New regulation seeks to control pollsters

Adisti Sukma Sawitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With little public fanfare, the Jakarta administration issued a regulation in April requiring all parties to obtain a license at least two weeks before conducting a survey or poll in the city.

After a survey or poll is completed, organizers must report the results, including a copy of their questionnaire, if available, to the administration within a month.

While the regulation, which has yet to be enforced, does not contain sanctions, it is causing unease among researchers who conduct polls and surveys on the policies of the Governor Sutiyoso-led administration.

A researcher with the Indonesian Survey Institute, Isra Ramli, said the regulation harked back to the repressive New Order regime, when people were not allowed to criticize the government.

"It will block people's access to information and education and prevent them from being critical of the administration's policies," he said.

The regulation does contain several articles that could curtail public access to information about administration policies.

One article says if a poll or survey relates to administration policy, the results must be published only by the administration.

This would, of course, give the administration a handy tool to block the publication of polls or surveys that reflected badly on its policies, Isra said.

Agung Prihatna of the Institute of Research, Education and Information of Social and Economic Affairs dismissed the regulation, saying people did not need government approval to ask questions and share their thoughts.

"People are free to speak their mind and this has nothing to do with the administration," he said.

Agung and several other researchers from different institutions said they hoped Sutiyoso would reconsider and withdraw the regulation.

City Secretary Ritola Tasmaya said there was a misunderstanding of the regulation among researchers.

He said the administration was simply implementing a ruling from the Home Ministry that required survey organizers to have a license.

"We are only encouraging survey or poll organizers to submit an acknowledgment letter whenever they do a survey. I think the administration has a lot of other things to do besides monitoring surveys, especially since there have been so many of them lately," he said.

He said if poll or survey organizers received any trouble from administration officials, they could contact him and he would investigate.
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