Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Megawati boasts about RI's press freedom before Japanese media

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri says press freedom in Indonesia is something she is proud of, despite restrictions placed on the media.

Speaking to the Japan National Press Club on Monday, Megawati claimed that press freedom was the most outstanding achievement of the reform movement that commenced in 1998.

"The freedom that they (journalists) enjoy may be even greater than that anywhere else in the world, even compared to Japan," Megawati said as quoted by Antara.

She said while many people questioned the excess of the freedom, the government let the media community establish their own regulations to keep them in compliance with common ethics.

The President also said the government fully respected freedom of expression, which allowed the public to voice dissenting opinion from the government's.

Megawati's remarks follow media restrictions regarding the coverage of the ongoing military operation in Aceh.

The latest decree issued last week restricts the press from conducting full coverage of the operation and keeps all media from publishing statements from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which violates the basic principle of impartiality.

These regulations are effective not only for local publications in Aceh, but all Indonesian media.

The President herself has come under criticism at home for her reluctance to talk to the press, especially to explain the government's policies on major issues. Many times she has vented her anger with the press for being excessive in their reporting.

Over the past few months many have also complained about the restrictions on activists who have expressed dissatisfaction with the government's performance.

A number of student protesters have been jailed for "undermining the legitimate government and the President", but it never stops students from continuing with their rallies against the government. Megawati's government is the first since the fall of dictator Soeharto to take such action against protesters.

Megawati was on the second day of a four-day state visit to Japan as part of her overseas trip, which has already taken her to Bangladesh and Mongolia. She heads to Vietnam next.

She received a red carpet welcome from Japan's Emperor Akihito on Monday as the country's national guest.

Megawati is the second Indonesian president after Soeharto in 1968, who was welcomed as the country's guest.

In a grand ceremony in the front yard of Akasaka Palace on Monday, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, along with their children, greeted Megawati and husband Taufik Kiemas.

Both leaders then exchanged gifts, after introducing the two countries' entourages. Japan Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was also present.

The President is slated to meet Koizumi on Tuesday to discuss free trade and other issues, such as the North Korea nuclear crisis and Aceh.

Megawati will continue her trip to Vietnam on Wednesday, the last stop of her trip before returning to Indonesia on Friday.