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Indonesia's Internet policy must adhere to global standards and principles

SEAPA member AJI Indonesia held a discussion on Internet governance prior to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali in October 2013, and concluded that the country's Internet laws are in need of reform.

Case in point: Wahyu Dwi Pranata, a student at Dian Nuswantoro University (Udinus), Semarang, Central Java, who was forced to leave his studies for writing an article criticizing university policy. University authorities deemed Wahyu's article to be defamatory of his campus. His article was submitted to the online news portal Wawasanews on 23 December 2013.

Wahyu had already been summoned several times by the rector of the university, yet he continued to write. After writing a piece titled "You Robbed Billions from Us and You Treat Us as Paupers" in his blog, the university called his parents. He was given two options: be charged with defamation based on the Electronic Transaction Information Act (ITE Act - UU ITE No. 11/2008), or resign from the university; in other words, be expelled from campus.

But long before Wahyu's case, a number of bloggers had been charged under the same Act for indictment of defamation. The Internet certainly allows society to exchange information quickly and in real time, but often without sufficient understanding of the impact of information dispersion.

Between Cyber Freedom and the Threat of Criminalization

The question is, how and who will govern, guarantee, and protect the safety of citizens amidst this unprecedented freedom of information and data exchange in cyberspace? How and who will protect personal data, and who will safeguard freedom of expression within the borders of ethics and tolerance?

In line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and to receive information. The Internet is an information highway, be it useful or junk information - and includes insults, hate speech, and even news that triggers conflicts.

AJI sees a necessary balance must be maintained between the rights to express, to have opinions, and to access information, while prohibiting hate speech and war propaganda. Nevertheless, the boundaries set have to adhere to permissible restrictions acknowledged by the international community.

AJI and the Issue of Internet Governance

In Indonesia, Internet governance is still unclear and confusing. There are still debates over who has which roles and responsibilities. As a response to a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) request, the UN Secretary General formed a working group to explore issues of Internet governance and to develop a common understanding of the many roles of stakeholders.

In the Focus Group Discussion (FGD) on Internet Governance in Indonesia held by AJI Indonesia on 17 October in Jakarta, some issues related to new media in Indonesia were raised. Several issues were identified and grouped into three clusters: (1) content, (2) infrastructure, (3) internet business.

The Challenge of Content

The release of "Guidance for Cyber Media Reporting" by online media, publishers, journalist associations and the Press Council has improved news ethics in terms of content. At present, there is even a trend that good news are the most read news. Online media readers are no longer stuck on sensational news. In other words, the good news is that they are not looking for bad news anymore.

However, aggregators pose a problem for content. Online media managers have been complaining that aggregators often just grab content from others and claim it as their own. This phenomenon is constantly growing, and is detrimental to the online news sources who have spent time and energy to create content.

Another content-related problem is news stories that are both centralistic and capital city-biased. At present, more than 60 percent of online media readers are from the Jakarta-Bogor-Depok-Tangerang-Bekasi, area of the capital city. This has created a tendency of "Jakarta-centered" content. The social dynamics of Jakarta's public are dominating the news, from politics, economy, even to reports of Jakarta traffic.

The Challenge of Infrastructure

The root cause for this Jakarta-centered information dispersion is the poor and unbalanced development of Internet infrastructure in Indonesia. AJI is urging the government, through the relevant ministry, to focus on their duties to develop and disperse Internet infrastructure throughout the country.

In fact, within the island of Java itself, from Sabang in the West to Merauke in the East, Internet access is not evenly distributed. FGD participants from Purwokerto, Malang, and Bali unanimously agreed that Internet access similar to Jakarta is still a luxury in their area - beyond problems with bandwidth capacity, access itself is an issue and so is cost.

AJI sees that improved diversity and quality of media content from the regions has to go hand in hand with work by the government to expand and improve Internet infrastructure.

The Challenge of Internet Business

From a business perspective, the excitement of online media rebirth faces a not-so-light challenge. Business competition among online media for advertising is now not merely confined to local and national entities. The arrival of global media taking a big piece of the cake is a serious threat. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube for example, are aggressively capturing online advertising revenue in Indonesia. There is even suspicion that the advertising transaction with the global giants does not contribute tax revenues to the country.

Lack of clear regulatory protection has forced local media to directly face online business giants, similar to how small shops have to compete with foreign-owned hypermarts.

AJI : Remove the Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE) Act

Based on these three areas of challenges, online media managers would like to see a form of Internet governance that could address these problems. At present, Indonesian Internet governance is unclear and very similar to a walk in a wild forest. Internet policies are not transparent and have a tendency to benefit those in power. The present ITE Act - designed during the earlier days of the Internet and before the social media boom - cannot yet meet the needs of Internet stakeholders. The ITE Act instead suppresses and threatens Internet users through defamation articles.

As an part of its advocacy, AJI requests the Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Ministry of Law and Human Rights, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be co-responsible and co-manage Internet governance towards a just and reliable online business in Indonesia.

Relevant to the ITE Act no. 11 / 2008, AJI Indonesia has proposed the removal of this law and its replacement with an "Internet Governance Act" that will meet the common needs of civil society, industry, and government. At the same time, AJI is urging the formation of an independent commission similar to the Press Council or KPI, to make decisions on Internet disputes, uphold online ethics and business regulations, and decide on filtering issues.

Global Internet Governance

AJI would like to see Internet governance policy in Indonesia to be in accordance with international policy. Since 2004, Internet governance has become a focus of global discussion in the WSIS. It is noteworthy that Internet governance discussions always involve three actors, namely the government, private sector and civil society.

As part of civil society, AJI has its role in the policy making process on Internet issues. Civil society engagement is crucial for a government policy that is both participatory and in line with public aspirations.

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