Latent Battle between the Press and the Law

Opinion article

In the world of mass media and journalism, the year of 2009 was filled with conflicts between freedom of the press (and freedom of expression) and several regulations that were meant to protect citizens. Forget the Law of Business Anti-Monopoly or the Law of Pronography, even though both also touched mass media operation. Let us pay attention to the most ‘hated’ regulations by the press: The Criminal Law (KUHP, particularly on Press Delict) and the ITE Law (Information and Transaction via Electronic).

The dispute between the Criminal Law and the Press started in the year of 2003 when Tempo fought against Tomy Winata in courts. TW used the Criminal Law for the case of “libel” (false information without ground – fitnah). Tempo ralied and campaigned throughout Indonesia with slogan “Do not criminilaize the press”. Among the acts was Gunawan Mohamad, Buyung Nasution, TM Lubis, and Gus Dur occupied the greean table at some court room: an act that could have been dubbed as “contempt of court” in other circumstances.

However fierecful the fight between Tempo and TW that lasted for 6 years, last year they agreed to settle their case in a peaceful manner. The public did not have the privilege to know how the settlement was, despite curiosity of who apologized to whom. It was like an anti-climax. In the world of journalism, no lesson learned. Should the press be more correct next time? Or, should the object of news not bring such matter to court next time? Or what?

The over-sensitivity of the press toward several Indonesian laws may jeopardize the need to educate our citizens in understanding of the laws. Libel and defamation in the media happen, as a matter of fact. When that happens, what shall be done? The victim wants justice. To gain the justice, he/she uses the only available law: libel law. When the press refuses it, it means the victim comes to a dead end. No justice served. The press says outloud to try it using the Press Law; but there is no article concerning libel or defamation in the Law.

Recently, at the end of last year, the LBH-Pers and AJI also released concerns towards ITE Law, particularly Article 27. They claimed that the article intimidated journalists in doing their jobs. They feel threatened, un-free, of finding and exposing the truth. They are potential of being tried by that regulation. Why is everything taken as ‘potentially dangerous to the press’? Not everything is about the press. Can the press think beyond the box for a chance? The criminal law and the ITE Article 27 was made to protect citizens. The unwanted or illegal distributions of indecent pictures (via mobile phones or emails) can be reduced or stopped with this Law. False news and defamation will no longer be unpunished. People with potentialiaty of doing the wrong things are the ones affected by this law. It is good for the citizens. Journalists with ethical knowledge cannot be intimidated by this law. If journalists undergo procedures in gathering information, and report it without bias or malicious intention, there is nothing to worry about. If a journalist writse bad thing about certain figures and they are known to be bad persons, there is no libel or defamatin case.

It is proven by the court decision to free Prita Mulyasari. Even though it was valid for the doctors to report Prita as defaming their reputations, the judges had done the right thing by successfully finding the truth. The truth was: Prita didn’t lie. What she wrote was a fact she experienced herself –talk about prime sources. When you got bad treatment, you wrote bad. What is so wrong about that? Compare it to a case of Iwan Pilliang who wrote abot Alvien Lie (a DPR member) receiving a bribe of Rp 6 billion. Getting the information from a second or third source, unidentified, without veryfication, Iwan Pilliang was in trouble. Alvien Lie suit for damage of being libeled was valid. Iwan has a choice: protecting his source and take responsibility, or disclose his source. It’s the nature of investigativereporting. You just cannot avoid the laws just because you are a journalist.

Those two examples above were about factual information, while the case of Luna Maya and Bersihar Lubis were about opinion. Every body is free to express his/her mind. Of course, it can be a very bad manner or attitude for Eastern value if you just say what you think. But it is unpunishable. No law can reach it. It is Luna Maya’s right to look down infotainment as ‘lower than whores’. It may also be Bersihar Lubis’s taste to dub the Attorney as “foolish”. They may be not. It is only opinion. Bersihar and Luna did not talk about facts.

Citizens also watched Presiden Yudoyono quite often denied ‘media accusation’ of his link to Century case or KPK case. Yudoyoyono even accused mass media as conducting libels. After his speech at the Jakarta bombings, Yudoyono also accused mass media as ‘spinning’ his speech, when media found out the unmatch facts between what happened and what the speech was about. Speculation grew and the President got upset. But, how can the media spinned the President’s speech when it was aired live and unedited? In the case of KPK, Yudoyono did not seem to mind Anggodo and his friends mentioning him (RI-1) in the phone conversation. While citizens understood it as libel (and think about ITE Law), the President ignored it. The Century case also brought about issues of libel by the media and their sources towards the President and the Denocratic Party. But so far, no legal report filed to the police.

The key problem for this ongoing batlle between the press and the law (and sometimes the president) is the lack of socialization and education to the public. The worry about misuse or abuse of the law is valid. Not only the people can file suits using Criminal and ITE law for cases that are actually unsuited for that; even the police and the attorney with limited knowledge of the laws can do it.

The solution for this latent problem is to revise the Press Law, by completing it with articles of libel/defamation through the media. By doing this, the media people have access and authority in how to handle such problem. Let them decide what punishment is suitable for the abuser. But first of all, media people should agree that libel/defamation happen and the doer shall be punished. Revising the Law (including reducing the detention time of convict of ITE Law Article 27), will be completed with socialitation. Mass media must support this, instead of misguiding citizens against the law.

The Press Council, as often represented by Leo Batu Bara, strive for the Revision of Constitution, in order to accomodate a clause of ‘free press is a right guaranteed by the constitution’. At some occassion, Batubara said: “Freedom of the press must not be limited by any law”, echoing the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Citizens may ask: “How would the world become if there is a freedom without limit?”

Sirikit Syah-
Lecturer of Journalism, Media Watch Activist
January 2010


Perihal LKM Media Watch
Mass media are watchdogs. But who watch the media? Let's do it together. Watch this very powerful entity, for better journalism, better Indonesia, better world.

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