Indonesian Press Council’s Achievement in 2008

Opinion Article

There are two products of the Indonesian Press Council in 2008 that we should appreciate as achievement in Indonesian media sphere. The first is the Guidance of Adult Magazine Distribution, and the second is the Guidance of the Right to Reply. These two guidance are indeed necessary in time of democracy, where the press is free and the consumers are free to respond as well. The response to the press freedom, unfortunately, can be negative, to the extent of filing libel suit, threatening journalist, or ambushing press office.

The experience of Playboy magazine in 2006-2007 is one example of why the Guidance of Adult Magazine Distribution is necessary. When Playboy -Indonesian version- was released, a huge number of people protested. Some of them ambushed and damaged the magazine’s office. These people –like majority of Indonesian people- do not know that banning a magazine is not allowed by the law. Neither government nor political force can ban the press, according to Article 4 in the Press Law. According to Criminal Law (KUHP), the press can be brought to court and the court can decide the banning if it is proven as indecent or pornography (Article 282).

The angry people then brought this case to court, which was the right way to do it. For good or bad, in early 2007, the court decided that Playboy was not a product of pornography and it could go on publishing. However, since then, Playboy stops publishing. It is not because of being threatened by the mob, nor because of being forbidden by the court verdict; but it is because the audience (the readers) do not want such kind of magazine. It simply doesn’t sell in Indonesia.

According to my observation, Playboy is quite an okay magazine, especially when it did an interview with Pramoedya Ananta Toer (perhaps it was his last interview) and presented other similarly interesting articles. There are other more vulgar magazines in the market, which worry parents and teachers. Several oranizations, including MUI, then filed protests to the Press Council, urging it to deal with these vulgar-and-indecent magazines. In October, the Press Council met with protesting organizations and editorial persons from a number of adult magazines. They came up with a commitment on distribution of such kind of magazine.

The highlights of the Guidance are: it is not allowed to distribute this kind of magazine near school and religious places (churches, mosques); the magazine cover must be wrapped with plain paper (not to expose the half-naked models); and the magazine must be sealed with plastic envelope until it was sold to an adult person.

The second impressive product is the Guidance of the Right to Reply. This has become a dispute between the press and people, who claim to be victims of the press. The victims complain that their Right to Reply are rarely published. If it is published, the editor put additional commentary below the Letter, which is even hurtful to the Letter sender. When a person file a libel suit to court against the press, the press screams of being criminalized, and asks the person to use the Right to Reply. In this case, some press people do not understand that the Right to Reply does not eliminate the potentiality of a libel suit.

Another issue is ‘when shall the Right to Reply be filed or published?’. The victim wants it to be as soon as possible. The press says it has the right to set the time. The result is, it may never appear until the victim gets tired or the press stops existing (there is such a case in Papua and in West Java in 1999-2000). Yet, Hinca Panjaitan’s opinion that the Right to Reply must not have limitation time is rather rudiculous. He said: “If I was attacked by the press while I was away, abroad, and came back ten months later knowing what happened, I shall still have the Right to Reply.” In my opinion, this is against common sense. Ten months after the ‘negative’ publication, readers will forget about it, and bringing it back up the surface means putting salt in your own wound.

However, because the dispute has not ended but gotten more fierce, the Press Council took initiative to control it. After all, that’s one of the Press Council’ taks in maintaining press freedom and -at the same time- controlling the press, so it doesn’t destroy people’s lives. Among 17 rules in the Guidance, the higlights are: the Right to Replly must be proportional in terms of the length and placement, it must be published at the soonest apportunity, and it is out of date to file the Right to Reply after two months of publication.

Propostional is one important factor. Some victims want their Letters to be as lengthy as the news report (it could be many pages), which means intervention to newsroom, which is unacceptable. On the other hand, some editors put the Reply in a Letter to the Editor section with very small space, which is unsatisfactory to the victim. The rule of ‘soonest opportunity’ means the next edition for print media and next program for broadcast media. On the expiring date, two months is quite a fair rule for both sides of the dispute.

A good example of an elegantly-settled dispute is between the Jakarta Post and its source in the Trade Department, in December 2008. The Right to Reply is published less then one week after the troubling article and the editor apologized for misrepresentation. On the other side, the victim accepted that the Reply was placed in Letter to the Editor section, and settled the dispute right there.

In Indonesia, the press has been freed for ten years, and it is still learning how to deal with the consequences of its freedom. As many wise people say: there is no freedom for irresponsible people, the press must be responsible besides being free. Meanwhile, since the government no longer has the authority to rule nor control the press, there appear other entities doing it: business people, politicians and political leaders, mass pressures, etc. The press in Indonesia may be free, but the challenge is getting harder.

Sirikit Syah, media observer, lecturer of journalism studies
6 Februari 2009, The Jakarta Post


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