Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Judges rule in favor of cigarette firms in advertisement lawsuit

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A panel of three judges ruled in favor of the powerful cigarette industry against the plaintiffs, which consisted of consumer and health watchdogs, in a legal battle over illegal cigarette commercials.

Worse, the judges ordered the plaintiff to issue a public apology in the print media to the accused, comprising: cigarette producers PT Djarum Kudus Tbk and PT H.M. Sampoerna Tbk; television stations RCTI and SCTV; print media Bisnis Indonesia and Gatra magazine; advertising companies PT Perada Swara Production, PT Citra Lintas Indonesia and PT Metro Perdana Indonesia.

The judges ruled that the plaintiff had defamed the defendants when they made public the lawsuit during a media conference in June last year.

"We will appeal," said lawyer Tulus Abadi, who represented the plaintiffs, immediately after presiding judge Tjaraka Imam Widadadi read out the verdict at the South Jakarta District Court.

Tulus commented that the verdict "will set a bad precedent for the freedom of press and public information."

Judge Tjaraka dismissed the lawsuit, which was initiated by the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), the Indonesian Heart Foundation (YJI), the Indonesian Women against Tobacco Foundation (WITT), the Indonesian Cancer Foundation (YKI) and the Foundation for Coping with Smoking Problems (YLM3).

The lawsuit concerned a series of cigarette commercials which aired from June to December 2001 on RCTI and SCTV in both the morning and afternoon.

The plaintiffs claimed the commercials violated Government Regulation No. 38/2000, which stipulates that electronic media may run cigarette advertisements only between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.

"The defendants did not do anything wrong, as they only contracted third parties to promote their products. They have no connection with the air time," he said, defending giant cigarette producers PT Djarum and PT H.M. Sampoerna.

Although the judges acknowledged that the cigarette commercials were aired illegally, the verdict did not provide a clear explanation as to the guilty party in the case, as all the other accused companies, including RCTI and SCTV, were also acquitted.

Another noted legal case in which a plaintiff lost to the cigarette industry involved lawyer R.O. Tambunan. The lawyer had filed a class action suit on behalf of Indonesian youths against PT Bentoel, for an alleged violation in using the words Remaja Jaya (Successful Youth) as a brand name of one of its products.