News Feature

Defending press freedom in Indonesia amid government's ban on FPI

Defending press freedom in Indonesia amid government's ban on FPI

The Indonesian Police's spokesman, Insp Gen Argo Yuwono (right) shows to the press Police Chief Idham Azis' notice warning the public to not access, download, and distribute FPI’s content through websites or social media, on Jan 1, 2021.  ANTARA FOTO/ Reno Esnir/aww. 

Journalists have rights to seek to gather information for the public as regulated in the Press Law
National Police Chief General Idham Azis' recent announcement on obeying the government's ban on the Islam Defenders Front's (FPI's) activities, symbols, and attributes has triggered Indonesian journalists' protest.

The journalists expressed concern over point 2d of Azis' announcement dated on January 1, 2021 suggesting that the people at large not get access to, upload, and spread contents of the FPI on websites or social media platforms.

On Friday, several organizations of Indonesian journalists lodged a protest over the point 2d of the police chief's announcement, and demanded that it be revoked to secure freedom of the press.

The protesting organizations are the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesian Photojournalists Association (PFI), Indonesian Television Journalists Association (IJTI), Chief Editors Forum (FP), and Indonesian Cyber Media Association (AMSI).

They argued that the point 2d of General Idham Azis' announcement has, indeed, threatened the duties of journalists and mass media because seeking, gathering, and proliferating information on current events and issues, including the ones related to the FPI, for the public interest are part of their professional duties.

"Journalists have rights to seek to gather information for the public as regulated in the Press Law," said AJI Chairman Abdul Manan, PWI Chairman Atal S Depari, IJTI Chairperson Hendriana Yadi, PFI Secretary General Hendra Eka, FP Chairman Kemal E Gani, and AMSI Chairperson Wenseslaus Manggut.

General Idham Azis made his announcement that has been protested by the Indonesian journalists on January 1, 2021 or two days after the government banned activities of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) in any form.

On December 30, 2020, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD told a press conference held in his office that the FPI had been de jure dissolved as a mass organization since June 20, 2019.

However, as an organization, the FPI had continued to conduct its activities by violating public law and order, including by committing violent acts, conducting unilateral sweeping raids, and being instrumental in provocation.

Based on the legislation and decision of the Constitutional Court, dated December 23, 2014, the government has banned FPI's activities and will stop all its activities, Mahfud MD stated.

Apart from the government's decision to ban the FPI that has triggered pros and cons in communities, the police chief's announcement has also encouraged Press Council to reaffirm the importance of press freedom for Indonesia.

In the midst of the Indonesian journalists' protest over the controversial point of the police chief's announcement, Press Council Head Mohammad Nuh made a press statement echoing a call for defending freedom of the press in the country.

Nuh appealed to all elements of society at large to keep defending and protecting the press freedom because it is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy and an integral part of freedom of expression.

To this end, the Press Council urges all parties to create a conducive situation and to show a collective commitment to making the quality of our press freedom get improved and beneficial for the entire nation.

The press freedom is part of the principles of democracy that must collectively be fought, he said in a press statement that was ANTARA quoted in Jakarta on Saturday.

According to Nuh, the freedoms of speech and expression are the basic human rights of all Indonesian citizens that are protected by Indonesia's state constitution, and the press freedom is an integral part of them.

Therefore, he urges all elements of society at large to protect and implement the spirit and order of freedom of the press that have been mandated by the 1999 Press Law.

In a democratic country, mass media freely exercise freedom to report, publish, and broadcast public interest-related events and issues by obeying journalists' code of ethics, he said.

The state is principally and morally obliged to avoid or minimize any barrier and restriction that may impede freedom of the press in disseminating information to the public, Nuh said.

"Every problem arising from the practices of journalism must be handled by referring to mechanism regulated in the Indonesian Press Law No.40/1999," he said.

Commenting on the pros and cons of the police chief's announcement, Center for Strategic Studies on Indonesian Police (Lemkapi) Executive Director Edi Hasibuan said he believed that it was not aimed to crackdown on journalistic works.

Instead, the police just focus on preventing those from making and proliferating provocative narratives and hoaxes on social media platforms that may potentially disturb social cohesion in communities, he argued.

"Journalists are the police's working partners so that the announcement that the police chief recently made will have never targeted journalistic works," said Hasibuan who has ever joined the National Police Commission (Kompolnas).

For Rocky Gerung, a popular philosopher and political analyst, the national police chief's announcement, however, reflected an arrogance amid the fact that a free press cannot be regulated by the announcement.

Related news: All Indonesians urged to keep defending press freedom: press council

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