Indonesia: Ministerial Regulation 5 Threatens to Restrict Press and Internet Freedom
JAKARTA - The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), strongly urges the Minister of Communication and Information Technology (Kominfo) to revoke Ministerial Regulation 5 (MR5), considering this rule as a new threat to undermine press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.
As previously stated by the government, the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information has set a deadline for all private electronic systems operators (ESOs) - global and local - to register no later than July 27, 2022. Failing to register by the due date will be subject to site or platform blocking.
MR5 governs the functioning of private ESOs in Indonesia—which include social media platforms, search engines, communications services and media websites. The regulation grants the government overbroad authority to regulate ESO activity, access user data, and issue onerous notice and takedown orders. It also introduces excessive penalties for non-compliance.
The registration obligation will drive private ESOs to comply with provisions that, according to AJI, can harm press freedom. "The obligation of registration will open the gate for the government to intervene and censor. It's not just an administrative matter," says AJI Indonesia Chairperson Sasmito, July 22, 2022.
"Unfortunately, the government closed its ears to public opinion and ignored warnings that this policy would have a broad impact on society, including public privacy," Sasmito says.
Many protests against this policy have been addressed to the Minister of Communication and Information, Johny G Plate, a year ago, since it was issued in 2020, yet to no avail. In May 2021, an international coalition of 25 civil institutions also filed an open letter condemning the regulation and urging the government to cancel it. (https://www.article19.org/resources/indonesia-repeal-ministerial-regulation-5/)
The National Coalition, including AJI, has conducted a digital campaign with the hashtags #ProtesNetizen (protest netizens) and #BlokirKominfo (block Kominfo). An online petition to protest the regulation has been signed by more than 11,000 netizens. Then on July 22, 2022, members of the Coalition held a demonstration in front of the office of the Ministry.
AJI has identified at least four crucial articles in the ESOs licensing rule of MR5 which threaten press freedom.
First. Article 9 (points 3 and 4) firmly forbids private PSEs to publish content containing prohibited information, including those violating the laws, causing public unrest, and disturbing public order.
The terms “causing public unrest” and “disturbing public order” are ‘rubber’ articles. It can be interpreted to target criticisms against authorities, state bodies, and law enforcers. The regulation also doesn't mention the mechanism of public complaints and the independent parties which are authorized to check the contents.
The ‘rubber’ article may target critical content like hoaxes or causing public unrest. For example, investigative media coverage of crimes or content about human rights violations in Papua. In other words, it can be a tool for the authorities to abuse their power.
Second. Article 14 allows a citizen, civil society group, state and governmental bodies, or law enforcers to request blocking access of information which, according to them, causes public unrest and disturbs public order.
This article risks unilateral blocking by anyone or any institution, especially those who have power or a political agenda.
Third. Articles 21 and 36 require ESOs to provide access for ministries, state bodies, and law enforcers to be able to enter their electronic data and systems for reasons of supervision or assisting law enforcement.
AJI warns that this access can be misused by the government to internally control the media. Granting access to personal data is strongly violating the privacy rights of the public, including journalists.
On the contrary, AJI reminds the government that its duty is to protect data privacy and the freedom of press and expression, as also stated by law.
"They should not issue any regulation which hinders press freedom," says Adi Marsiela, AJI's Head of Internet Division.
AJI calls for the media and journalists to be critical of the ESOs licensing rule of MR5 and any other regulations which undermine press freedom and freedom of expression.
Jakarta, July 22, 2022
Head of Internet Division
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