Pacific Media Watch

4 May 2015

INDONESIA: Press freedom deteriorates in the region, says RSF report

Hero image
Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were imprisoned for breaching immigration regulations in West Papua last year. Image: Antara.

JAKARTA (Jakarta Globe/ Reporters Without Borders/ Pacific Media Watch): Indonesia has dropped to 138th place in the latest World Press Freedom Index, as journalists declare police an enemy of free speech and activists call for an end to restrictions on news coverage in Papua.

International non-profit group Reporters Without Border released in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day on Sunday a report that downgraded Indonesia from its previous position of 132nd place, out of 180 countries surveyed.

Reporters Without Border, which promotes freedom of the press and information, considered the 2015 index an alarming reflection of the “worldwide deterioration” of both in 2014.

“There was a drastic decline in freedom of information in 2014," the Paris-based NGO said.

"Two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 World Press Freedom Index performed less well than in the previous year".

“Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents," they said.

Police 'enemy of press'
The Malang, East Java, chapter of Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) again declared the Indonesian police an enemy of the press, citing several cases of criminalisation against journalists, including the arrest of two French reporters in Papua and the naming of Jakarta Post editor-in-chief Meidyatama Suryodiningrat a criminal suspect over the publication of a caricature deemed offensive by some Muslim groups.

“This is the fourth time the police have been labeled an enemy to the press since 2007,” said Eko Widianto, head of the Malang AJI chapter. “President Joko Widodo must conduct major reforms to change the police force.”

Citing data from the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, Eko pointed out 80 cases of criminalisation against Indonesian netizens for expressing their opinions via the Internet, with those targeted ranging from students and homemakers to activists and lawyers.

Eko blamed Indonesia’s electronic information and transaction law, which was passed in 2008 and has since been deemed a threat to freedom of information. “(The law) has caused fear among people, preventing them from speaking up,” he said.

The AJI called for an investigation into the unsolved murder cases of eight journalists, with the oldest, the murder of Fuad Muhammad Syafruddin dating back to 1997, and the latest, the death of Alfred Mirulewan, taking place in 2010.

Media access to West Papua
Eko also urged Indonesian officials to grant the media access to Papua and West Papua provinces, where local journalists are allegedly pushed by security forces to only write reports based on military and police directives.

Foreign journalists are barred from both provinces, while those who are permitted to enter are closely watched by security personnel.

The restrictions have even garnered scrutiny from international rights group Human Rights Watch.

“The broad restrictions on reporting from Papua encourage security force abuses and profoundly undermine the public’s right to know what’s happening there,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of HRW.

“International Press Freedom Day is a golden opportunity for the Indonesian government to finally end its chokehold on foreign media access to Papua.

“[The president] should deliver on his promise to end the severe restrictions on media access to Papua and allow both foreign and domestic media to operate there without interference. Nobody is going to believe the government has ‘nothing to hide’ in Papua until media can freely report from there.”

Ranking of other countries
Finland tops the list for five consecutive years, with three other Scandinavian countries — Norway, Denmark and Sweden — also dominating the top five positions,  ranking second, third and fifth, respectively. The Netherlands is the only non-Scandinavian country in the top five.

At the bottom of the list is Eritrea (180th), North Korea (179th), Turkmenistan (178th), Syria (177th) and China (176th).

Meanwhile, North Africa and the Middle East have once again gained the status of “information black holes,” dominating bottom places in the rankings.

Only Brunei and Thailand rank better than Indonesia among Southeast Asian countries, standing in 121st and 134th places respectively. Timor-Leste outranks the three nations in 103rd place.

Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam all scored lower than Indonesia, while France is ranked 38th, the United States 49th, Japan 61st, Russia 152nd and Iran 173rd.

Full Reports Without Border's 2015 report

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons