Constitution must ensure free media

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Mon, July 22 2013, 10:07 AM

The 1945 Constitution should be amended to better protect media freedom, a scholar says.

Wikrama Iryans Abidin, a former Press Council member and a constitutional law researcher, said the Constitution did not explicitly guarantee freedom of the press.

Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution — often touted as a constitutional guarantee for press freedom — stipulates that “freedom to associate, to assemble and to express written and oral opinions shall be regulated by law.” It states that “every person shall have the right to the freedom to associate, to assemble and to express opinions.”

“The article does not mention explicitly that it can protect freedom of the press from threats. It is stated implicitly because it was formulated under Japanese occupation: A colonial regime will never guarantee press freedom,” said Wikrama.

Wikrama — whose dissertation investigated the struggle of the founding fathers to guarantee freedom of the press — said that journalist Liem Koen Hian had suggested the need to explicitly mention the phrase “press freedom” during the drafting of the Constitution by the Investigating Committee for the Preparation of the Independence of Indonesia (BPUPKI) in 1945.

His proposal gained the support of Mohammad Hatta, but was rejected by BPUPKI member Soepomo, who headed the small team that drafted the Constitution.

Echoing Liem, Wikrama said that constitutional rights should be stated explicitly in the Constitution.

“For decades, people have taken for granted the phrase ‘freedom […] to express written and oral opinion’ in Article 28 as a constitutional guarantee for freedom of the press, while it is actually not.”

The article, he argued, should be revised to explicitly say “the state guarantees the protection of freedom of the press from any form of threat such as legal restrictions that may threaten freedom of press, power intervention, politics, economy and social pressures.”

The new formulation, according to Wikrama, would provide legal certainty and prevent the government from creating legislation that could jeopardize the press.

He said that under Sukarno freedom of the press was regarded as a tool of revolution, while in the New Order era it was strictly controlled to serve the interests of Soeharto’s administration.

Wikrama said there was a need to retain a clause in the Constitution that limited freedom of expression to prevent the media from abusing their freedom.

Bagir Manan, Press Council chairman and one of the six examiners of the dissertation, concurred with Wikrama about the lack of an explicit press freedom guarantee.

“But it does not mean there is no guarantee for press freedom protection in the Constitution. Article 28 actually asserts citizens’ right to express opinion and to communicate, which is essentially part of freedom of press protection,” he said. (hrl)

SOURCE Writer: Haeril Halim, cub reporter at the Jakarta Post


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