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At the fortieth anniversary of the Indonesian Journalists Association in 1986, Suharto congratulated the media for their commitment to the Pancasila. It was a commitment that was grudging. Article 29 of the constitution states that freedom of the press shall be provided by law. Indonesian press laws made controlling the media an instrument in the government's strategy of stability and development. Thus, the notion of a "free press," let alone an opposition press, contradicted the government's need to control the flow of information. The acronym SARA--suku (ethnicity), agama (religion), ras (race), and antargolongan (social relations)--listed the prohibited subjects, to which could be added less than adulatory references to the president and his family. Moreover, the government had at its disposal an enormous information machine consisting of state television, radio, news service, subsidized journals, and the Department of Information's nationwide public relations operation. The government also could limit the content of the nonofficial media through a variety of restraints, most drastically the revocation of a paper's publishing enterprise license, which effectively shut it down. Press Law Number 21 of 1982 specifies the duty of the press as "strengthening national unity and cohesion, deepening national responsibility and discipline, helping to raise the intelligence of the nation and invigorating people's participation in development." According to Minister of Information Harmoko in 1983, a publishing enterprise license would be lifted only "when the press is not in line with the philosophy of the nation and the state." This conditional threat led to a form of selfcensorship on the part of editors and publishers as they tested the limits of government sensitivity. These sensitivities were made known in consultations with senior officials on how to treat stories.
Newspapers occasionally stepped out of bounds and, if they did not heed stern warnings, were banned for varying periods of time. For example, Sinar Harapan (Ray of Hope)--a Protestant and non-Javanese-edited, mass circulation (220,340) daily--was closed in October 1986 for economic reporting that Harmoko claimed "brought about an atmosphere of gloom, confusion, and unease in society." Not mentioned in the termination notice was the fact that Sinar Harapan had been in the forefront of discussions on presidential term limitations. The ban seemed intended to have a self-censoring effect on the rest of the media. The lively daily Prioritas (Priority) was shut down in June 1987. The official tone was set by a commentary in the Angkatan Bersenjata (Armed Forces Daily) edition of October 14, 1986, that said the government was prepared to sacrifice any newspaper deemed to have jeopardized the national interest. The old Sinar Harapan was allowed to reemerge in 1987 under a new name--Suara Pembaruan (Voice of Renewal)- -and, more importantly, with a new editorial board more responsive to government concerns.
The effort to control media flow was not limited to the press in the early 1990s. Motion pictures had been censored since the colonial era and continued to be censored during the Sukarno and Suharto administrations. Prominent literary figures, such as the internationally recognized novelist Pramudya Ananta Tur and poet and dramatist Willibrordus S. Rendra, had their works banned although both read their writings in public. Nor were foreign publications immune. There was periodic banning of certain editions or particular articles deemed offensive in publications such as the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, and Time. Visa regulation of journalists was another way the government sought to limit foreign reporting. By threatening work visa status checks on foreign journalists, the government hoped that voluntary selfcensorship would follow. Another way of controlling the media was to simply bar access. Australian journalists in particular were targeted because of their unfavorable reporting on East Timor. Censorship also extended to foreign books such as one by David Jenkins on the New Order's military and Richard Robison's study of its political economy--both deemed critical by Jakarta. But in Indonesia, as in other countries where the media were tightly controlled, the photocopy machine and the ubiquity of foreign radio and television news conspired to defeat censorship.
The inherent contradiction between media control as the Department of Information usually applied it and the emphasis on keterbukaan since the late 1980s came to a head in October 1990 when the mass circulation (700,000) tabloid weekly Monitor had its publishing enterprise license lifted. The Monitor's mistake was to publish the outcome of a reader popularity poll that listed the Prophet Muhammad behind Suharto, Sukarno, and Iraqi president Saddam Husayn. Enraged Muslim youths stormed the Monitor's office, and Harmoko put it out of business, claiming the poll had caused religious dissension, that is, had violated the agama taboo. Many people, including the founders of the Democracy Forum, saw the closing of the Monitor as a repressive response to religious pressure and sectarian bias in a pluralistic society. Editor Arswendo Atmowiloto was convicted of blasphemy and given the maximum fiveyear prison sentence. Speaking of the stimulus that the Monitor case had given the formation of the Democracy Forum, forum chairman Abdurrahman Wahid said, "Without [it], maybe it would have taken another couple of years."
The contradiction between media restraint and keterbukaan was also taken up by the more assertive DPR. In May 1991, its deputy speaker called for an easing of press controls. Defending his record before a DPR commission, Harmoko replied that the government never acted rashly in revoking a paper's right to publish and that a press that shunned "radicalism, liberalism, and communism" need have no fears. As the Jakarta Post said in a June 27, 1991, editorial about the DPR debate over the press, "there are so many people who talk about responsibility but very few who talk about freedom." The government's bending to Muslim outrage over the Monitor affair, despite purported support of keterbukaan, revealed its nervous awareness of the potential political force mainstream Islam could be even if denied traditional political party platforms.
More about the Government and Politics of Indonesia.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress