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Indonesia: Four Publications Breached Ethics Code

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JAKARTA (Jakarta Post Online/Pacific Media Watch): Indonesia's Press Council declared on Friday four print media guilty of breaching the Indonesian Journalist's Code of Ethics and ordered them to publish an apology to State Minister for State Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi.

The council, however, rejected Laksamana's demand for the four media to pay a total of Rp 200 billion (US$22 million) in financial compensation.

The council said that the four publications, Trust magazine, Nusa daily, the Reporter daily and Indopos daily had violated the presumption of innocence principle in suggesting that Laksamana had left the country with more than US$100 million in state money.

"The four media have confounded facts and opinion, their reports were unbalanced and they did not fact-check the information they gathered, all of which led to the violation of a presumption of innocence," Council chairman Ichlasul Amal said.

The council cleared Rakyat Merdeka daily of breaching the code of ethics, because in its report on Laksamana they did attempt to substantiate it by interviewing those who were close to the minister, and even visited his private residence.

The council rejected Laksamana's demand that they each run a public apology in numerous national print and electronic media and ruled that the apology would only be made in their respective publications on a given date.

A demand for the four media to pay a total of Rp 200 billion in material and non-material damages was also turned down by the Press Council. "It is beyond our authority to decide on the payment of damages," Amal said.

The apologies must be published simultaneously with an unedited interview with Laksamana.

Amal said that should the media outlets decline to post their apologies in their publication, a Rp 500 million fine would be imposed on them. "However, the fine must be decided by the court," Amal said.

Laksamana, accompanied by his defense team, filed a complaint to the Press Council last week against the five publications for their allegedly slanderous articles, arguing that they were based on rumors.

The move to resort to the council was, however, lauded as the most appropriate measure to deal with media-related cases, rather than the use of the Criminal Code.

Earlier last month, the Central Jakarta District Court sentenced Tempo weekly chief editor Bambang Harymurti to one year in jail for publishing an article deemed libelous to well-connected businessman Tomy Winata.

Press Law No. 40/1999 dictates that all media-related cases must be resolved through a mechanism in the Press Council.

Commenting on the council ruling, a member of Laksamana's defense team, Juniver Girsang, said that he was content with the decision.

"We honor the council's recommendation as it would mean the allegation that Laksamana fled the country is not true," he said.

Juniver said that the defense team would consult Laksamana to decide whether they would file a lawsuit for defamation.

Chief editor of Nusa daily Bambang Hariawan regretted the council's decision, saying it could set a bad precedent for press freedom in the future.

"It is easy now to kill the press by using the Press Council. If the trend continues, I am afraid that we will go back to the dark ages of New Order regime when we often had to make apologies to state officials," he said.



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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