Press freedom in Indonesia

A Jakarta court yesterday cleared the editor of Playboy Indonesia of distributing indecent pictures to the public and making money from them. Erwin Arnada argued that his magazine was good for developing a pluralistic society, while the prosecution and Islamic protestors said he had harmed the nation’s morals. The judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to take account of press freedoms developed since the 1998 downfall of Suharto. Tempo September 1999 in Indonesia

One of the drivers in creating those freedoms was Tempo, when the news weekly continually challenged Suharto’s corrupt regime in 1995. The government took away its licence to publish, so when I visited the magazine in 1996 it had gone online and published its articles in a book instead. (Some of the journalists later launched another title, Gatra.) The final straw for Suharto’s cohorts had been an attack on the president’s son, known as ‘Tommy’, who had broken the country’s laws to set up a company assembling cars. Threats to the editors and the website came to nothing because there was no legal basis to censor a website and supporters in Australia had declared they would host the magazine if there were problems in Jakarta. The September 1999 cover shown here is typical of Tempo‘s style.

I doubt if the journalists on Tempo had a US behometh such as Playboy in mind when they took on Suharto’s bullyboys to fight for the right to speak out, but the fight to establish – and test – the limits of such freedoms is one that never ends.

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