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Indonesia: Tempo Stands Firm Over Pressure

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TEMPO MAGAZINE STILL STANDING TALL DESPITE EFFORTS TO TOPPLE IT
by M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post

JAKARTA (JP/Pacific Media Watch): Former Press Council chairman Atmakusumah said the Tempo media group did not lose credibility despite the numerous lawsuits filed against it. Instead, he said, the suits showed that the group had carried out its social control properly.

Atmakusumah told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that Tempo weekly was among the few media that had strived to bring to light those irregularities involving state officials, business leaders and politicians in its investigative reports.

"That is why Koran Tempo daily and Tempo weekly were sued for libel, because many parties begrudge their reports," he said.

He added that the lawsuits were also prompted by the publications' wide readership.

"A large circulation means news on unscrupulous officials and businessmen reach more people."

The Tempo media group is facing nine lawsuits. Seven of them were filed by well-connected businessman Tomy Winata at three of five Jakarta's district courts. Tomy is seeking a whopping Rp 342 billion (US$40.7 million) total for material and immaterial losses.

Most of the suits were filed by Tomy after Tempo magazine published an article entitled Is Tomy in Tenabang? in its June 9, 2003 edition, which insinuated that the tycoon would reap profits if he had set ablaze Tanah Abang textile market, Central Jakarta.

The South Jakarta District Court ordered Koran Tempo last Tuesday to pay US$1 million in damages to Tomy in the first ruling in the legal battle between the group and the businessman.

The court also ordered the daily to make a public apology in national and foreign media for three consecutive days. If the daily failed to comply with the ruling, it will be fined Rp 10 million daily.

Meanwhile, political observer Arief Budiman expressed concerns that the ruling could be a bad precedent and would threat press freedom.

"The press will become afraid to present interesting headline stories, and this will bring disadvantages," the Melbourne University lecturer was quoted by Tempointeraktif.com as saying.

He pointed out that the media, intellectuals and academicians in Indonesia should not keep quiet with the ruling.

"It impinges upon democratic reform," he said.

Tempo defense lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis has said the group would plunge into a serious financial problem if its appeal was overturned by the high court.

Koran Tempo was found guilty by the South Jakarta District Court on Dec. 30 in a lawsuit filed by Marimutu Sinivasan of the ailing Texmaco Group, and was ordered to run a public apology in electronic and printed national media for three consecutive days.

The daily has appealed the verdict.

Tempo magazine is currently awaiting a hearing on a civil case filed by the Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM) group and the youth wing of the Indonesian Veterans Legion (LVRI) at the Central Jakarta District Court, as well as a hearing on a suit filed by the owner of Pasopati tabloid, Azmi Thalib Chaniago, at the Bandung District Court.

Tempo weekly was accused of publishing a libelous statement on PPM in Terror on Kontras in its June 2, 2003 edition. The article said that the PPM members who attacked the office of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) on May 27, 2003, were "of a baser dignity", and described them elsewhere as a "gang" and "children of former soldiers".

Azmi filed a suit against the weekly for its article that said Pasopati reporters had extorted Bandung councillors.

Libel suits against Tempo group

No. District Court Plaintiff Damages Notes

1. Central Jakarta Tomy Winata Rp 120 billion civil case

2. Central Jakarta T. Winata Rp 200 billion civil case

3. Central Jakarta T. Winata N/A criminal case

4. Central Jakarta T. Winata N/A criminal case

5. Central Jakarta Marimutu Sinivasan Tempo wins

6. Central Jakarta Yoga Santoso, Pemuda Panca Marga N/A

7. South Jakarta T. Winata US$2 million & Rp 1 billion Tempo loses

8. South Jakarta M. Sinivasan US$51 million Tempo loses

9. East Jakarta T. Winata Rp 21 billion civil case

10. Bandung Azni Thalib Ch. N/A

Source: PT Tempo Inti Media

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