CPJ concerned about broadcast bill

November 27, 2002

Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia

Via facsimile: 62-21-778-182

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed that a landmark broadcast regulatory bill nearing passage in the Parliament contains numerous undemocratic provisions that threaten Indonesia’s burgeoning free press.

The draft legislation, which may be passed this week in the national assembly, has drawn frequent and consistent criticism from a host of leading journalists and broadcasters in Indonesia. If passed in its present form, we fear that the bill could do lasting damage to the media industry.

The establishment of the National Broadcasting Commission (KPI) under the bill is especially fraught with dangers for free expression. The KPI, in the latest drafts of the bill available to CPJ, is answerable to the office of the president and is charged under the broadcast legislation with the power to revoke broadcast licenses and censor broadcasters over a variety of vaguely defined content restrictions.

In essence, the KPI will be a quasi-governmental agency with the power to punish but insufficient power to issue regulations with teeth, according to critics who have studied the law closely. The KPI, for example, in the current draft of the law will issue recommendations on the granting of licenses but the government retains veto power over licenses. Also troubling, is a provision creating a corps of investigators–in effect an ill-defined “broadcast police force”–to enforce potential violations of content restrictions on advertising and programming. It is unclear whether these investigators will be responsible to the KPI or government agencies.

Broadcasters complain that the law will inhibit investment and planning by calling for a “try out period” of six months to one year during which time a new license could be revoked arbitrarily. This clause could severely inhibit the independence of broadcast journalists, who may censor themselves to curry favor with government regulators.

We are also concerned about a ban on commercial advertising by so-called community broadcasters. This could result in community broadcasters being unable to generate sufficient revenue to sustain their operations. It is unfair and discriminatory to penalize community broadcasters in this manner.

We are aware that a new broadcast law has been under consideration for about three years and that the legislation is needed to codify changes in the Indonesian media since the 1998 ouster of former President Suharto’s dictatorial regime. Since that time, the Indonesian press has become one of the freest in Asia with a host of new radio and televisions stations emerging. With this legislation, however, the government is putting in place a cumbersome and undemocratic bureaucracy designed to control the media rather than encourage free expression.

It is deeply disturbing that the Parliament and the government have consistently rebuffed critics who have introduced detailed arguments raising these and other concerns during the lengthy drafting process. Broadcasters, the public, and journalists have been shut out of substantial closed-door negotiations, recently concluded, between your government and key legislators to hammer out the final wording of the bill.

Our colleagues in the Indonesian Press and Broadcasting Society (MPPI) have called some provisions in the bill “monstrous.” According to MPPI’s executive director Leo Batubara, “the final draft of the broadcasting bill shows the return of the era of repression.”

We respectfully urge Your Excellency to request that Parliament delay consideration of the draft broadcasting law because it is vital that the public and interested parties from the media be allowed to raise their concerns in a public forum. The future of free media in Indonesia depends on a transparent and widely accepted public regulatory system. The current draft law will not accomplish that goal.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director