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Jakarta Paper Loses In $1m Defamation Suit

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JAKARTA (Reuters/Pacific Media Watch): An Indonesian court ordered a popular newspaper on Tuesday to pay $1 million to a businessman who it said planned to build gambling dens in the world's most populous Muslim country.

The South Jakarta court also directed the editor and publisher of Koran Tempo to publish public apologies in foreign and domestic media, including CNN and the International Herald Tribune.

Koran Tempo is a sister newspaper of Tempo magazine, known for its fight for press freedom during the autocratic rule of President Suharto, when the magazine was banned on several occasions.

On February 6 last year, Koran Tempo ran a report that said businessman Tomy Winata had plans to set up gambling centres on Indonesian islets.

Gambling is illegal in Indonesia and often provokes harsh reaction from Muslim groups, though some groups and even government officials have in the past advocated the establishment of closely regulated casinos to generate government revenue.

"The defendant should restore the good name of the plaintiff and publicise its remorse over that story," said judge Zoeber Djajadi.

Bambang Harymurti, chief editor of Koran Tempo, criticised the verdict.

"This ruling is crueler than the Dutch colonialism," he said, referring to colonial laws inherited from Indonesia's former ruler, the Netherlands, used to shackle press freedom during Suharto's 32-year rule that ended in 1998.

"This ruling can disrupt the people's right to information. It's a violation against our new press law. I think the judge should learn more about that press law," Harymurti told reporters after the Tuesday session.

He said an appeal would be filed to a higher court soon. Winata and Koran Tempo are also locked in another defamation case.



JAKARTA (AP/Pacific Media Watch): A court found an editor and reporter at a prominent Indonesian news magazine guilty Tuesday of libeling a businessman and ordered the magazine to pay him $1 million.

Tempo magazine was ordered to apologize in national newspapers and on television to Tomy Winata, owner of Arta Graha banking and property group, for an article last year that suggested he had attempted to open an illegal gambling den.

"The defendant has been proven to have acted against the law," Judge Zoeber Djadadi told the court.

Bambang Harymurti, Tempo's editor-in-chief, and Dedy Kurniawan, the reporter who wrote the article, were found guilty along with the magazine's publishing company, PT Tempo Inti Media Harian.

In a separate trial, Tempo is facing charges of libeling Winata for running an article suggesting he set fire to an indoor textile market in an alleged scam to win the rebuilding contract.

Winata, one of Indonesia's most powerful businessmen whose company holds several lucrative contracts with the military, has denied all the charges. The case has been seen as a key test for press freedoms in Indonesia, which shed a longtime dictatorship only five years ago.

"We have decided that the defendants must rehabilitate the good name of the plaintiff and apologize for their actions," the judge said.

Firman Wijaya, a lawyer for Tempo, said that his clients would appeal the verdict, "since it was unfair for us."

The verdict was immediately criticized by media groups which called it a setback for the country's freewheeling press and a possible indication of a return to the press restrictions that prevailed during the 32-year rule of ex-dictator Suharto.

"The decision is absolutely an effort to cripple the media institutions by those who have money and know that Indonesia's courts are corrupt," said Nezar Patria, secretary general of the Independence Journalist Alliance.

"This is part of a trend that uses laws that are holdovers from the dictatorship, which are at odds with the constitutional guarantees of freedom of press," said Christopher Warren, president of the International Federation of Journalists.

Last year, the editor of a racy tabloid Rakyat Merdeka was convicted of "spreading hatred" and handed a suspended six-month jail term over headlines that compared the president to a leach and a cannibal.

A Jakarta court also sentenced Rakyat Merdeka's news editor to five months in jail for defamation for publishing a cartoon of Parliament Speaker Akbar Tandjung shirtless and dripping with sweat. Akbar, a likely presidential candidate, was found guilty last year of corruption but is appealing the verdict.



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 based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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