Indonesian Court’s ruling in favor of Time’s multi-million dollar defamation case a landmark in press freedom in Southeast Asia
Bangkok. April 24, 2009/SEAPA/– The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) welcomes the landmark ruling of the Indonesian supreme court in favor of „Time Magazine“
in a US$106-million defamation suit filed against the magazine by former dictator Suharto.
The ruling, handed down on 16 April, marked the end of the appeals process. The court said „Time Magazine“ does not have to pay damages to the estate of Suharto.
One of the judges said, „Basically, everyone has the right to hold opinion, including different views with others. Therefore, the media in performing their function could possibly [express contrary opinions]. That is the manifestation of democracy and openness. The only obligation for media is to report with clear source although there is a possibility of differences in opinion between the reporter and the object of the report.“
The defamation charges stemmed from „Time Magazine’s“ cover story in its Asian edition in May 1999, saying Suharto’s family had pocketed billions of dollars during the three decades that he was in power. Much of this illegal fund reportedly came from oil and mining, forestry, property, banking and petrochemicals, with the
bulk stashed in overseas banks. Suharto sought more than US$27 billion dollars in damages against the Asian edition of „Time“.
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia, a SEAPA founding member based in Jakarta, said „the court has made a correct decision and it is an important development in press law in Indonesia. First, the Supreme Court recognizes press‘ code of conduct as a benchmark to determine press‘ illegal conduct. Press,
which has complied with such code in its reporting, cannot be categorized as a crime.“
AJI Indonesia Chairman Nezar Patria added in the statement that their organization „is of the opinion that this verdict should be made as a sample for law enforcement, particularly judges, in handing down verdicts involving the press.“
In February last year, the publication submitted a demand for a review of the supreme court’s earlier ruling, saying it had been a „manifest error.“
„Time Magazine’s“ article said that a four-month investigation in 11 countries revealed that the former dictator and his six children stashed away some US$15 billion dollars in illegally-gotten wealth.
The former strongman, who stepped down from power in 1998 amidstwidespread protests and economic crisis, denied he has ill-gotten wealth.