Fri, 09 Aug 2002

Cirebon regent meets protest over press control

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon, West Java

Protests are mounting against the Cirebon regency administration for issuing a bylaw which many fear jeopardizes press freedom.

Journalists in the West Java town have demanded that the local government revoke Bylaw No. 79/2001 on information order, which was approved by the legislative council on Nov. 20 last year.

The bylaw, which was drafted by the local information office without consulting the press community, says the local administration regulates all kinds of information dissemination activities, which includes those conducted by the mass media.

Regent Sutisna went further by issuing a decree in April which set up a Regional Information Order Controlling Team (TPID) to carry out the job on the local government's behalf.

The team is allowed to take any necessary measures to put in order, to secure and to speed up the control of press activities needed to create a conducive situation for society, the decree says.

TPID members include government officials and military and police officers.

A senior executive of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), Rohlani Mawardi, and a member of the Association of Private Radio Network (PRSSNI), Syaiful Badar, said the new bylaw restricted press freedom.

"Without informing us, the Cirebon administration arbitrarily issued regulation No. 79/2001 that threatens freedom of the press and limits people's access to information.

"We demand regent Sutisna immediately revoke the regulation, otherwise we will take legal action against him," Rohlani told The Jakarta Post..

He also lashed out at the regent for establishing TPID.

"With the formation of TPID, we'll only return to the new order era under the authoritarian president Soeharto. It intends to oppress us," Rohlani said.

Separately, Didi Tjiptadi, Cirebon administration spokesman, who also TPID member, said that the new bylaw was not aimed at restricting freedom of the press.

According to him, the new regulation was needed to limit the distribution of certain films, particularly the rampant spread of pornographic videos.

Regent Sutisna took the controversy lightly on Thursday, saying he did not expect the bylaw to create an uproar. He said he was ready to review the regulation.

"I don't know much about the bylaw, but if it is considered problematic and harmful to the press freedom it will certainly be reviewed. The 1945 Constitution can be amended, so can the bylaw," Sutisna said.

Cirebon legislative council speaker Maskub Buntoro played down the journalists' fear, saying the bylaw was aimed at preventing the press from exceeding its function as information provider.

He said the bylaw could serve as code of conducts which both the local government and the press should comply with.