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Physical attacks on media personnel are rare but often violent when they do occur. Sun TV cameraman Ridwan Salamun was beaten to death by villagers in the eastern province of Maluku in 2010. A court in Tual recently acquitted three men of his murder. Three other journalists were killed the same year in circumstances that suggest their deaths may have been linked to their work. Banjir Ambarita, a Jakarta Globe reporter based in Jayapura, the capital of the eastern province of Papua, was badly injured when two men on a motorcycle stabbed him in March 2011.
The constitution and press law are supposed to guarantee free expression but journalists can still go to jail for press offences under the archaic criminal code. Erwin Arnada, former editor of the Indonesian version of Playboy magazine, spent eight months in prison before the supreme court quashed his two-year sentence on a charge of indecency in June 2011. A Jakarta court ordered Garuda Magazine, the national airline Garuda’s in-flight magazine, to pay 12.5 billion rupiah (more than a million euros) in damages to Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the dictator Suharto’s youngest son, in May 2011 for referring to him as a "convicted murderer" in an article although he was indeed convicted of murder in 2002. The case shows the preferential treatment that much of the Indonesian political and business elite expects to receive from the media.
The environment is a sensitive and dangerous subject. The main obstacle to independent coverage of environmental damage is the tendency for local officials to be in league with big business, including logging and mining companies. According to an Indonesian reporter, they use a "carrot and stick" policy, bribing journalists who might be tempted to cover bad environmental practices and intimidating those who cannot be bought off. Ardiansyah Matra’is, an investigative reporter for Merauke TV in Papua province, apparently committed suicide in July 2010 after being threatened by soldiers because of his coverage of illegal logging.
Journalists in the provinces of Sumatra, Jambi and Riau say leading companies manage to suppress most critical articles by applying pressure or by paying local journalists “subsidies.” In Jambi province, the Sinar Mas conglomerate is said to often resort to intimidation against media that take too close an interest in its activities. In March 2010, for example, Muhammad Usman, a local reporter for radio 68H, was arrested by Sinar Mas security agents near the Tabo Multi Agro plantation.
According to the main Indonesian journalists’ organization, Aliansi Jurnalis Indonesia (AJI), companies such as Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) and Sinar Mas, which are linked to US, European and Chinese multinationals, have an "invisible hand" in many local and national publications because it is the only way for them to avoid frequent front-page stories about the very negative impact of their activities on the environment.
The still powerful armed forces refuse to recognize their crimes although investigations into the murders of foreign reporters in East Timor, including the Dutchman Sander Thoenes in 1999, and five British and Australian reporters in 1975, has established the involvement of Indonesian military officers.
Independent radio and TV stations are popular. Hundreds have been launched and most of them are able to operate freely. One exception is Radio Era Baru, which had been harassed ever since it was launched 2005, apparently for broadcasting programmes in Mandarin criticizing human rights abuses in China. It was closed by the police in September 2011 although an appeal was still pending against manager Gatot Matchali’s conviction the previous month on a charge of broadcasting without permission and disrupting neighbouring frequencies, for which he was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 50 million rupees (5,000 euros).
In July 2011, communication and information minister Tifatul Sembiring demonized social networks, which have become very popular in Indonesia along with smartphones and are seen as potentially “destabilizing” by the government. Blaming the Arab Spring uprisings on the influence of online social media, Sembiring suggested that governments needed to have better control of the Internet. With 40 million Facebook users, Indonesia is second only to the United States in users of this social network.
The government also tries to filter out pornographic and blasphemous online content. Access to websites with such content has been blocked for Indonesia’s 2 million BlackBerry owners since January 2011. The government has also told the BlackBerry’s manufacturer that all messages between BlackBerrys in Indonesia will have to be channelled through a server located in the country. This will allow the government to monitor communications and interrupt services if it feels the need.
Updated in November 2001.
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