Sat, 31 May 2003

Journalists regret media restrictions

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A group of journalists associations revealed on Thursday a series of violent incidents and restrictions imposed on journalists covering the military operation in Aceh which began on May 19.

The press association, grouped under the Coalition Against Violence Toward Journalists, said restrictions to press freedom and abuses came from both warring parties in Aceh.

In their statement, the coalition urged both the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to protect the press in line with the 1949 Geneva Convention.

The coalition consists of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesian Television Journalists Association, Indonesian Press Association of Reform, Indonesian Photo Journalists and Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

It said the restrictions imposed on the press started when the martial law administrator in Aceh, Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, asked the media on May 20 not to quote statements from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). He also disclosed a plan to curb news coverage in the war-torn province.

Under martial law, the military enjoys extraordinary powers to restrict or ban the press.

Another form of restriction, the coalition said, came when TNI stipulated on May 25 that all journalists had to report to the military before covering the operation in a bid to prevent "internationalization" of the Aceh case.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto added to the list of restrictions on May 26 when he said he would sue print or broadcast media that failed to provide facts in their reports on the conflict. Endriartono also asked the media to sacrifice the principle of covering both sides for the sake of nationalism.

Aside from the restriction, journalists have also been the target of violence while covering the conflict, the coalition said.

On May 20, an employee of state television channel TVRI in Banda Aceh, identified as Muhammad Jamal, was abducted from his office. His whereabouts and the motives behind his abduction remain unknown, while TVRI has refused to give more details.

On May 21, the transmission pole of the state-owned radio RRI was burned by unidentified group in Indrapuri district in Aceh Besar, some 25 kilometers east of Banda Aceh. RRI repaired it the next day.

A car carrying a reporter of private TV station TV7, Wahyu Mulyono, was shot at by an armed group on May 22 while passing Sigli en route to Banda Aceh. He escaped unhurt.

On May, 23, a car carrying a journalist of private television station RCTI Wayan Astapala was also shot in the same area. Wayan survived.

The next day, there were two shooting incidents aimed at journalists, including The Jakarta Post's Nani Farida, as well as threats against two local radio stations.

The coalition also noticed that on May 26, five journalists of Koran Tempo daily were questioned until late into the night by the military in Lhokseumawe following their report on civilian causalities at the hands of the military. Later on the military announced a plan to sue the daily.

The coalition asked journalists covering the Aceh war to comply with professional standards of reporting only facts and not propaganda from either party.

It also called on owners of print and broadcast media enterprises to send experienced journalists to cover the conflict as well as to fulfill their rights, including life and accident insurance cover and provide them with safety devices.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) cited at least six cases in which unknown gunmen opened fire on convoys of both foreign and Indonesian journalists, describing the attacks as "alarming".

"CPJ has documented a series of alarming incidents in which journalists have been targeted while driving on the main road between the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and the town of Lhokseumawe" in North Aceh, a CPJ statement was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

None of them was hurt, the group said.

"We are also gravely concerned by mounting evidence of a systematic effort by Indonesian security forces in Aceh to restrict reporting on the fighting there," it said.