Monday, February 25, 2013

Brunei, Timor Leste Press Freedom much better than Indonesia

Is Brunei, a non-democratic country, much more open than world’s third largest democracy Indonesia in terms of press freedom? Yes it is, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based non-government organization that promotes and defends freedom of information in its recently released World Press Freedom Index 2013.

The annual index measures the level of freedom of information in 179 countries in five continents. The survey covers six fields — pluralism, media independence, environment, self-censorship, legislative framework transparency and infrastructure — through a questionnaire sent to all five continents.

A quick look at the 2013 index reveals that none of the 10-ASEAN countries made into the top 100 countries out of 179 that were surveyed for this year’s index. Brunei ranked at 122 with a score of 35.45, a slight increase from 2012’s 125th position on the same index. Finland, like last year, once again topped the index with a score of 6.38 followed by the Netherlands (6.48) and Norway (6.52) in second and third respectively.

With a score of 84.83, Eritrea retained its infamous crown as the country that least respects press freedom and sits at the bottom of the index in 179th place. North Korea, where press freedom is an alien concept, ended up at 178th with a score of 83.90.

Indonesia ranked only 139th position with score of 41.05, four positions behind Thailand, which had a score of 38.60. In fact, Indonesia did improve its ranking by seven positions from 146th position in 2012.

Indonesia’s former state Timor Leste earned the respectable rank of 90 with its score of 28.72. Indonesia’s neighbor Papua New Guinea fared much better at 41st position with a 22.97 score.

The question raised by these results is why democratic countries like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines lag behind Brunei, a country without an elected parliament? An RSF executive gives some insight;

“The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take the kind of political system into account,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement that accompanied the index’s release.

While commenting on press freedom, senior journalist and Bisnis Indonesia chief editor Arief Budisusilo said the situation has been gradually improving in Indonesia.

“Press freedom in Indonesia has so far progressed well. But it faced challenges in some areas and also from government institutions such as the police and the Indonesian military that sometimes use violence against journalists,” Arief said in a short text message sent to The Jakarta Post on Sunday. “Any how, we have to defend the press freedom”.

There are also other problems hindering Indonesia’s media progress.

“The Indonesian media’s biggest challenge is to enhance the competence and knowledge [of journalists]. It has to maintain its independence and protect itself from political interests and the interests of media owners,” Arief said.

Most of the media companies in Indonesia are owned by business tycoons and politicians who have vested interests for their own agenda. It is different in Brunei. Although democracy may be absent from Brunei it has a vibrant media. The people of Brunei love their Sultan and his government.

“In Brunei, education and healthcare are free. Fuel prices are heavily subsidized. There is no income tax . The media is relatively free from any intervention from the government,” an Indonesian citizen who preferred to remain anonymous and worked in Brunei told the Post recently.

Brunei has four leading newspapers — Borneo Bulletin (circulation 20,000), Pelita Brunei (19,000), The Brunei Times (15,500) and Media Permata (10,000) — with a combined circulation of 65,000 copies in a country of 400,000 people.
Veeramalla Anjaiah, The Jakarta Post,

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