Sat, 04 Jun 1994

Indonesian media is not for sale, legislators say

JAKARTA (JP): The government's plan to allow foreign investors to own mass media in Indonesia met fierce resistance in the House of Representatives (DPR) yesterday.

Stung by the plan announced by the government on Thursday, legislators warned the move would not only endanger local values but also put the national integrity at stake.

Criticizing the government for not first consulting the House on the plan, they pointed out that foreign ownership of mass media is inconsistent and explicitly prohibited by Indonesian law.

"I'm afraid foreign control over the press would only cause irreparable damage to national integrity," Aisyah Aminy, who heads House Commission I overseeing information, said.

The government's new policy on mass media ownership came as a shock to many observers because so far the field has been strictly off-limits to foreign investors.

The move comes as part of the latest government deregulatory package which scrapped curbs on 100-percent foreign equity ownership in the face of stiff competition from emerging Asian economies such as China and Vietnam.

Foreign investors in joint ventures with Indonesians may now invest in previously restricted strategic sectors like ports, electricity, telecommunications, shipping, water, public railways, atomic energy and mass media.

Aminy, an outspoken legislator from the Moslem-based United Development Party (PPP), said she foresaw foreign media barons using their business in Indonesia for "non-commercial purposes."

"The government must rethink its really worries me," she said.

Stressing the need for the government to reconsider its plan, legislator Marcel Beding form the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) questioned why the government formulated a policy which contradicts its laws. "This whole new development is confusing," said Marcel, a senior journalist for Kompas daily.

He expressed worry that the presence of foreign mass media investors will foul up the local mass media if the government is not able to properly manage the policy.

Vocal opposition also came from a House member from the government-backed Golkar political grouping, Zamharir.

He insisted that the government not alter its policy on mass media ownership unless it wanted foreigners to shape Indonesian public opinion. "It would be unwise to trample on the existing system simply because the state desperately needs foreign investment."


He added that the mass media should not be controlled by foreigners because it concerns the national ideology and socio- political values.

But a leading expert on mass communication said that these fears may be groundless because no foreigners would likely invest in the Indonesian media industry the way it is presently structured.

Eduard Depari, a spokesman for the privately owned RCTI television network, said he believes foreigners will see little benefit as long as the Indonesian government requires the press publication permit, which gives it the right to close down the media without legal procedures.

"The government's lack of transparency in its policy regarding the press may also deter foreign investors," he said as quoted by Antara.

The so-called "telephone culture", named after the authorities' tendency to call news editors and instruct them not to publish a story that the officials do not approve of, is also a black spot on the press industry, he said.

"The government should first create a conducive climate before it opens the door to foreign mass media investors," he added. (pan)