“I will never, never tolerate that the Indonesian government will interfere with the freedom of the press,” Habibie told the six-member delegation, which visited Jakarta this week to assess press freedom conditions. Habibie encouraged IPI to make continued representations to his government on the issue of Indonesia’s commitment to a free press.
“Freedom of the press is very important not just for politics but also for economics,” the President told the delegates.
Earlier, in meetings with both Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and Information Minister Mohamad Yunus, the delegates asked the Indonesian government to relax regulations which require visiting journalists to obtain special visas before entering the country. The delegation said the requirement was out of step with Indonesia’s newly democratic status and posed an onerous burden on journalists.
Both Alatas and Yunus agreed to lift the restriction and Habibie added that he had no objection to allowing foreign journalists to enter the country without special visas. The delegation pledged to work closely with the necessary government agencies to see that the visa changes are implemented.
“We are pleased that President Habibie has reaffirmed his commitment to press freedom,” said Moegsien Williams, the editor of Cape Argus, a South African newspaper, and chairman of IPI. “I will report the progress made here to the IPI General Assembly meeting in Taipei next week. We look forward to further dialogue with the Indonesian government and with our colleagues here.”
The delegation told Habibie that while they appreciate the strides Indonesia has made in relaxing restrictions on the press since the resignation of President Suharto last May, there are still concerns over the lack of legal guarantees for a free press. The delegation encouraged the President to seek rapid approval of pending legislation to strengthen guarantees for the press.
In addition, delegates raised with the President concerns over the safety of journalists working in East Timor, where both foreign and local journalists have been attacked by local pro-Indonesia militias. The delegation received no specific assurances from the President on the safety of journalists in East Timor.
The delegation was comprised of editors from South Africa, England, and the United States. They were joined by A. Lin Neumann, Asia regional consultant to the Committee to Protect Journalists. During the week, they met with government officials, political leaders and journalists. The delegation will issue a report on press conditions in Indonesia to the IPI General Assembly being held in Taipei May 16-20.
Moegsien Williams, Chairman, International Press Institute
H.D.S. Greenway, Editorial Page Editor, Boston Globe
Raymond Louw, Editor & Publisher, Southern Africa Report
Richard Tait, Editor-in-Chief, ITN News
A. Lin Neumann, Asia Regional Consultant, Committee to Protect Journalists
Peter Goff, Advisor, International Press Institute