Warning bells ringing over Indonesia defamation case, says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is outraged over the verdict issued by a Central Jakarta District Court, finding the Tempo Magazine guilty of defaming businessman Tomy Winata, in an article published in March 2003.

“The alarm bells are ringing long and loud as a result of this and other recent legal cases against media in Indonesia,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren today.

On 18 March 2004, the Central Jakarta District Court ordered the Tempo Magazine to pay Tomy Winata 500 million rupiah (approximately US$59,000) after finding Tempo guilty of defamation. In addition Tempo must publish a public apology to Tomy Winata in the national media for three consecutive days or alternatively to pay a fine of Rp 300,000 a day.

The Central Jakarta District Court found that the article titled “Is there Tomy in Tanabang?” appearing in Tempo Magazine on 3 March 2003 was libelous due to its allegations that Tomy Winata was responsible for a fire, which destroyed the Tanabang textile market, in order to profit from a planned renovation project.

Though the story contained a denial of the allegations by Tomy Winata, according to the Jakarta Post the presiding judge stated: "Tempo failed to find the truth by covering both sides before publishing the article.”

Tempo plans to appeal the verdict.

The Tempo Magazine and the Koran Tempo have been the target of numerous civil and criminal lawsuits since early 2003. Thursday’s ruling follows the ruling on 20 January by a South Jakarta District Court ordering the Koran Tempo to pay US$1 million in damages to Winata in addition to publishing a public apology in both national and international press for three consecutive days. Tempo has yet to pay the fine, pending the outcome of an appeal.

“These verdicts send a clear – and extremely worrying - message to the Indonesian media that the political and business elite should not be the subject of journalistic inquiry or legitimate comment,” said Warren.

“Big business and the Government are using the law, especially the Criminal Code, to clamp down on a vibrant press in Indonesia,” said Warren.

“The IFJ is concerned that the continued use of the Criminal Code will result in Indonesian journalists employing self-censorship for fear of harsh financial penalties and jail, which will reverse democratic gains and media freedoms fought for after the fall of Suharto,” said Warren.

“The IFJ is outraged over these attempts at silencing the media in Indonesia and calls on the Indonesian Government to take steps to reform the law,” said Warren.

Click here to read the IFJ protest to President Megawati Soekarnoputri

For further information, please contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries