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DATE=11/10/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=ACEH / MEDIA NUMBER=5-44738 BYLINE=BRONWYN CURRAN DATELINE=JAKARTA CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Journalists in Indonesia are facing prosecution for broadcasting interviews with the leader of separatist rebels in the troubled northern Aceh province. Bronwyn Curran reports from Jakarta, four television journalists have been accused of breaking a law against threatening national unity. TEXT: Private television stations began receiving police summonses two months ago, around the time the government of former president B-J Habibie introduced the country's first ever press freedom bill. They were told they had violated the law by running interviews with an Aceh rebel leader. Police spokesman Colonel Salaeh Saaf says the broadcasts are considered illegal because they undermine national unity and harmony. ///SAAF ACT: IN BAHASA, ESTAB. THEN FADE UNDER AND OUT /// Colonel Salaeh says two commercial stations, SCTV and ANTEVE, gave publicity to false claims by the commander of the Aceh independence movement. The police spokesman says the claims upset existing community opinions and that such reports, which do not result in the consolidation of national unity, should not be tolerated. Colonel Salaeh says the change of government has not stopped the investigation, because the law remains in effect. Opening up the country's hitherto tightly controlled press was one of the hallmarks of Mr. Habibie's 18-months in office. But press freedom activists say the police action against the television stations shows control over the news media is re-emerging -- this time from a new quarter. The activists say they suspect that with the disbanding of the Information Ministry by new President Abdurrahman Wahid, the police have now taken over the ministry's role of controlling media content. Despen Ompusunggu heads the Indonesian Committee to Protect Journalists. /// OMPUSUNGGU ACT /// Before the transition period, if the media have a case, it was handled by the information department. But now the Indonesian police have become a new censor. /// END ACT /// The lawyer co-ordinating the journalists' defense, Johnson Panjaitan, alleges the police are intimidating the media, despite the recent enshrinement of press freedoms in the law. He believes the police are not alone in seeking to control coverage of the Aceh separatist movement. ///PANJAITAN ACT IN BAHASA, ESTABLISH AND FADE UNDER AND OUT /// Mr. Panjaitan says people who are considered suspects in this case say they believe the police are actually carrying out orders from military headquarters. The journalists, he says, believe the interview with the Aceh rebel commander is an embarrassment to the armed forces because they have been unable to find him. Mr. Panjaitan says that the broadcasts pose no threat to national unity, but do threaten the authorities' monopoly on information about the pro-independence movement in Aceh. ///PANJAITAN ACT IN BAHASA WITH ENGLISH VOICE OVER/// He says that apart from being embarrassed, the military wants to cut off the channels of information which - the lawyer says -- help people understand what is really happening in Aceh. Mr. Panjaitan says up until now, the authorities have been free to mislead the public without fear of contradiction. The case against the television journalists is still making its way through the legal system. Should it get to court, Indonesia's new Wahid government will see two of its highest priorities in conflict - free expression pitted against the preservation of the unity of an archipelago punctured by several separatist movements. (Signed) NEB/BC/FC/KL 10-Nov-1999 07:17 AM EDT (10-Nov-1999 1217 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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