Editorial: Castrating netizens

Those who expressed fear and skepticism at the appointment of Tifatul Sembiring as the communications and information minister may now claim that they have even more solid grounds to justify their negative perception of the former chief of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

The anxiety within the media industry that Tifatul will revive the repressive Ministry of Information from Soeharto’s era is certainly excessive. However, upon reading the minister’s draft regulation on the contents of multimedia – with so many prohibitions proposed – it is hard to deny that the negative perception of Tifatul’s agenda is not baseless. The draft decree, which comprises six chapters and 32 articles, is a direct threat to the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution.

Leading the opposition to the draft is no less a figure than Constitutional Court chief Mahfud M.D. Media reports recently quoted Mahfud as emphasizing that freedom of expression should be regulated by law, and not by ministerial decree or government regulation. It is therefore ridiculous for the minister to claim to have the right to regulate something that forms a pillar of the very fundamental rights of Indonesian citizens.

One thing is certain: The minister’s attempt to reduce Internet-related crimes and create a healthy environment for cyber business is noble and deserves the support of the whole society. But it does not mean he can do whatever he pleases to achieve this goal, no matter how vital or religious the purpose is.

Chapter 2 of the draft decree, for instance, regulates the bans on pornography, misleading information, privacy and religious hatred. Chapter 3 obliges multimedia players to impose self-censorship on their contents. Meanwhile, Chapter 4 regulates on the appointment of a Multimedia Content Team that will have far-reaching powers, including the right to block websites.

Minister Tifatul has given the public nine days until Feb. 19 to post their objections or views about the draft ministerial regulation at gatot_b@postel.go.id, the email address of ministry spokesman Gatot S. Dewa Broto. The dissemination of such an important agenda should involve as many stakeholders as possible and be conducted in a transparent manner. Apart from the mechanism, who can guarantee the ministry will seriously take into account the emails from the public?

Our position is very clear: We are against any restriction on the freedom of expression, although this does not mean the state has no right to regulate such freedom. It is not a freedom without norms and it is not an unlimited freedom.

We therefore call on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to get personally involved in handling the draft ministerial decree, because its implications could be very damaging should the ministry be allowed to work freely without sufficient supervision from the President. We also urge the House of Representatives to prioritize the discussion of this agenda before it is too late.

We do believe Minister Tifatul fully realizes the controversy over his plan. This is not a matter of winning or losing, or of seeking a win-win solution. The draft ministerial decree is too important to be decided by a minister alone.

Minister Tifatul should give all stakeholders a fair chance to be heard, and assure that their voices are heard and accommodated. Please do not take all objections or opposition against your plan as a personal attack.