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Press would face criminal penalties under draft bill on general elections, warns AJI

(AJI/IFEX) - The following is a 24 July 2007 AJI press release:

AJI Rejects Criminalization of the Press in Draft Bill on General Elections

Criminalization of the press should not be given any space in a democratic country that respects the right to public information. The basis of public rights to information and press freedom are stipulated in Article 28F of the Second Amendment of the 1945 Constitution.

Press freedom is needed so that the press can participate in monitoring the government and how it works, fulfilling its role as a watchdog. In all democratic countries, the press is given a significant role and is even regarded as the fourth pillar in the system of democracy. Therefore, every effort to bring journalists to criminal court (criminalization) must be opposed because it is not in line with democratic values and brings with it the potential of a crackdown on the rights to public information.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia has found out that in the Draft Bill on General Elections, there are several articles that tend to criminalize news reports and the journalistic profession. This can be seen in the content of Article 260 of the Draft Bill on General Elections, which makes it possible to send journalists to jail or fine them for their news reports. Such provisions undermine efforts by the press community, including AJI, to scrap articles in various laws that have the potential to criminalize news reports and the journalistic profession.

Content of Article 260 of the Draft Bill on General Elections:

Every editor-in-chief of a print or electronic media outlet who violates a ban on reporting on campaigns during a cool-off period, as stipulated by Article 103 point (3), will be sentenced to between three and six months in jail and fined between 1,000,000 and 5,000,000 rupiah.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia considers that the criminalization of the press through Article 260 and Article 103 point (3) of the Draft Bill on General Elections will limit press freedom, which is guaranteed by Press Law Number 40 Year 1999 and Article 28F of the Second Amendment to the 1945 Constitution.

Content of Article 103 point (3) of the Draft Bill on General Elections:

Mass media, as stipulated by point (1), are not allowed to publish news reports, advertisements and footage of participants in elections or other forms which will be beneficial and/or harmful to the participants in the elections during the cool-off period.

AJI states that the role of the press does not need to be further regulated through legislation because the press already has Law No. 40 Year 1999, which specifically regulates the press in Indonesia.

In summary, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia:

1. Rejects any efforts to criminalize the press in any form. The Draft Bill on General Elections, which regulates the organizing of general elections democratically, should not contain rules that are contradictory to democracy by allowing the press to be brought to criminal court (criminalization).

2. Urges the House of Representatives to scrap rules on the criminalization of the press in the Draft Bill on General Elections, particularly Articles 260 and 103 point (3).

3. Demands that all parties make Law No. 40 Year 1999 on the Press a standard by which to settle every dispute related to news reports and make the Press Council a place to solve press-related disputes.

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