Indonesia’s Broadcasting Bill could restrict investigative journalism and LGBTQ+ content

Indonesia tower

A communications tower in Indonesia. Source: Flickr photo by Richard Wasserman, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Media groups, academics, and human rights advocates are opposing a bill containing proposed amendments to Indonesia’s Broadcasting Law, which would restrict the broadcast of investigative reports and LGBTQ+ content.

Introduced in 2020, the bill was deliberated at the House of Representatives in 2023 and minor revisions were made on May 16, 2024. Proponents said updating the 2002 law is necessary to develop a “sustainable broadcasting industry” and to address the challenges brought about by the rise of online media networks and platforms.

A contentious provision in the bill cited by critics is Article 50B paragraph 2 (c) which prohibits “exclusive investigative journalism” content featuring LGBTQ+ individuals, behaviors, and/or “professions or figures with negative lifestyles.” The bill does not provide clear definitions of content that it seeks to prohibit. Penalties for violating the law include a reduction in the duration of broadcasts and even the complete cancellation of transmissions.

In an interview with BenarNews, legislator Tubagus Hasanuddin hints at the content that authorities should strictly regulate.

Journalistic activities must not intrude on matters under investigation. The particulars of police inquiries are confidential. News arising from anonymous sources might jeopardize current investigations. This is unfavorable. So, it is essential for the KPI [Indonesian Broadcasting Commission] to implement strict rules to oversee and regulate this matter.

Nani Afrida of the Alliance of Independent Journalists warned that the proposed amendments pose a direct threat to press freedom.

This bill clearly aims to restrict investigative journalism, which is a cornerstone of a free press. By curbing the ability of journalists to conduct and broadcast investigative work, the government is effectively trying to silence critical voices and limit public scrutiny.

The Media and Creative Industry Workers’ Union for Democracy (SINDIKASI) added that restricting reports would erode sources of income and welfare to the detriment of the news and media industry.

If passed, the amended law could be another legal tool that can be abused to silence dissent and critical reporting. Civil society groups have been demanding the scrapping of repressive IT and media laws that are being weaponized against state critics and activists. Human rights network Forum Asia pointed out the implications of censoring investigative reports and LGBTQ+ content.

Investigative journalism plays a crucial role in seeking truth, accountability, and justice. Without it, civil society would lose one of its biggest allies in gathering evidence of human rights violations.

The proposed law also perpetuates gender-based discrimination, particularly targeting people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, and sex characteristics.

Indonesia has a Muslim-majority population. In recent years, hardliners have been pushing for the strict implementation of Islamic laws while enabling harassment against the LGBTQ+ community.

Another controversial provision in the bill is the proposed expansion of the mandate of the KPI by authorizing it to resolve content disputes. The Press Council is opposed to this and urged legislators to consult media stakeholders first. “There must be community involvement. It is the people's right to have their opinions heard and considered.”

Responding to the protests and concerns of various groups, legislators assured the public that the bill would reflect the government’s commitment to uphold free speech. On May 28, the House of Representatives said that it is postponing deliberations on the proposed bill.

Indonesia’s Minister of Communication and Informatics, Budi Arie Setiadi, who is himself a former journalist, affirmed that the government will not institutionalize censorship.

The government is fully committed to supporting and guaranteeing press freedom, including in investigative reporting. The various journalistic products presented by members of the press are proof that Indonesian democracy is increasingly advanced and mature.

The Jakarta Post published an editorial challenging authorities to match their rhetoric with concrete action.

The press today is not necessarily in a comfort zone. With shrinking space caused by the internet and social media and struggling for sustainable financial support, more restrictions on journalism means sucking out the already limited air that we breathe.

We will not believe that the government supports journalism and press freedom as a pillar of democracy until such time as we see it and lawmakers explicitly do so.

In an interview with Australia’s ABC, Indonesian investigative journalist Dandhy Dwi Laksono described the proposed legislation as “legal terror that is counterproductive for journalism in general, and also for the public.” He urged fellow reporters to push back against the repressive measure.

I think I will continue to break the law. I will continue to create content that is prohibited.

It would be better if all content creators, all journalists, create more investigative works, which means we are busy carrying out civil disobedience against this regulation.

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