Freedom of the Press 2009

As in previous years, a vibrant and independent media environment in Indonesia was offset in 2008 by the use of criminal defamation laws, overly strict broadcast licensing requirements, and continued attacks against journalists. Freedoms of speech and of the press are guaranteed by the constitution and the 1999 press law, but new legislation threatened these rights in 2008. In August, the Constitutional Court rejected a request for judicial review of several articles on defamation that remain in the criminal code. Although over the past two years the Constitutional Court has scrapped articles on insulting the president, the vice president, and the government, it argued in the August ruling that public officials needed special protection because “they possessed not only personal subjectivities but also institutional objectivities.” Because it upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation, the court’s decision was criticized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) as “a serious blow to Indonesia’s press freedom.”

On several occasions in 2008, defamation laws were used to restrict reporting. Risang Bima Wijaya, a journalist and former general manager of the daily Radar Yogya, served a six-month jail term following a Supreme Court ruling on a defamation case brought against him by Sumadi M Wonohito, the general manager of the daily Kedaulatan Rakyat in Yogyakarta. The case stemmed from Risang’s 2002 news story on a sexual harassment claim involving Sumadi and a female employee. In November, the chief of the South Sulawesi Regional Police Office accused Upi Asmaradana, the coordinator of the Coalition of Journalists against Criminalization of the Press, of libel and defamation under the criminal code. She was alleged to have “provoked journalists to resist” the police chief.

There were also setbacks in two important civil cases, which strengthened fears that powerful corporations could obstruct the press through legal harassment. In July, the South Jakarta District Court ruled against the newspaper Koran Tempo in a defamation suit filed by the Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper Corporation, after the paper reported on illegal logging in Sumatra. In a separate judgment in September, the Central Jakarta District Court ruled against Tempo magazine in a case involving alleged tax evasion by palm-oil producer Asian Agri. Although the allegations were also being investigated by the attorney general’s office, the court said Tempo had damaged the company’s reputation through its investigative reports on the issue. Business tycoon Sukanto Tanoto owns the plaintiff companies in both of these cases. The rulings led press advocates to urge that aggrieved parties try to resolve press-related disputes through the mechanisms set out in the 1999 press law rather than through the court system.

Also in 2008, four new laws that were only indirectly concerned with the press brought new threats to media freedom. The 2008 Election Law, for example, included articles stating that “print mass media [must] provide fair and balanced space and time for election coverage, interviews and campaign ads for election candidates.” The law held the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) and the Press Council (Dewan Pers) responsible for monitoring such coverage and advertising, and also for levying sanctions in the event of violations, including the possible recall of licenses. Press advocates pointed out that these articles undermined the press and broadcasting laws of 1999 and 2003, and put unworkable obligations on the KPI and the Press Council. The new Information and Electronic Transaction Law likewise raised concerns among journalists, in that it carries a six-year jail term for those who commit defamation via the internet. And although the 2008 Freedom to Access Public Information Law offers new legal guarantees for public access to information, it also provides a one-year jail term for anyone who “misuses” that information. Finally, the controversial 2008 Law on Pornography allows journalists to be jailed for violations and relies on a vague definition of pornography.

Violence and intimidation of journalists continued to be an issue in 2008, although there was some improvement over the previous year. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the country’s largest journalists’ union, documented 60 cases of press freedom violations in 2008, including incidents of physical violence, verbal threats, and legal harassment, a decrease from 75 cases in 2007. According to AJI, most of the perpetrators were supporters of candidates during regional elections, government agents, police officers, or members of the Indonesian military. Gorontalo, Jakarta, and Ternate were identified as the most dangerous areas for journalists.

Indonesia is home to a large number of independent media outlets that are generally able to provide a wide variety of opinions and perspectives. Since the Suharto era, private print media have grown enormously from under 300 publications in 1998 to over 800 today. However, large corporations and powerful individuals continued to exercise their ability to obstruct the press, and the perception of widespread corruption in the legal system kept most newspaper and television journalists from reporting on stories that were likely to lead to lawsuits. 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 over 800 private radio stations and 10 private television networks nationwide; these compete with the public Televisi Republik Indonesia and Radio Republik Indonesia. The number of community radio stations has also proliferated, with over 11 operating in East Jakarta alone. 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; more than 60 percent of journalists earn less than US$200 a month.

The internet, which is gaining popularity, was accessed in 2008 by 25 million people, or 10.5 percent of the population. There are no government restrictions on access, but the lack of high-speed infrastructure outside the major cities limits its use as a news source. The internet remains vulnerable to traditional media restrictions. In September, lawmaker Alvin Lie filed defamation charges against journalist Narliswandi Piliang over an article that was disseminated in Kompas newspaper’s online mailing list. If convicted, Narliswandi faced up to six years in prison and a fine of Rp 1 billion (US$110,000). The journalist was also charged under Article 27 of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, which carries jail terms and fines that are even harsher than those of the criminal code.

2009 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score


Political Environment


Economic Environment