04 Mei 2010

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Editorial: New face of press freedom

s World Press Freedom Day (today) still relevant in this day and age when print is dying out and the digital world is taking over, and when journalism is increasingly becoming more like a favorite pastime that everyone engages in, where previously it was the profession of a specific few concerned and committed citizens?
The answer is all the more reason — for anyone concerned about what press freedom represents — to celebrate. We should also use this occasion to foster greater international solidarity to make sure everyone in this world enjoys the benefits and privileges that come with living in a world where the press and the greater media is free in what it disseminates by means of print, electronic broadcasting and digital communication.

Indonesians today live in one of the freest press regimes in Asia. The nation has never looked back since it set out on the march towards democracy in 1998, with a free press seen as part and parcel of the nation-building process. Freedom of the press in Indonesia received another boost last week with the passage of the 2008 Law on Access to Public Information, which compels the government to provide the public with open access to all its records and documents (with some exemptions relating to national security and rights to privacy).
Press freedom still has its detractors, but Indonesia today is much freer than it was 12 years ago. And we have felt the benefits of what this right has conferred on society: a more transparent and accountable government, more critical and discerning citizens, and free and fair democratic elections to show for, among other things.
The growing role of digital media in replacing print certainly poses questions about the need to perpetually defend the freedom of the press.
The Internet has changed the way people disseminate and consume news and information. Print and broadcasting media institutions no longer have a monopoly on the flow of information.
News and information travel much faster and more freely today. With a mobile phone and access to the Internet, anyone can disseminate information, irrespective of whether the information is credible or not. These two aspects of the “new media” make the flow of news and information harder to control by anyone than before.
The upside of this development is that news and information are no longer controlled by anyone — not governments, not the big media outlets, and not professional journalists. The downside is that now just about everything goes on the Internet, including unverified news, hate speeches, pornography, and lies trying to pass as truth and fact.
However, it is futile to try to impose controls on the Internet. Such is the nature of new media that no one power can dominate it. Unfortunately, some countries and even some people in Indonesia are still of the opinion that they can and should control the Internet and are trying very hard to achieve it.
The best course anyone can take, whether in the government or the media, is to help prepare the public for this emerging era of freedom of information that the Internet is creating.
A greater tolerance of differences of opinions and criticisms and even towards news you’d rather not hear are even more imperative in this Internet era. And also more importantly, the public should be more discerning in filtering information it receives.
Freedom of the press has always had its perils: The bad press will always be there competing for attention and influence with the good press. This was true in the print era just as it is today in the Internet era.
What press freedom ensured then, as it would do today and in the future, is that at the end of the day the good press will always prevail over the bad press.
However, if we imposed censorship over the Internet, assuming we could, we would only get the bad press.
opini the jakarta post 05 mei 2010