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Indonesian Media Regulations Stir Up Concerns Over Censorship


New broadcasting regulations in Indonesia have come under fire by critics who say the measures are a setback for media freedom and undermine the country's democracy.

The four government regulations cover allocating frequencies, monitoring programs and licensing broadcasting stations. They also limit foreign broadcast content, as well as foreign ownership of broadcasting outlets.

This means, among other things, local broadcasters will no longer be allowed to air news packages from foreign broadcasters.

The regulations also apply to foreign music shows featuring what the rules call "indecent performances" and foreign shows featuring "sadistic scenes."

The new rules were approved in November, but after an outcry by media companies and lawmakers, the government and parliament postponed implementing them for two months. They are to go into effect next month, but the exact date has not been set.

Critics say the regulations, which are scheduled to be debated in parliament on Monday, are open to a wide interpretation.

The Minister of Communications and Information Sofyan Djalil agrees the law may be ambiguous. He says foreign broadcasts will be allowed, but limited and regulated.

"Actually it is not forbidden for foreign broadcast to be relayed to Indonesia but I think just the limits, the duration, the time, and then also I think there is mandatory for a kind of delayed policy," said Sofyan Djalil.

Heru Hendratmoko, the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, says the regulations stifle media freedom and should be abolished.

"We insist that yes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have to abrogate these regulations, and number two, to remove the Minister of Communication and Information Sofyan Djalil, and number three is to liquidate the Department of Communication and Information," he said.

The information minister says the regulations will not hamper press freedom and some controls over the media are necessary to uphold the values of the country.

"I don't have a problem for news from Voice of America or BBC because you propagate for instance democracy, rule of law, something like that. But what of, for instance, radio broadcasted from Mongolia or from North Korea and relayed in Indonesia? What they propagate is simply something contrary to the values and to the philosophy of the country," said Sofyan Djalil.

Many radio and television stations in the country carry news and current affairs programs from the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America, Duetsche Welle, and other foreign networks.

Heru, from the journalists' alliance, says local journalists benefit from this.

"I think that broadcasting journalists in Indonesia also have a benefit from foreign broadcasting because they can learn much from their colleagues abroad about how to produce news material, gathering information, and make a packaging as broadcast news," added Heru.

The latest regulations are based on a 2002 broadcasting law.

At that time, more than one hundred television and radio stations had been operating without official control since the 1998 ouster of President Suharto, who ruled the country for 32 years.

The Department of Communication and Information helped Mr. Suharto tightly control the news media, and it was abolished shortly after his downfall. It has been reinstated in stages over the past several years.

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