It is really not surprising that just days after the new Penal Code was passed at the parliament, the Press Council immediately threatened to challenge it at the Constitutional Court citing threats to democracy, including to press freedom and the freedom of expression.

During its long formulation process, the draft bill had already drawn a lot of criticism from various media and pro-democracy organizations who were worried that the new Penal Code was running against other regulations that were the products of the reform movement.

At the center of the debate are a couple of articles concerning insults and libel, and false news or information.

They included Articles 218, 219, and 220 on assault on the dignity and honor of the president and vice president, articles 240 and 241 on insulting the government and state institutions, and article 263 on the broadcast or distribution of false news or information.

Press Council Member Atmaji Sapto Anggoro took the example of article 263 as one that could bring ill to the press, arguing that news reports that contained absolute truth as defined by the judicial court did not exist. News continues to develop and change in line with new findings or facts revealed in the process.

He pointed out that the primary duty of journalists was to seek truth and that the media has become a reference for the public for data and information that would allow them to understand the context and respond to the changes taking place in their life.

Manipulating information or reporting on something that contradicts the facts are taboo for journalists who have to provide the public with access to correct news, data, and information but at the same time, journalists should not be muffled, censored, or threatened with criminal charges in relation to their work.

The right to information is really vital and is guaranteed in Article 28 F of the 1945 Constitution. Other legal products, such as the Law on Fundamental Human Rights, the Law on Public Information Freedom, and the Law on the Press, also protect this right. 

Filing Complaints to the Press Council 

Before the brouhaha around the new Penal Code, criticism was also ripe against a number of articles in the Law on Information and Electronic Transactions, particularly Articles 27, 28, and 29, which concern online libel. 

These three articles have since 2013 been used to bring some 400 individuals to court, including journalists accused of producing false reports that led to libel. The law is consequently scheduled to undergo a revision in 2023.  Will the new Penal Code follow the same path, and will be revised?

In a nutshell, products of journalism will always have the potential of containing faults and therefore revisions exist. And so far, the Law on the Press rather than the Penal Code has been used in the settlement of complaints about news or information carried in the media.

The Law on the Press  stipulates that anyone who felt harmed by a news report can resort to the rights of reply mechanism, with the media concerned having to publish a comment or reaction from the complainant. They can also make use of the Rights to Correction that carries reactions or comments from the general public.

Another avenue of complaint is to file them to the Press Council which in the first nine months of 2022 has already received a total of 401 such reports against press products.

Towards the end of 2022, the Press Council also launched an  electronic  application to report complaints against press works which can be accessed through the official website of the organization.

This application is hoped to raise public participation, by individuals or corporate/institutional, in reporting problematic press works. The website provides forms to fill and upload for the complaints.  The complainant can also monitor the progress of the entire process online.

If the concerned media or journalist is found to have violated the Journalistic Code of Ethics or the Reporting Guideline for Cyber Media, the Press Council would then recommend the accused  to honor the complainant’s Rights of Reply in a proportional manner and publish an apology. 

Should the accused fail to comply, the plaintiff can then proceed with a criminal lawsuit.

Filing a complaint about a media report to the Press Council is a smart form of public participation in encouraging media companies and workers to continuously improve the quality of their work in accordance to the Journalistic Code of Ethics.

For media intent on maintaining their credibility in the eyes of the public, the obligation of carrying a Rights of Reply accompanied by an apology in the case they had published a false or wrong news or information is already a serious form of “punishment.”

But more importantly, any media wanting to maintain its credibility and retain its audience, have to do their best to avoid coming up with wrong or false reports.