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Journalists Reject Omnibus Bills, Say They Further Muzzle the Press

Aerial photo of a burning land in Kerumutan Pelalawan, Riau. The Omnibus law will not only castrate labor rights, but also freedom of the press, and furthermore, give way to environmental destruction, in order to boost investment in Indonesia. Source: Winahyu Dwi Utami/Equatorial. 

February 20, 2020

Jakarta. The Omnibus Bills on Job Creation is once again becoming the subject of a polemic. This super law is not only being opposed by labor groups. The omnibus bills sent to the House of Representatives last week, also contain two articles from the Press Law Number 40 of 1999, that will see revisions.

The government is expecting the bills, aimed at easing investment in the country, to be passed by the House of Representatives (DPR) within 100 days. There are at least 1,244 articles from 79 laws that will be either be revised or revoked, as they are seen as hindrance to investment.

Specifically, the bills will create a loophole for the government to control the press through government regulations. There are two articles in the Press Law Number 40 of 1999 that are going to be revised, articles 11 and 18.

The revised article 11 states “The injection of foreign capitals into press companies should be done through the exchange market. The central government develops the press business through the exchange market in line with the prevailing laws and regulations on investment.”

While article 18 which deals on the sanctions for crimes, saw its points (1) and (2) modified with the raising of the fines involved, from Rp 500,000,000 to Rp 2,000,000,000. Point (3) provides an administrative sanction while Point (4) was added to say that a Government Regulation would be issued to detail the administrative sanction.

Following are the modifications on the article:

Point (1) Anyone who intentionally violates the law by engaging in an action that hinders or obstructs the execution of Article 4, Points (2) and (3) will face jail sanction of up to 2 (two) years or fines of up to Rp 2 billion.

Point (3) Press Companies that violate Article 9, point (2) and Article 12, face administrative sanctions.

Point (4) Further arrangements on the type and amount of sanction as stipulated in Point (3), and its procedure and application mechanism, will be made through a Government Regulation.

A number of journalist associations strongly opposed the plan for these revisions. Chairman of the Independent Journalists Alliance (AJI) Abdul Manan said that these revisions showed the intention of the government to intervene and control the press.

He said that the Press Law Number 40 of 1999, which has provided a legal umbrella for the current press freedom, was formulated based on the spirit of self-regulation and the absence of government intervention. This spirit cannot be separated from the bad experience during the New Order era, where the government was engaged in intense intervention in the press  sector.

The 1999 Press Law came into being to correct the bad practices of the New Order government in muzzling the press. This spirit is reflected, among others, by repeating again that there would be no censorship or press closure, and in the establishment of the Press Council without any representative of the government as had been the case under the New Order.

This law also provides the Press Council with the authority to issue the necessary operational regulations.

“This means, the authority to implement this law is fully in the hands of the Press Council, not through a government regulation as in other laws in general. Reading this omnibus bills, which contain proposals for revisions, the fact that there would be a Government Regulation governing the administrative sanctions, is a form of setback for press freedom. This would be like creating a ‘backdoor’ mechanism, or ‘shortcuts’ for the government to intervene in press affairs,” he said.

AJI is concerned that the crippling practices during the New Order may repeat themselves, where the government uses the administrative aspect to muzzle the press. AJI demanded that the revision of these articles be revoked and rejects the raising of fines for press companies.

“In principle, we agree with a sanction for violations by the press. However, this sanction should be implemented with a spirit of correction or education. With fines of such high amount, we deem that the spirit is more of a revenge in nature. Such heavy sanctions can also become a tool to intimidate the press,” Abdul Manan said.

The Press Legal Aid Institution (LBH Pers) is demanding the consistency of the government in applying the Press Law. LBH Pers deems that so far, the law was still adequate to protect press freedom as long as it was consistently implemented. The problem is, it has not been implemented to the fullest by the law enforcers. One such example is in the cases of violence against journalists.

“This action (of violence) is categorized as violating Article 4, Point (3) of the Press Law, that is obstructing the work of the press, but it is also included under the criminal category in the Penal Code (KUHP). So far, the perpetrators of violence against journalists are more often than not faced with the Penal Code which carries lighter sanctions,” said Ade Wahyudin, the Director of LBH Pers.

He said that if authorities really wanted to protect press freedom, then they should have used the Press Law which carries heavier sanctions, with jail sentences of two years or a fine of Rp 500 million.

“When existing sanctions have so far not been used, it then becomes a question for us, why would the government propose a revision of this article? We are getting the impression that the government is engaging in a politics of  ‘lip service’, image building, to make it appear as if it is protecting press freedom by raising this type of fine,” he said.

The Chairman of The Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ), Rochimawati, agreed that the revision of the Press Law through the omnibus bills will only castrate press freedom.

When studied further, the revision of the Press Law appears to be increasingly in line with the spirit of the government which is revising a lot of other regulations on environmental permits. One critical revision by the bills is the easing of requirements for businesses and developers to carry out an environmental impact analysis (Amdal), making the issuance of permits easier, and sanctions for those damaging the environment, lighter.

Rochimawati said that so far, the press has always been critical in supervising practices concerning natural resources that are deemed to be irregular.

“It would not be impossible that the policy of using fines or arrangement through Government Regulation against the press, is a strategy to muzzle journalists or media deemed to be critical,” she said.

 SIEJ also agreed that the revision of the Press Law through the Draft Omnibus Law should be rejected.

“This is dangerous and can threaten press freedom. The media would be afraid of becoming critical, even more so in overseeing the economic activity in the natural resources sector,” said Rochimawati. Ekuatorial.

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