Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Megawati tries to ease tension with media

Rita A. Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

President Megawati Soekarnoputri made a reluctant step on Sunday to open a new dialog with the local media, while at the same time, defended her strong stance against what she described as "biased, unbalanced and irresponsible" media reports.

Attending the National Press Day at the Art Center in Denpasar, Bali, Megawati used the occasion to once again reproach the local media, for continuously criticizing her unpopular policies and her insensitivity.

"Local media have always accused me of being quick to anger and too emotional in responding to recent news reports. I am not angry at all -- not yet," the President chatted on stage before delivering her speech.

In her speech, Megawati said that she respected the freedom of the press and therefore, the media should also respect and defend freedom.

"We, the government, feel very grateful and respectful of press freedom. But now, it is the obligation of the press to maintain and guard this freedom," asserted the President.

Nevertheless, she continued, in the era of press freedom, the national media should be more professional and responsible. Otherwise, they could cause national instability and disintegration, she said.

"The responsibility of the national press lies in its professionalism to protect and promote national unity," she said in her written speech.

The President urged the National Press Council to optimize its control system to keep the national media on track in accordance to its own code of ethics.

She admitted that irresponsible media accounted for only a small minority. Yet, their actions could harm the image of the entire national media, she said.

Megawati's relationship with the media has been awkward ever since she took over from her former superior, president Abdurrahman Wahid.

She has lashed out at local media several times for their critical reports on her silence or her ill-planned policies, ranging from the government's handling of Indonesian migrant workers expelled from Malaysia, to the unpopular policy of raising utility charges and fuel prices simultaneously, which sparked protests across the country.

State Minister of Communications and Information Syamsul Mu'arif said that Megawati's attendance at the press gathering would help ease the tension between the President and the media.

He also said that the government would be very willing to bridge the communication gap between the media and the government, especially the President.

"There are dozens of media associations, including printed and electronic press associations. Which association should the government and the president talk to?," the minister asked.