Wednesday, June 21, 1995

Indonesian Journalists on Trial


for further information:
Andreas Harsono (202) 676 7840 (dormitory)

Background briefing on the press freedom in Indonesia
Organized by
the Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists

1522 K Street, NW, Suite 910, Washington, DC 20005-1202
Washington DC, Wednesday, June 21, 1995

Last year the Indonesian government closed down three news weeklies: TEMPO, Editor and DeTIK. Information Minister Harmoko, a former journalist himself, reasoned that TEMPO (c. 250,000) had stepped beyond their prescribed limits after several official warnings, that DeTIK (c. 450,000) had diverted from its stated goals of a crime-and-detection paper and that Editor (c. 80,000) had changed the composition of its editorial board without prior notice.

The three weeklies were by then the most independent news weeklies. TEMPO was Indonesia's longest-established magazine. DeTIK was a hugely popular tabloid, reporting a lot of sensitive issues and Editor was a financially-troubled competitor of TEMPO.

Independent observers believed that the media coverage of the procurement of 39 ex-East Germany warships, led by Minister of Research and Technology B.J. Habibie, is the real reason of the closure.

Minister of Finance Mar'ie Muhammad, with the support of the anti-Habibie faction within the military, slashed Habibie's proposed budget from US$1 billion down to some US$300 million. The media covered both sides.

But President Suharto alleged that the press had pitted one official against another, instructing his men to take actions against the press.

The closure immediately led to street protests in dozens of cities. Thousands of students, artists, journalists, social workers protested the banning. TEMPO editor Goenawan Mohamad, a number of its employees as well as some 1,200 readers filed four separate law suits against Harmoko.

Some high ranking officials also regretted the banning. A general said that one cannot dismiss a battalion because of the wrongdoing of a single soldier, "Punish the soldier but do not dismiss the whole battalion."

International protests were raised from around the world. They were, however, calming down after Suharto gave lectures to some foreign dignitaries, including President Clinton, on human rights values during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

On the street, the Indonesian military took firm measures against protesters, intimidating organizers, beating demonstrators and arresting dozens of protesters. Information Ministry warned local media not to "exaggerate" the press bans. Copies of Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Singapore Straits Times that contained coverage and pictures of the beatings have been withheld from distribution.

Result: no more report on the protest. Reports on other "sensitive" events such as a labor dispute were also dropped. Newspapers do not reveal the truth. Instead, they disclose the biases and the perceptions of those who produce the papers. Readers need to read between the lines of the newspapers to get what is real and truthful.

Unexpected results: the booming of alternative media such as the INDEPENDEN magazine (c. 12,000) and "Kabar dari Pijar" bulletin (c. 1,000). Hundreds of journalists set up a new independent organization following the failure of the state-sponsored Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Journalists) to condemn the banning.

Local journalists earlier demanded that the Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia to ask Harmoko revokes the decisions. The association, however, said that they can "understand the revocation of the three's licenses."

The unsatisfied journalists, mostly the younger ones, established the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) on Aug. 7, 1994. They proclaimed the Sirnagalih Declaration, after the village where it was issued, which stresses the needs to fight for freedom of expression in Indonesia. "Sirnagalih" is a Sundanese word (West Java) literally means "beyond limit."

It did not take long for the Information Ministry as well as the Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia to crack down AJI. They put pressures on editors to sack their staff involved in AJI. In addition to reporters of TEMPO and DeTIK, almost one hundred journalists became jobless. Some have voluntarily resigned from their offices after being forced to resign from AJI. Several were transferred to non-editorial sections of the newspapers such as marketing, distribution, research and library.

The authorities later arrested Ahmad Taufik (born 1965), Eko Maryadi (b. 1968), Danang K. Wardoyo (b. 1976) and Tri Agus Siswowiharjo (b. 1966). Taufik is a TEMPO reporter and the president of AJI. Both Maryadi, who used to work as a TEMPO researcher, and Wardoyo are staffers of AJI. Siswomiharjo is the editor of the hard-hitting Kabar dari Pijar bulletin.

Siswomiharjo is charged with writing hatred-sowing articles that violates the Criminal Code. He is still awaiting for his trial at a detention center in Jakarta. Taufik, Maryadi and Wardoyo are currently being tried at the Central Jakarta District Court, charged with writing hatred-sowing and defamatory articles (against Harmoko, Habibie and Suharto) as well as publishing the unlicensed INDEPENDEN magazine. The maximum penalty is seven year imprisonment. Police is now still looking for AJI General Secretary Santoso.

Indeed, Taufik acknowledges that AJI is the publisher of the "INDEPENDEN" magazine, the symbol of the alternative media in Indonesia. "If people cannot get the information through mainstream newspapers, they will naturally look for another way," Taufik said.

Indonesia's 1982 Press Act explicitly prohibits both censorship and press banning. Two years later Harmoko issued a ministerial decree which permits Information Minister to revoke the publishing licenses on editorial grounds (Harmoko has increasingly had stakes in more than 30 news organizations since then).

That was the legal grounds for the Jakarta Administrative Court to rule in favor of TEMPO in a landmark decision on May 3, 1995. Goenawan and his reporters, however, still cannot republish the magazine on the grounds that Harmoko had immediately made an appeal.

The outcome is clear. The Suharto administration killed outspoken papers and gave new licenses to politically-connected timber tycoon Bob Hasan and businessman-turn-politician Abdul Latief, to publish GATRA and TIRAS magazines, which respectively imitating TEMPO and Editor. The government have set up "zombie newspapers." Anybody who knows anything in Indonesia, can tell a free newspaper from a zombie.

Andreas Harsono (b. 1965) currently works as the Jakarta-based stringer of the West Australian newspaper based in Perth. He has worked for the Jakarta Post daily, the leading English-language newspaper in Indonesia, before losing the job following his role in the Alliance of Independent Journalists which he co-founded in 1994. His beat included urban affairs, forestry and human rights.


fragaria said...

salam kenal mas! ini postingan pertama di blog mas ya? tua banget... udah senior banget dong jd blogger!

andreasharsono said...


Ini posting kebetulan aku bikin back date. Postingnya sih masih baru. Kebetulan lihat cerita lama. Aku lagi kumpul-kumpul saja semuanya.