Alas Poor Laksamana Net, we knew them well
By Bali BS News
Aug 16, 2005, 07:20
After the collapse of the Suharto government in 1998, many people were amazed, neigh delighted at the new freedom and proliferation of press in Indonesia. At one time, it was ranked as being the most free in the whole of SE Asia. But things started to change under Megawati Sukarnoputri’s term of office when she came to power in 2001. With curbs introduced to prevent journalists reporting on certain areas which the government deemed might harm the “nation”; those areas involving corruption of course. Not that disclosing corruption ever hurts a nation, but it certainly at least embarrasses the well publicized corrupt members of that government. And it seemed that everyone, repeat everyone in Megawati’s government was corrupt. In one interview she was asked why she was not going to fire her Attorney General, M.A. Rachman, despite the fact he was to face legal action for not disclosing a luxury house to the Public Servants’ Wealth Audit Commission, with connotations of corruption thereof of course. Her reply was “If I must replace the attorney general only because of a house. I am afraid I will have to replace all the ministers.”
Clearly embarrassing for Megawati, such interviews created her need to curb journalists reporting on corruption and other such embarrassing matters. Rather than actually tackling corruption head on, she adopted the age old adage of the ignorant politician; “What the people do not see, the people do not know. What the people do not know, the people will not concern themselves with.” But the people did know what was going on. Corruption dramatically increased under Megawati, and present president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's promises to fight corruption, along with giving absolute freedom of press, were two of the main platforms that brought him into power on October 20th, 2004. But the signs are not good, it looks like President Yudhoyono may well be just another Indonesian politician out to defraud the people of their promise born rights. Last week we reported on why the Indonesian Commission for Commission Reduction (note: “Reduction” not “Elimination”, hmmm) instigated by Yudhoyono to fulfill one election promise, appears to have been set up deliberately or without any degree of reasonable forethought so is to make it completely ineffective (see report: Indonesian Corruption Commission). Now we look at the worrying prospect that the Indonesian press is being further suppressed under his control, not given extra freedom as promised during his election campaign.
On the 4th May 2005, Indonesia's Press Council made its final attempt to have Yudhoyono’s government revise their controversial draft of the new Criminal Code, which allowed for the criminal prosecution of journalists who violate the law in the course of their jobs. What you need to understand perhaps, if you think that journalists should not be allowed to break the law anywhere whilst doing their job, is that Indonesia’s law is routinely misinterpreted and applied unfairly through judicial corruption; especially regarding the criminal code for criminal libel. The very same criminal code colluding Jack Daniels of Bali Discovery Tours managed to convince Corruption Commission investigation subject Tri Kuncoro, a Bali police officer, against his competitor Mark Austin (see report: Bali Discovery Tours).
On the 6th May 2005, two Indonesian journalists, Darwin Ruslinur and Budiono Syahputra, were jailed for defaming Alzier Dianis Thabranie, chairman of Golkar Party's Lampung chapter, by publishing a report by an aggrieved Golkar party member that the local Golkar chief had failed in his promise to disperse funds allocated for members to those party members for voting for a particular presidential candidate as directed Mr. Thabranie. Interestingly they were not apparently jailed for publishing falsehoods, but because the judge deemed the information was not in the public's best interests. You see, libel is only libel if someone publishes something which is not true and / or something that is not in the public's best interests. Because the question of what is in the public's best interests is totally subjective in Indonesia, unlike other countries which have extensive guidelines, the judge makes that decision! Yes, the Golkar party is the political party of the former president Suharto.
On June 17th 2005, an article published on their web site by the Jakarta Post about the pathetic 7 year jail term handed down to one Mr. Adiguna Sutowo, a wealthy businessman from the Pertamina (Indonesia’s petroleum monopoly) controlling family who shot dead a poor waiter, was pulled. The waiter, one Yohannes Berchmans "Rudy" Haerudy Natong, was working at Sutowo’s brother’s nightclub at a New Years Eve party. Seems poor Rudy was given the job of telling Suharto family friend Mr. Adiguna Sutowo that his credit card had been refused! The article, rightly critical of the lean sentence and the fact that the presiding judge had justified it by stating mitigating circumstances applied; that Adiguna Sutowo was high on drugs, so could not be held responsible for his actions! The original Jakarta Post story of course stated that the so called mitigating circumstances should have increased, not decreased the sentence given. The article also reported how the poor waiter’s family was so aggrieved at the lack of justice. And how Muslim clerics and their followers were allegedly brought or rather bought in by Sutowo's family to harangue the judge over the killing of Rudy, a Christian. Then the article disappeared, believed by some because it was made clear to the owners and chief editor of The Jakarta Post what would happen to them if it was left there!
On July 1st 2005, observers openly criticized President Yudhoyono’s government for failure to respond to a House of Representatives drafted freedom of information bill. The bill was submitted in August of 2004 while Megawati Sukarnoputri was still in office, but had been frequently brought to the attention of Freedom of Press promising Yudhoyono without success; without even a response in fact. A researcher with the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI) said "The government apparently prefers to keep information related to the public interest secret!”. No! Really?
And then Laksamana Net, publisher of news not often in the government’s best PR interests, suddenly shuts down its web site. Instead now exists a cursory single web page, without explanation as to why all previous stories has been removed, stating only that they were going to re-launch as a blog style site! Every webmaster in the world knows you do not do this to a web site, that you keep what you have if it worked before, because people still come to the site as a result. So any new venture planned by the owner of Laksaman Net would be much better served by at the very least retaining the news story archives. So the total disappearance of all of Laksamana's stories seems too obviously politically motivated to be true. Laksamana, thank you for your years of honest reporting which gave the world an insight into the ugly dealings within Indonesia, we lament you.
It is starting to seem that President Yudhoyono is just “Same old, same old”; unfulfilled election promises and PR exercises rather than affirmative action. Well, we are one news service this president and any of his cronies can not silence. Come good on your promises to fight corruption and give the press the freedom they need so we know you are doing it. Otherwise, be an honest man; stand up and tell everyone what you are really about. And if you are a fraud President Yudhoyono, at least be man enough to admit it.