Indonesia To Ban Foreign TV News Programs

July 7, 2008 - 7:12 PM

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Indonesia's parliament is expected Thursday to pass controversial legislation that will prevent broadcasters from relaying U.S. and other foreign news programs.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Tuesday told lawmakers of her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle - the country's largest political party - that they should endorse the broadcasting bill, which has drawn strong criticism from media groups.

The bill was originally to have been dealt with on Monday, but many lawmakers were absent, raising suspicions they stayed away deliberately to delay the move, the Jakarta Post reported.

During Monday's session, protesting television journalists complained that the bill would limit media freedom and discourage investment.

Indonesia has more than 1,100 privately owned radio stations and 10 local television networks, a number of which relay news programs from major Western broadcasters.

While the ban is primarily aimed at news, it also restricts foreign sport, religious or educational programs, which may not exceed 40 percent of broadcasting time on local stations.

Apart from the restrictions on foreign programming, the legislation also empowers the government to appoint civil servants to supervise material being broadcast by media organizations.

It restricts foreign investment in private stations to a maximum of 20 per cent.

Offenders face jail terms of up to five years and large fines.

Article 19, an international freedom of expression campaign group, said an analysis of the bill shows that it establishes controls that "go beyond what is generally recognized as necessary to safeguard public interest" as well as placing "stringent and unnecessary" restrictions on foreign broadcasters.

It said relays of foreign news programs have provided Indonesians with a valuable additional source of information.

"International guarantees of freedom of expression apply regardless of frontiers and, while this does not prohibit some rules in favor of local broadcasters, it does mean that access to foreign material should not be unjustifiably limited," the group said.

It urged the government to delete the offending clauses.