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Government Should Protect Press Freedom

JAKARTA, May 4 (AFP) - Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has issued a strong endorsement of freedom of expression and said it was the duty of government to protect press freedom, Agence France Presse reports.

Wahid, speaking at a seminar on press freedom in Southeast Asia here on Wednesday, said: "My administration looks with relish on the emergence of a free press" in Indonesia.

"The government needs to protect the press from the many forces who don't want freedom," Wahid said, adding that the "Indonesian press needs protection as well as professionalism."

The conference, attended by journalists from Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, as well as East Timor , was organised by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) in collaboration with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to coincide with World Press Freedom Day.

The appearance of many new publications in Indonesia since the fall of President Suharto in May 1998 was hailed by speakers.

But a representative of a leading Indonesian paper, Kompas, remarked that the reality of press freedom was more complicated and demanding than the idea of it.

"It is true that the media in Indonesia is free from the State and from the government, but they are still threatened by the crowds," said Jakob Oetama, Kompas director general.

"Incidents occur whenever the media exercise their responsibility to report the truth that affects the interests of persons or groups involved," he said.

Since the beginning of the year, SEAPA's Jakarta office has reported 22 incidents -- 13 "physical" and nine "non-physical" -- of pressure on radio, television and newspaper journalists.

Demonstrations have taken place outside television and radio news stations, death threats have been made and journalists assaulted.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, chairman of the Bangkok-based SEAPA, called on journalists to work together to spread press freedom across the region beyond the countries where it already exists, namely the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.

"In the past, outside assistance was pivotal to highlight press abuses and any violation of freedom of expression in Southeast Asia.

"Now with growing press freedom in the region this responsibility has fallen on the regional press," Chongkittavorn said.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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