A journalist in Kotabaru, South Kalimantan, has been arrested and charged with spreading interethnic hatred in an article about a land conflict involving a plantation company. This should have been resolved through the Press Council.
THE South Kalimantan police should not be handling a journalistic case involving a reporter with the Banjarhits website, Diananta Putra Sumedi. After detaining and naming him a suspect, the police charged Diananta with spreading information concerning ethnic, religious, racial and intergroup (SARA) issues that could cause offense. However, according to a recommendation from the Press Council, this case was resolved in February.
The dispute began with an article titled Land Stolen by Jhonlin, Dayaks Complain to South Sumatra Police written by Diananta and published by on Banjarhits on November 9 last year. According to the article, Jhonlin Agro Raya, a company owned by Andi Syamsuddin Arsyad alias Haji Isam, an ethnic Bugis businessman from South Kalimantan, seized land belonging to people in Kotabaru Regency. At the end of the report, Diananta quoted an interview with chairman of the Indonesia Kaharingan Faith Council Sukirman, who said that the seizure of the land could trigger conflict between the Dayak and Bugis ethnic groups.
Sukirman denied saying what was written and complained about Diananta to the Press Council and the local police. The press council ruled that the report was a work of journalism although it did violate the code of ethics because of prejudicial reporting about an ethnic group. The council also declared the editors of Kumparan—the national news portal that Banjarhits is affiliated with—to be responsible for the report and ask them to grant a right of reply.
However, after the Press Council’s decision, the South Kalimantan police still processed the crime report filed against Diananta. They used the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law and ignored the memorandum of understanding between the Press Council and the National Police chief. According to this agreement, if there is a report against a journalist, the police should hand the case over to the Press Council. The police subsequently charged Diananta under article 28 paragraph 2 concerning information causing enmity between ethnic groups, which carries a punishment of up to six years in jail and/or a fine of Rp1 billion. He was named a suspect and detained on May 4, one day after World Press Freedom Day.
The excuse by police officers that Diananta was detained to stop him writing about the same topic again is an overreaction and represents a muzzling of the press, especially because since he was questioned last November, Diananta has cooperated with police.
This incident reminds us of the case of Muhammad Yusuf, a journalist who died at the Kotabaru Detention Center on June 10, 2018. He had been charged under article 27 paragraph 3 of the ITE Law, which covers libel, after he wrote about a conflict between local people and Multi Agro Sarana Mandiri, another company owned by a Haji Isam.
The police rarely use the SARA provision against the press. Of the more than 14 journalists from seven media arrested under the ITE Law, the majority have been charged under the libel article. Diananta is the third journalist charged under the SARA article, which carries with it a maximum sentence of five years, and allows the suspect to be detained immediately.
The charge by investigators that Banjarhits is not a media company and that its articles are not journalist products is easy to refute. Although it is not yet a legal entity, Banjarhits is part of the Kumparan news site, and this company is a legal entity. Their reports have been carried on the Kumparan.com/Banjarhits website under an agreement with the editors of Kumparan. The same mechanism is used for 36 local media which Kumparan partner with in 34 provinces. It is regrettable that this cooperation between central and local media is so unbalanced: in the agreement the Kumparan editorial team stated that they are not responsible for the content that is produced by their partners. In its recommendation, the press council asked Kumparan to improve this agreement.
The National Police headquarters must reevaluate the performance of its officers in the South Kalimantan. On the other hand, the national press must improve its working procedures so that journalists are not readily criminalized.