Lawsuit against KompasTV raises fresh press freedom concerns

KompasTV editor-in-chief Rosiana Silalahi said the issue had been settled out of court but warned that similar tactics might be used in the future to limit press freedom.

Nina A. Loasana

Nina A. Loasana

The Jakarta Post


Flowers and press cards belonging to Malang, East Java, journalists lie on the floor along with flower offerings during an observance to mark World Press Freedom Day at the city’s square on May 3, 2023.(JP/Nedi Putra)

May 12, 2023

JAKARTA – The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Press Council have warned about the damage a recently settled lawsuit against Jakarta-based television station KompasTV could inflict on Indonesia’s already declining press freedom.

KompasTV was sued for Rp 1.3 billion over its coverage of PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC), a joint venture between Indonesian and Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) responsible for constructing the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway.

KompasTV editor in chief Rosiana Silalahi said the lawsuit had been filed by a content creator who was partnered with PT KCIC.

“We were sued for using footage from PT KCIC’s official YouTube channel in our news coverage of the company’s ballooning debt of Rp 8.4 trillion [US$570.5 million],” Rosiana said on Wednesday.

“Strangely, we had used the footage in other news coverage on the trial run of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway back in November, and we did not receive any complaints,” she added.

Rosiana said the issue had been settled out of court but warned that similar tactics might be used in the future to limit press freedom.

“This is a new way to stifle press freedom in the digital era, what happened to us might also happen to other news companies,” she said.

Press Council chairwoman Ninik Rahayu said any dispute related to journalistic publication should be settled through the Press Council in accordance with Law No. 40/1999 on the press.

“Any dispute over a news publication or a news article that was distributed through social media platforms should be resolved through mediation in the Press Council. We don’t want any form of intimidation such as a threat of lawsuits like in the KompasTV case,” Ninik said.

AJI chairman Sasmito Madrim said the attempted lawsuit against KompasTV was a threat to press freedom in the country.

“PT KCIC seems to be trying to control the information and media coverage [of its project] as it did not criticize KompasTV for using its footage when the coverage was positive. This attempted lawsuit is concerning and against the Press Law,” he said.

Indonesian journalists have long struggled with constraints on free reporting, even after the end of the authoritarian New Order regime.

The 2022 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders ranked Indonesia 117th out of the 180 countries it surveyed that year, down from 113th the year before. The country ranked 119th in 2020 and 124th in 2019.

Reporters Without Borders used five indicators, including the political situation and the safety of journalists, to determine its rankings. It found the latter indicator to be particularly lacking in Indonesia. This corresponded with findings from the AJI, which recorded 43 cases of violence against journalists in 2021.

The United States’ 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Indonesia stated, “There were numerous reports of the law being used to limit political criticism of the government.”

The report noted that while independent Indonesian media was active and contained a wide variety of views, the government sometimes used laws such as those on blasphemy, hate speech, defamation, false information and separatism to stifle legitimate reporting.

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