Press experts slam Malaysian minister

(The Jakarta Post) – Jarkata: Media observers criticized Saturday the statement made by a Malaysian minister regarding press freedom in Indonesia, saying the media here was more democratic than in Malaysia.

Communications expert from the University of Indonesia Effendi Gazali said Malaysian Information Minister Dato' Seri Zainudin had made a mistake by concluding the Indonesian media was insensitive to Malaysian politics on the basis that the views of Malaysian government opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim were given space in the local media.

"That was a huge mistake," he said, referring to the minister's actions. "He (the minister) said that just to protect his government's interest."

He said the minister should not have made an issue of the fact that an Indonesian reporter interviewed Anwar Ibrahim.

"We Indonesians would be very happy if the Malaysian media or scholars criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or other Indonesian leaders."

Similar comments came from the secretary general of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Abdul Manan.

Manan said the minister viewed the issue from the Malaysian perspective, a country where the press is suppressed by the state.

"What's wrong with interviewing Anwar Ibrahim? Indonesians also have the right to know what's going on in Malaysia."

Manan said the media in the neighboring country was now in more or less the same situation as was the Indonesian press during the New Order regime.

"Press freedom is very limited in Malaysia, which makes the media there less critical of the government.

"Rallies or other events that may reflect negatively on the government are rarely covered because doing so invites repression," said Manan.

The minister's comments came amid other criticism of an October interview with Anwar on a talk show called K!CK Andy on Metro TV.

Host and Metro TV chief executive Andy F. Noya said Anwar Ibrahim was interviewed because of his ideas on Indonesia-Malaysia relations and the rise of Asians in international leadership circles.

"As a reformist leader, Anwar's thought is worth listening to," Andy told The Jakarta Post.

He added that Metro TV had no intention of meddling in Malaysia's internal matters.

"It's not the responsibility of the Indonesian press to maintain the stability of Malaysian politics. That's the responsibility of the Malaysian government."

"Speaking of sensitivity, how sensitive are the Malaysian government and media about Indonesia," said Andy.

Effendi said the Malaysian government and media frequently labeled Indonesia's democracy and press "too open" and misguided, while intimating that Malaysian democracy was on the right track.

"That was exactly how (New Order information minister) Harmoko and other New Order leaders used to defend themselves when they were asked by the international community about democracy in Indonesia."

Although economically Malaysia is now wealthier than Indonesia, he said Indonesians should be happy to know they are living in a more democratic system.

"Democracy in Malaysia is an artificial democracy. Just look at the trial of Anwar Ibrahim."

"Even people conducting peaceful demonstrations are taken into custody for internal security reasons," said Effendi.

He added that although Indonesian democracy had yet to bring prosperity to the people, at least the political tension in the country did not lead to bloodshed as it did in other countries.

"Despite some problems, we are on the path to real democracy," he said.

However, both Effendi and Manan said Indonesia still had work to do to see through the implementation of democracy and media performance.

"Our democracy has yet to guarantee law enforcement which is one of the essential pillars of democracy," said Effendi.

Manan said Indonesian journalists needed to work harder to improve their public image.