Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Media threatens legal action over new broadcasting bill

Muhammad Nafik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Several media organizations have threatened to sue the government and the House of Representatives if they go through with their plan to endorse a restrictive broadcasting bill without fixing the many contentious issues.

M. Ridlo Eisy, a founding member of the Indonesian Press and Broadcast Society (MPPI), said here on Tuesday that radio and television organizations and other press groups, such as the Newspaper Publishers' Association (SPS), the Independent Journalists Alliance (AJI) and the Press Council, had agreed to join the legal move.

"We will take it to the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court if the bill is passed into law," Ridlo said told The Jakarta Post after a discussion on the broadcasting bill on Tuesday.

SPS chairman Leo Batubara, who also attended Tuesday's discussion, confirmed the possible legal action against the government and the House if they approved the "repressive" bill.

"If changes are not made in many controversial articles in the draft law, we will reject it," he told the Post.

The latest amendment of the 1945 Constitution calls for the establishment of a Constitutional Court. As the new body is not yet set up, the Constitution obliges the Supreme Court to serve as a temporary constitutional court.

When asked on what grounds the NGOs would sue the government and the House, Ridlo explained that the NGOs would sue them for a "breach of the Constitution" on press freedom.

He argued that despite several revisions made in the broadcasting bill, it still justified the government's dominant role in controlling the media.

The contentious issues, which television and radio operators and other critics have highlighted, include the government's role in controlling the licensing of a television or radio station and the excessive powers granted to the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) to censor broadcasting in the country.

Veven Wardhana, a senior executive of the Institute for Media and Social Studies (IMSS), said that they must revise articles on the KPI. Otherwise, this institution would become very repressive because this institution has the power not only to grant and revoke licenses but also to determine the content of broadcasting programs.

He also said government officials should be prevented from being included in the composition of the nine KPI members to ensure the independence of the commission.

Critics also said the bill was "repressive" and could cripple the national electronic media industry as it required national TV stations to team up with local stations in order to broadcast their programs in provincial areas.

Joko Susilo, a former journalist and a member of the House team deliberating the broadcasting bill, said during the discussion that any government intervention in press freedom should be prevented, and therefore the bill had to be revised.

"We will strive hard to make crucial changes in the bill, so these controversial issues would be settled," he said.

The House and the government decided recently to delay the passage of the bill following public pressure for them to revise it.

But the government and the House has planned to pass it in the next sitting, possibly in November.