In his acceptance speech for a professorship at the University of Indonesia recently, Harsono Suwardi questioned the compatibility of the government's pledge of more political openness and the restriction of the press in actual practice.
Harsono said that the so-called "free and responsible" press is none other than a government-controlled press. In reality, this control has given rise to an atmosphere of uncertainty. Gauging the authority's sensitivity toward certain issues is a daily task. Most of the time, the press has to rely on survival instinct.
Perhaps, it is about time to set up an arbitration body, such as the ombudsman in Europe, which can serve as an intermediary between the government and the press when there is a disagreement.
It is now 50 years since our independence and we have never pondered the possibility of having such a body. One of the reasons, perhaps, is because, up to the 1970s, we had only been acquainted with the term "free press".
Harsono suggested that both parties exercise tolerance in order to achieve the high sounding goal of a "free and responsible" press. But there is a weakness in this tolerant approach: the absence of legal basis. The existence of an arbitration body may fill in this void.
-- Merdeka, Jakarta