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Media warns of press freedom threat

Mass organizations bill 'would restrict ideological debate'

Amir Effendi Siregar voices his concern over the mass organizations bill (Photo by Marianus Dagur) Amir Effendi Siregar voices his concern over the mass organizations bill (Photo by Marianus Dagur)
  • by Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • June 15, 2012
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A media coalition warned yesterday that a pending bill on mass organizations posed a threat to press freedom as it joined a growing chorus of criticism of the draft legislation.

Amir Effendi Siregar, a member of the Independent Coalition for the Democratization of Broadcasting (KIDP), said the proposed law would reduce the scope of news media to cover political currents outside of Pancasila, the five principles enshrined in the 1945 constitution.

These include a united Indonesia, democracy guided by consensus and belief in one God, meaning the new law would, in theory, prevent mention of ideologies such as Marxism and capitalism when discussed by certain groups, he said.

“This regulation is dangerous for media, press and journalism organizations,” said Siregar, who is also head of Media Regulation and Regulator Watch. “How can journalists not mention ideologies, which are against Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, in their publications?”

The government has worked with a special committee to discuss the fine print of the draft legislation since the middle of last month.

Siregar warned that once passed, the government would be legally entitled to withdraw publishing and broadcasting permits if journalists were found to have violated its strict limits on ideological discourse.

“In a democratic system, media and professional journalists have an obligation to give the audience comprehensive information seen from different angles,” he said.

A number of leading academics and civil society groups remain critical of the law, arguing that it represents little more than a knee-jerk government reaction to fringe political groups seen as a threat to national stability.

KIDP joined the Coalition on Freedom of Assembly (CFA), made up of 22 mass organizations, in sending an open letter to the government calling for the bill to be withdrawn.

“This is irrelevant,” Nurkholis Hidayat, a CFA member, said of the bill. “The state already has a penal code which can drag anyone to court, including mass organizations responsible for crimes.”

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