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A more comprehensive code

AsiaViews, Edition: 11/III/March/2006

IT’S fantastic. That was the comment of senior journalist Atmakusumah Astraatmadja after scrutinizing the Journalistic Code of Ethics endorsed and signed by 29 organizations of journalists at Harris Hotel, Jakarta, on Tuesday last week. The new code was processed only in less than two months.

It’s indeed fantastic in comparison with the previous one, signed on April 6, 1999 in Bandung, which took seven months to complete. The express code-making brought relief to Press Council Chairman Ichlasul Amal.

As host, assisted by the Tifa Foundation, the Press Council was worried that its discussion would be tough, heated and even rowdy. “The committee had planned to alert the police for fear of any unruliness,” said Amal laughingly as he addressed the end of the deliberation.

In fact, the draft prepared by the Press Council’s working group had become a subject of passionate debate. One of the points of argument was the phrase “no ill intent” in Article 1: “Indonesian journalists shall have an independent attitude, produce accurate, balanced reports, and bear no ill intent.”

Such words were regarded as creating a disagreeable image of journalists. However, those proposing omission failed as the majority of participants maintained the phrase.

The change of name from the Indonesian Journalists Code of Ethics (KEWI) to the Journalistic Code of Ethics was not much questioned because the group referred to Law No. 40/1999, Article 7 (2): “Journalists shall possess and observe the Journalistic Code of Ethics.”

Apart from the Code, the meeting also endorsed documents of the Press Council Empowerment and Journalist Organizational Standards. The former contains formulations to enhance the council’s power and authority, and the latter constitutes standardization of journalist organizations. Based on Press Council data, there are 34 such associations today.

To Atmakusumah, there is more than just the quick drafting to praise. The former Press Council Chairman noted at least three new elements in the code’s 11 articles—from only seven previously.

First, there’s the provision that promotes journalists’ respect for pluralism. Article 8 emphasizes the need for journalists to avoid prejudice or discrimination against somebody on ethnic, racial, skin and religious grounds.

Second, journalists are called upon to “protect” perpetrators of crime who are under-age children. Their identities must not be clearly disclosed. The same treatment is prescribed for victims of crimes against decency.

Third, the opinion factor in news writing is involved. Article 3 stipulates, “Indonesian journalists shall always verify information, make balanced reports, avoid mixing fact and fault-finding opinion, and apply the presumption of innocence.” Opinion trying to find faults is prohibited. Opinion founded on the interpretation of fact is allowed.”

According to Secretary-General of the Indonesian Television Journalists Association, Bekti Nugroho, the code is also bolder. “An article provides that journalists shall be independent and free from any intervention of other parties, including media proprietors,” said Bekti.

Unlike KEWI, this new code also regulates the behavior of electronic media journalists. As Ichlasul Amal indicated, it was one reason that inspired the Press Council to immediately renew the Code of Ethics.

By Abdul Manan

Tempo, No. 29/VI/March 21+27, 2006

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