Asia-Pacific

Atmakusumah Astraatmadja

Conscience of the Press

He has one major subject he feels passionately about: freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of thought. This year’s recipient of Indonesia’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the Indonesian journalist Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, 61, has devoted much of his life to the independence of the press in his country. Much due to his devotion, Indonesia was transformed from one of the most media-oppressed countries in Southeast Asia to one of the most liberal. Astraatmadja worked assiduously for a draft media bill—which passed in September 1999—that carried no vestige of the infamous media regulations imposed by the Suharto regime. The landmark bill mandated the creation of an independent National Press Council. In March, Astraatmadja was elected its first chairman, pledging “moral punishment” to the media and public alike against anybody who sabotages the right to know, hinders the national press’s professionalism, and undermines democracy. The council is made up of six media representatives and two from the public (one of the print media representatives is Goenawan Mohamad, World Press Review’s International Editor of the Year for 1998).

“Without a moral compass,” Astraatmadja was quoted in Hong Kong’s Asiaweek, “the press is like a ship that has lost its beacon in dense fog.” He seems to be its steamer: As the current executive director of the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute, Astraatmadja now trains young journalists and public-relations officers. However, Indonesia still has a long way to go, he cautions. “The struggle for media freedom is not yet over.”

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