Indonesia: Attacks against student journalists intensify

Local and international calls to enshrine protections for student journalists and media outlets have risen in Indonesia after the release of a report by the country’s student press association revealed mounting media rights violations enabled by inadequate legal safeguards. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) stands with its Indonesian affiliates, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia and the Media and Creative Industry Workers Union for Democracy (SINDIKASI), in calling on the Indonesian government to provide better support and protection to student journalists and their outlets.

University students gather at the 17th Indonesian Student Press Association (PPMI) Congress in Central Java on May 22. Credit: PPMI / Twitter

Over 150 university students gathered at the 17th Indonesian Student Press Association (PPMI) Congress in Central Java on May 22, with activities and workshops centred on extending press council protections to student media workers and their publications. Their calls were echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which called on the Indonesian government to support the Press Council in its efforts to protect student media and “mediate their disputes with school authorities”.

Current legal safeguards for Indonesian media often fail to shield student press from intimidation, violence, and censorship. The Press Council, created as a result of Indonesia’s 1999 Press Law, was designed to mediate defamation disputes involving legally independent media organisations. However, as identified by HRW, this legal definition excludes student media outlets, as institutional oversight by the Ministries of Education or Religious Affairs for Islamic schools fails to qualify these publications as independent.  

Student journalists at these outlets face a myriad of risks and threats. A November 2022 report by the PPMI detailed over 185 media rights violations directed towards journalists and media workers from student press in 2020-2021. Over the period, media workers and their outlets faced intimidation, censorship and attacks, with a large number of cases concentrated on Javanese university campuses. The most common press freedom violation documented was the repression and closure of student media outlets, of which the PPMI recorded 48 instances.

In June 2022, the IFJ monitored media rights violations against student press organisation LPM Lintas, at the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Ambon, which published an investigative story on a legacy of impunity in cases of sexual harassment at the university from 2015 to 2021. In the wake of the article’s publication, which condemned the university’s failure to address impunity at the campus, journalist Nurdin Kaisupy and layout designer Muh Febrianto were assaulted at the publication office, alleged by associates of an implicated lecturer, with the assailants vandalising their office. The university reported nine of the studentjournalists to the police, which led to their summoning.

Unfavourable coverage is an all-too-familiar cause of violence in Indonesia’s universities. In March 2019, the Chancellor of the University of Sumatra Utara disbanded the student press office after the publication of a fictional story concerning discrimination faced by LGBTQIA+ people, with university leadership threatening to ‘supervise’ the next elections. In Makassar, student journalist Wahyuddin was struck by the chancellor of the State University of Makassar in July 2019 after questioning exam attendance numbers surpassing quotas.

AJI said: “AJI considers student journalists to be the same as other professional journalists, as long as they work professionally and comply with the journalistic code of ethics. Therefore, student journalists are entitled to legal protection in accordance with the Press Law. AJI demands the government, especially the Ministry of Education, to stop the various violence experienced by student journalists such as the banning and sentencing of student journalists by campus authorities. AJI also supports the efforts made by the Press Council in making regulations or agreements with the Ministry of Education to stop practices that are contrary to the spirit of press freedom.”

SINDIKASI said: “The Press Council does not well protect Indonesian student journalists because the student press is not registered as a press company. According to the regulation of the council, a press organization should be registered as a press company to be officially acknowledged and protected as a press. The Press Council, on several occasions,has acknowledged the students' press doing journalistic work and supported them in several cases. However, SINDIKASI sees this support as a stance which is not yet strongly institutionalized. Therefore, SINDIKASI encourages the press council to strengthen its support by institutionalizing the protection of student journalists. We demand the council issue policy on the protection of student journalists to assure the safety of their work.”

The IFJ said:“Student journalists and media outlets warrant the same level of protection as their professional equivalents, and greater efforts must be taken to ensure the impunity is not permitted to continue for threats, intimidation, and attacks against student media. The IFJ calls on the Indonesian government to extend the Press Council’s remit and enhance and enshrine protections for student journalists.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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