Sunday, January 29, 2006

When the president feels the press freedom has gone off the mark

No doubt! President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) won the 2004 election, part of it, due to media’s power and ‘support’ to deliver the manufactured political realities. Should the incumbent president Megawati Soekarnoputri curbs the just-recently acquired press freedom, people wouldn’t aware that SBY was rarely invited for important cabinet meetings anymore that boosted his popularity. It was media’s reports that gave the image of SBY as a victimized leader, which deserved sympathy.

It was the media who portrayed SBY as a polite, cool, and smart leader. He was exposed as a handsome general that attracted huge female voters and a pop star like that magnetize youngsters.

SBY reaped the result of the media support with his unanimous win over Megawati. He thanked the media for so many times in his early days in office.

But the honeymoon was just so short. Local media stepped up criticism of the President’s ministerial choices, which they said sent out poor signals, especially with the appointment of businessmen with record for running up huge debts.

Media criticism intensifies when the administration misses most of targets set out for the first 100 days in office. SBY had promised to make major achievements in cracking down on corruption and crime. But the government failed to transform many of its lofty words into actions and had to scale back some of its promises.

SBY was able to take on the criticism. On February 9, 2005, Indonesia’s Press Day, the President promised that his new government will not try to curb the independence of Indonesia’s media, considered one of the freest in Southeast Asia.

That time, Indonesian journalists' association had accused SBY's government of trying to muzzle the media with a bill that would make it a crime to offend top leaders or dispute undermine the country's guiding doctrines. But SBY said, "The government I am leading has no intention at all to limit or curb the freedom of the press.”

Is it?

Actually, little has changed under SBY. Three months later, two journalists from Koridor Tabloid, chief editor Darwin Ruslinur and reporter Budiono Saputro, were sentenced to nine-month prison sentences for defamation. In December 2004 former general manager of the Yogyakarta daily Radar Jogja received a similar sentence for defamation.

In response to the Koridor Tabloid verdict, IFJ President Christopher Warren wrote to SBY on May 9, 2005, expressing concern about the setback this verdict posed to the cause of press freedom in Indonesia and reiterating the demand that the Indonesian government remove defamation from its Criminal Code.

Media praised progress in the issue of corruption despite the fact that cronies and corrupt business leaders, especially those linked to the family of ex-president Soeharto, are untouchables and they knew pretty sure that they wouldn’t be prosecuted.

Criticism heightened with the government’s decision to lift the fuel price by more than 128%, high inflation rate, and depreciation of rupiah, the country’s currency, that leads to a cabinet reshuffle. SBY’s indecisiveness is often become easy target of criticism, including his slow response to the public outcry over the reshuffle.

But it seems that he can’t take that anymore. Below is a script of a report from someone who attended the dinner meeting with SBY in KL’s Indonesian Embassy on December 14, 2005 under the title: Media democracy has gone off the mark…(

He was answering a complaint on how difficult for Indonesian expatriates in Malaysia to get the news from their home country via satellite.

“Well, don’t compare with media democracy in Malaysia only. Even if you compare to liberal democratic countries like US and Europe, the scale of democracy in Indonesian media is already surpass US. This is what we called an off the mark democracy.”

SBY went on saying that an ambassador described the news in Indonesian media have just too liberal and gone off the mark. He quoted the ambassador’s simple statistic that most of stories were about bad things the government had done and only few were about good things.

The President also concluded that media reports on illegal workers in Malaysia were overblown.

Wait a minute! US Congressman Robert Wexler from Democrat Party is nominating SBY to receive Nobel Peace Prize this year for his role in Aceh aftermath of the tsunami and the peace process with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) (isn't it strange that VP Jusuf Kalla, who worked hard on the peace process and the main target of media criticism) and democratic direct election in 2004 (well, Megawati deserved to get an award too, as she was the incumbent and has every power to make that happen).
I believe Wexler decided to promote SBY to the Nobel Committee simply based on media reports that overrated the president and government in the last 12 months or so. So, it must be a great irony if the committee will give the prize to a man that wants to curb the freedom simply because he feels the heat of media criticism. I believe the president has gone off the mark with the recently announced regulations on broadcastings!
Mr President, in a democratic country, media and politics normally have a kind of love and hate relationship. Live with that.

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