The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries, has grave concerns that continuing defamation cases brought by the wealthy and powerful are being used to stifle the free press in Indonesia.
In the latest in a series of trials in which state officials and businesspeople have lodged criminal and civil charges against media enterprises and individual journalists, Bahasa Indonesia language newspaper, Koran Tempo, has lost its appeal against a defamation ruling. The case was filed by Texmaco owner, Marimutu Sinivisan, in response to a number of articles about the company that were published by Koran Tempo between 1999 and 2002.
On September 8 2005, Koran Tempo announced that the DKI Jakarta provincial court had upheld the South Jakarta District Court's 2003 decision against the newspaper, ordering it to run public apologies in 20 newspapers (full-page), 12 magazines and 9 television stations for three consecutive days. The court also ordered the newspaper pay Rp 10 million a day if the paper fails to publish the apologies.
"This decision is part of a disturbing trend of using defamation cases to restrict press freedom and legitimate comment. It sends a signal to the wealthy and powerful that they can silence any press criticism," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
"Wildly inappropriate financial awards in civil cases can have just as crippling an effect on press freedom as jail," said the IFJ President.
"In the long run, disproportionate punishments of this sort will deter the media from attempting to get to the bottom of sensitive issues of major public concern. It will force journalists into self-censorship," said Warren.
"The decision demonstrates the unwillingness of the judiciary to take into account the crucial role played by the media in safeguarding the public interest," said Warren.
Freedom of expression is a key human right, in particular because of its fundamental role in underpinning democracy. Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution of Indonesia safeguards "freedom of association and assembly, of expressing thoughts by speech and writing."
The IFJ supports mechanisms like the right of reply, correction and clarification to settle defamation disputes as outlined in Indonesia's 1999 Press Law. Court trials should be a last resort.
The IFJ calls on the Indonesian government to review and amend Indonesia's defamation laws, and to strike defamation from the penal code altogether.
Koran Tempo's lawyer Atmajaya Salim will lodge an appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court.
The IFJ has published a global report on defamation that is currently available in English and Bahasa Indonesia language versions. The report can be viewed at www.ifj-asia.org/page/defamation.html
For more information please contact Christopher Warren +61 (0) 411 757 668
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries