Government Backs Down on Press Restrictions

Humble pie for home affairs minister after controversial bid to gag foreign press

By Markus Junianto Sihaloho/Jakarta Globe
Friday, August 28, 2015

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo has apologized for and withdrawn a regulation aimed at increasing government control over foreign journalists operating in Indonesia, following a public outcry over the move.

“I’ve apologized to the president by telephone and immediately rescinded the internal regulation that was sent to regional governments which could have led to misunderstandings,” Tjahjo, from President Joko Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said late on Thursday.

“I as the minister am at fault … I was wrong,” he added. “I’ve also explained this openly to the foreign minister and to the press.”

The regulation in question, a circular sent out to regional administrations nationwide, demanded that foreign journalists and their local crew have permits issued by the Foreign Affairs and the Home Affairs Ministries. It also obliged foreign journalists to report their activities and acquire permits from all relevant levels of government, from the municipal or district level to the provincial level.

“The letter clearly implies disobedience of a president who is open to foreign coverage, as well as suspicion of the press and civilians,” Poengky Indarti, executive director of the rights group Imparsial, said on Thursday. “It will also lead to less investment and tourism income.

“Imparsial urges the Home Affairs Ministry to revoke the circular as it goes against President Joko Widodo’s position of welcoming foreign journalists covering Papua and other regions in the country,” she added.

Joko announced last May a lifting of restrictions on foreign  journalists reporting from Papua, saying he wanted to end the misinformation about the restive province by granting full access to outside media.

The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club also took issue with Tjajho’s circular, saying in a statement that the “continuation and expansion of restrictive state policies on visiting journalists is a sad reminder of the authoritarian Suharto regime, and a stain on Indonesia’s transition to democracy and claims by its government that it supports a free press and human rights.”

The JFCC statement added that it found the new requirements “particularly troubling given that the Indonesian government already takes weeks if not months to issue approvals for foreign journalists and film crews to visit Indonesia to work – if at all.”

Raising the issue of "whether the Ministry of Home Affairs understands or heeds orders from the Presidential Palace,” the JFCC also called on the US government to make freedom of the press “a primary topic of conversation” during the planned state visit of Joko to the US, at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

This article first appeared on the Jakarta Globe website on August 27, 2015.

Usage of the AmCham Indonesia website states your compliance of our Terms of Use