Freedom of the Press 2008

The media landscape saw both positive and negative turns in 2007, with important court rulings and a vibrant press offset by legal harassment from powerful politicians and businesses as well as continued attacks against journalists. Freedoms of speech and of the press are provided for in the constitution and the 1999 Press Law; however, these rights were at times restricted in practice, particularly under criminal defamation provisions. In July 2007, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional Articles 154 and 155 of the Penal Code, which criminalized “public expression of feelings of hostility, hatred, or contempt toward the government.” This followed a 2006 landmark ruling that decriminalized insults against the president and vice president. In another important case, in April 2007, a South Jakarta district court acquitted Playboy editor in chief Erwin Arnada of publishing indecent material, ruling that any charges against the editor should have been made under the Press Law instead of the penal code. The overall legal picture remained mixed, however, with the question of which piece of legislation should be used in criminal defamation cases often depending upon the educational background of the presiding judge. Thus, in September 2007, criminal charges were brought under the penal code against Koran Tempo newspaper columnist Bersihar Lubis, who was accused of insulting the Office of the Attorney General in an article criticizing a ban on a high school history textbook. Also in September, in a defamation decision criticized by press freedom groups, the Supreme Court overturned two lower court rulings and ordered Time magazine to pay former president Suharto 1 trillion rupiah (US$106 million) in damages over a 1999 story accusing him and his family of embezzling US$15 billion. A spokesman for the Court said it concluded that the story had damaged the former dictator’s “reputation and honor.”

In 2007, press advocates also expressed concern about what appeared to be a new trend in which powerful corporations tried to obstruct the press through legal harassment, reportedly leading to increased self-censorship. In one such case, the Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper Corporation, owned by business tycoon Sukanto Tanoto, filed a defamation suit against Koran Tempo newspaper after it reported on illegal logging in Sumatra. The July 2007 story quoted a local police chief as stating that of the 189 cases of illegal logging in the province of Riau, 25 involved Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper. In another case, police tapped the private cellular telephone of a Tempo journalist and circulated transcripts of his text messages after he had reported on a corruption scandal involving palm-oil producer Asian Agri, also owned by Tanoto.

Violence and intimidation of journalists continued to be an issue in 2007. Nevertheless, the Indonesian press remains vibrant, with journalists aggressively reporting on issues such as high-level corruption and environmental degradation. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the country’s largest journalists’ union, recorded 75 cases of press freedom violations in 2007, including incidents of physical violence, verbal threats, and legal harassment, an increase over the previous year’s 53 cases. According to AJI, the most dangerous province for journalists was Jakarta. While there are no limitations on local news broadcasts, several implementing regulations passed in 2005 ban live broadcasts of foreign programs by domestic carriers. In May 2007, the Supreme Court refused a request by the broadcasting commission and a coalition of nongovernmental organizations to review the regulations. On November 17, a coroner in New South Wales, Australia, issued a report establishing that the Indonesian army had “deliberately killed” the British, New Zealand, and Australian reporters known as “the Balibo Five” who were in East Timor covering the 1975 invasion. In March, a judge in a coroner’s court in Sydney issued an arrest warrant for a former Indonesian army officer in the case, but Indonesia refused to acknowledge the Court’s findings. The government continued to ban foreign journalists from entering West Papua.

Indonesia is home to a large number of independent media outlets that are generally able to provide a wide variety of opinions and perspectives. Obstruction of the press by large corporations and powerful individuals appeared to be especially effective during the year, coming at a time of increased media consolidation. With only seven large companies dominating Indonesian mass media, press advocates argued that owners were increasingly cautious about publishing stories that might offend powerful companies or individuals. The broadcast market includes some 60 private radio stations in the Jakarta area alone and 10 private television networks nationwide that operate in competition with the public Televisi Republik Indonesia. Strict licensing laws have resulted in more than 2,000 illegal television and radio stations that operate on a regular basis without a license. In a countrywide survey, half of the journalists questioned revealed that their salaries were too low to cover basic living costs, as more than 60 percent of journalists earn less than US$200 a month. Widespread corruption in the legal system, as well as the perception that a favorable verdict could be bought, kept most newspaper or television journalists from reporting on stories that were likely to lead to lawsuits. Accessed in 2007 by 20 million people—over 8 percent of the population—the internet is gaining popularity. There are no reported government restrictions on access, but the lack of high-speed infrastructure outside the major cities limits its use as a news source. In November, Indonesia held its first national bloggers’ conference, attended by some 500 bloggers.

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score


Political Environment


Economic Environment