In an emerging democracy like Indonesia, progress towards an open society is rarely easy and often has many setbacks. To make things worse in Indonesia’s case, this polyglot island nation is one of the main theatres of the war on terrorism. Though the main Islamic terrorist group in the region, Jemiah Islamiah, is small considering the size of Indonesia, it has been able to launch powerful and deadly attacks in Indonesia.
Under pressure from its public to crack down on Jemiah Islamiah, the Indonesian government is reverting back to the old ways of the one-party state. This story details a plan to fingerprint students at Islamic schools, thought to affect over 3 million pupils. This move has caused outrage in Indonesia, although sadly this opposition is mostly from conservative muslim groups rather from people concerned about civil liberties.
Also reflecting bad old habits is the revival of the ‘Ministry of Information’, which played a sinister role of controlling the media in the ‘New Order” regime of President Suharto. The Ministry has come out with regulations that clearly breaches Indonesian broadcasting law, but in a cynical move it has made sure that the regulations will remain in place while the regulations are challenged in the creaky and slow moving court system. The regulations are quite cynical.
Not only did the ministry grace itself with the final say on licensing issues, but it also put boundaries on content — a clear violation of the broadcasting law, according to experts.
Among them is the prohibition on private broadcasters to relay regular news programs from foreign broadcasters, thus limiting sources of information to the public.
Old habits die hard, media analyst Hinca Panjaitan said, referring to the irresistible desire by those in power to control the information received by the public.
“All the fears about the ministry are turning into reality. The media is supposed to control the government, but how is it supposed to do so when its life lies in a minister’s hands?” he said.
For Indonesia, the path towards liberty and accountable government is clearly a long and windy road, with many detours along the way.