they choose whether to accept Indonesia's offer of integration with wide-ranging autonomy, or pursue complete independence.

Pro-integration militias, nervous at the prospect of Jakarta's abandonment, launched a murderous campaign in February to terrorize the local population, and, not coincidentally, embarked on a series of attacks clearly designed to suppress media coverage of the atrocities.

When asked whether the information ministry might attempt to intervene with militia leaders on behalf of the press, Yunus replied flatly that "We don't have any special treatment for journalists here."

The man who is making a reputation for himself as the champion of a free press apparently draws the line at offering any comfort to those covering East Timor. As an active duty lieutenant general who has served as a military commander in East Timor, Yunus appears sympathetic to the militias' point of view. "The militias perceive that foreign journalists go to East Timor just to give information about the anti-integration side of the story," he said. "So the international world doesn't know about the integrationist side-that is what angers the militias."

Indonesian officials tend to characterize the conflict in East Timor as a battle between more or less equally matched sides: on the one hand, "integrationists" who favor continued union with Indonesia; on the other, pro-independence forces who favor a break with Indonesia. The emergence of pro-integration militias, Indonesian officials say, is only a natural outgrowth of the current political instability.

Many international observers say that the official characterization is far-fetched, and that the violence and fear gripping East Timor is a consequence of the rushed timetable for the referendum-an effort by Habibie to curry favor with the international community on the eve of the June 7 national elections.

With intense international focus on East Timor-especially from nearby Australia and former colonial master Portugal-many foreign correspondents are on the front lines of a very dangerous situation. Pro-Jakarta militia members, armed with guns and knives, have repeatedly roughed up and threatened reporters and photographers for writing stories perceived as favoring the pro-independence side. Militia members have also struck at journalists' vehicles with machetes, iron bars, and rocks-in some cases, to prevent journalists from gaining access to scenes of recent violence, and in others, to punish them for their investigations. After dark, most journalists hole up in local hotels because it is too dangerous to go out at night, when armed bands roam the streets.

East Timorese newspaper publisher Salvador Ximenes Soares-whose paper, Suara Timor Timur, had its offices ransacked by militia forces on April 17 and was forced to cease publication for weeks-is walking a fine line, attempting to prepare the territory's citizens for the sudden referendum while also taking care to avoid the militias' wrath. "We are trying to publish balanced views," Soares told CPJ in Jakarta, "but it is difficult. It is very difficult to publish a newspaper in these times."

As East Timor's only newspaper, Suara Timor Timur is an easy target for groups eager to block news from reaching the territory. The paper has been the object of constant threats, especially when it publishes views that anger the pro-Jakarta forces. On May 11, shortly after the paper managed to cobble together enough funding and equipment to resume basic operations, it was forced to cease publication for a day when a militia group threatened to attack the newspaper office again over Suara Timor Timur's published interview with a pro-independence activist. A number of staff members have gone into hiding or fled to neighboring islands to escape death threats. Soares, a former member of parliament from the ruling Golkar Party, lays the blame for such troubles at the feet of the Indonesian government.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, who negotiated the pact with Portugal that led to referendum plan, was dismissive of complaints against the militias, and shrugged off suggestions that the government bears any responsibility for the violence in East Timor. "It is unfair and untruthful to say that the Indonesian military is behind these groups or arming them," Alatas said. "They are arming themselves."

"There are hundreds of journalists going to East Timor," Alatas added. "We have been telling them, 'You should know where you are. Don't think you are above the fray.' I believe some journalists have been very active in East Timor and they cannot avoid being attacked. It is a situation of conflict. These journalists should know they are in harm's way."

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