Wed, 22 Mar 2000

Replaced news agency head threatens court action

JAKARTA (JP): Former Antara news agency chief Parni Hadi said on Tuesday that he was considering filing a lawsuit at the Jakarta Administrative Court against a presidential decree which replaced him with Mohamad Sobary.

"I was just suggested by Amien Rais (People's Consultative Assembly speaker) to take the decision to court," Parni said on the sidelines of a hearing with the House of Representatives Commission I for defense, foreign and political affairs.

However, he said the suit should be discussed together with Antara employees, claiming that they regretted his predecessor was an outsider.

Antara lawyer Akbar Lubis accused President Abdurrahman Wahid of violating Law No. 40/1999 on the press, which required the candidate for the agency's top post must first be proposed to the House.

"The President's decision was illegal, it is a breach of law," Lubis said.

He contended that Antara, which was established in 1937, was not a state-owned agency until former president Sukarno arbitrarily "confiscated" it through a 1962 decree.

But during Tuesday's hearing, legislator Ferry Tinggogoy of the Indonesian Military/Police Faction at the House asked Parni to boldly accept the presidential decision.

"Former president Soeharto appointed his man for Antara chief and Parni was appointed by former president Habibie. So now Gus Dur also appoints his man," Ferry said, referring to President Abdurrahman by his popular nickname.

Ferry also contended that Abdurrahman's decision was legal since the Press Law had not yet been endorsed by the President while the 1962 decree had not yet been revoked.

Legislator Sutradara Gintings noted that the contention also stemmed from the fact whether Parni was politically installed as the Antara chief by Habibie.

"If Parni was a political appointee, it's normal that Gus Dur does the same thing," Sutradara of the Indonesia Justice and Unity faction said.

Parni, a close associate of B.J. Habibie and former general manager of Republika daily, was appointed head of Antara by the former president in 1998.

Separately, an Antara journalist who asked for anonymity refuted reports that agency employees rejected Sobary, saying that only a few people, mainly Parni's close aides, objected to the agency chief.

"Parni did little to improve the agency. The agency would have gone bankrupt in three years if we didn't make any improvements," the journalist said.

Meanwhile in Medan, North Sumatra, political observer Andi A. Mallarangeng said that Sobary was the right person to head the agency.

"He deserves the post, and I hope he remains critical with his columns," Andi said on the sidelines of a one-day seminar on Bank Indonesia independence and demand on its transparency at Hotel Tiara here on Tuesday.

When asked if Sobary's closeness to Abdurrahman was the main reason for his appointment, Andi said "it was Sobary's uniqueness which led him to the post".

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, Hasanuddin University mass communications expert Andi Muis said Abdurrahman's decision to remove Parni was "inappropriate and disturbed the performance of the country's oldest news agency".

"How can an artist lead a journalistic institution? He's more of a columnist and it will be hard for him to lead Antara. Parni has lot of experience and he is a true journalist.

"I think Abdurrahman's decision was based more on politics rather than technical aspects," Muis said on Tuesday.

"But anyway I concede that Abdurrahman has the right to make such an appointment. The question is: Has he made the right choice?" he added.(27/39/edt/sur/jun)