Malaysian minister says Indonesian press too open, insensitive

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar

The Malaysian information minister criticized the Indonesian press for being too open, saying the media here is insensitive to Malaysian politics.

Dato' Seri Zainudin said the Indonesian media was "too excited" by the freedoms it had been granted since the downfall of the New Order regime in 1998.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting with Malaysian students studying in Bali at the Wina Holliday Inn in Kuta, the minister criticized the Indonesian media for providing air time to Malaysian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

In October, Anwar was interviewed on Metro TV's talk show Kick Andy. In the interview, Anwar spoke candidly about corruption and the suppression of the press in Malaysia, topics that are rarely covered by the mainstream media there.

"We view this as insensitive. We would never provide space for the opposition of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or someone anti-Indonesian in the Malaysian media," Zainudin said.

He asked the media in both countries to refrain from reporting on issues that could provoke negative feelings.

"The media should emphasize the positive and seek good things to report," he said. "After all, we want to create a good relationship between the two countries."

Indonesia has been ranked 100th out of 169 countries in the Reporters Without Borders' 2007 Press Freedom Index, while Malaysia ranked 124th, dropping 32 places from last year. It was Malaysia's lowest position in its media history.

In Southeast Asia, Cambodia topped the list (ranked 85th in the world), followed by Timor Leste (94th).

Indonesia's press freedom boomed after the downfall of Soeharto in 1998 and the closure of the Information Ministry, an institution that controlled the media in Indonesia, in 1999 by the then president Abdurrahman Wahid, and the passing of the 1999 Press Law, guaranteeing press freedom in Indonesia.

Zainudin said Indonesia was facing the "euphoria of freedom after being suppressed".

He added that in Malaysia the media has never been suppressed, while suggesting that Malaysia has a "guided" freedom.

Most Malaysian newspapers and electronic media outlets are controlled by the government or political parties in the ruling coalition. They also operate with a government license, which must be renewed annually. Internet news sites do not have these restrictions.

Contacted by telephone in Jakarta, chairman of the Indonesian Press Council Ichlasul Amal said Indonesian press freedom was in line with the spirit of reform and democracy and that the Malaysian media was the one that should be more open.

"There is a lot of information that the Malaysian public needs to know, but which is inaccessible. The news there has become homogeneous," he said.

Ichlasul said that in Indonesia, the biggest threat to press freedom was within journalists themselves. "A lack of professionalism and work ethics will jeopardize press freedom here. If journalists do not improve themselves, they will lose their credibility and the public's trust in them."
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