Shut up, speak up: Freedom of speech and press after three decades of oppression in Indonesia

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World Press Freedom Day 2017 is held in Indonesia. The country was stripped of press freedom and freedom of speech during president Suharto’s 32-year-long regime, which ended in 1998. Now Indonesia finally has a law on freedom of speech. However, other challenges to Indonesians’ rights to speak up have arisen.

 

Restricting and Conflicting Regulations

Despite claims of democracy, Indonesia’s government attempts to limit public access to information to the point of creating regulations that contradict other laws.

Drafting the State Secrecy Law is one example. In 2009, the draft was retracted by Minister of Defense at that time, Juwono Sudarsono, due to critical feedback.

Representative of Indonesia’s Press Council, Wina Armada said, “We do not oppose the existence of a state secrecy law. We simply reject the current draft because in our opinion it is aimed at disrupting the public’s right to access public information.”

Last year the government resubmitted the draft, which is intended to be ratified this year.

Another example is the Law on Electronic Information and Transactions. The first victim of the law was Prita Mulyasari. Seven years ago, she complained about Omni International Hospital’s low quality service in an e-mail sent to the hospital’s customer service and her friends. Her e-mail went viral, and the hospital accused her of slander and sued her using this law. She was jailed for three weeks. Many people protested the injustice, especially on social media. In the end, the court acquitted her of all charges.

Lastly, there is a decree by the Ministry of Communication and Information on Negative Internet Content. Since 2014, Indonesia has blocked over 700 thousands sites because they are deemed “negative” or “culturally inappropriate.”

One of the banned sites is Vimeo. Indonesia’s Minister of Communication and Information at the time, Tifatul Sembiring, argued that the government uncovered more than seven thousand nudity contents on the site. Earlier this year, Tumblr was almost banned too, though in the end the decision was cancelled.

 

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University students took their protests to streets of Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, on Car Free Day (13/12/2015).

 

Media literacy a must

The internet and social media allow everyone to voice their opinion. Formerly the press used to decide which opinions and perspectives are made public. Problems arise when lots of people do not bother reading the content before sharing and commenting the posts.

Samiaji Bintang Nusantara from Press and Development Study Foundation (LSPP) said it may cause irrelevant arguments and cynicism.

“This has happened since before the era of Internet. People talk or argue without actually knowing the entire context, but now it is made easier by the Internet, especially social media,” added Bintang.

Director of Indonesia’s Television Watch (Remotivi), Muhamad Heychael argued that since new media enables anyone to share information, all must become gatekeepers.

“People must be supplied with knowledge just like journalists. That’s the kind of media literacy we need. The public must know what news objectivity is, what credible sources are, or else they will be drowned in a flood of information.”

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Journalists joined the 2015 May Day march in Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta. (UMN / ANNISA)

 

Internet Hate Speech

Many Indonesians respond to provocative posts. People argue heatedly in the comment sections. In online publishing, this makes hate speech related content seem lucrative. Lots of engagement attracts advertisers.

“Some people see it as an opportunity and have created an e-hate business”, stated media observer Rifan Herriyadi.

For example, Facebook fanpage “Jonru” posts provocative content and false information, observed Abu Muhammad Al-Jawy from Tasbih News. According to Al-Jawy, Jonru’s owner has commercialized it, earning at least a million rupiah or around US $75 per sponsored post.

Another notorious account is @TrioMacan2000, which has once been in the news, as one of its admins was jailed for blackmail. The anonymous twitter account was known for slanderous and provocative tweets. Some of its tweets were sponsored, wrote Al-Jawy.

Media literate people would know how to differentiate such media from credible information. The problem is, not every Indonesian has the required knowledge.

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National Advocate Network of Indonesia’s Housemaids demanded passing of the Housemaid Protection Law in front of the office of People’s Representative Council (DPR), Jakarta (07/10/2015).

 

Social media for the good

Smart Insights ranked countries by the number of social media users in each platform. Indonesia placed first for Twitter and Google Plus, and sixth for Facebook.

Among Indonesian social media users is Mayor of Bandung, Ridwan Kamil, who uses various platforms, especially Instagram, to promote his city. Lots of people post about their travels and food on social media, which indirectly promotes Indonesia to potential tourists.

The public has also proved the power of social media in politics. The public outcry against the national police’s attempt to silence the Anti-Corruption Committee (KPK) affected government decisions. People tweeted with a hashtag #saveKPK and it became a worldwide trending topic. In the end, the attempt to weaken KPK ceased. However, they have attempted silencing again by an effort to revise the KPK law; the regulation which currently gives KPK the right to secretly tap conversations to gather evidence of corruption.

 

Text and Photos: Jennifer Sidharta, Jessica Damiana, Annisa Meidiana, Narendra Hutomo

Universitas Multimedia Nusantara

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