Jakarta. Indonesian Press Council chairman Yosep Stanley Adi Prasetyo confirmed that none of the 11 websites blocked by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology this week were verified as a media organizations.
"Before the ministry blocked those sites, they did a study involving who reported those sites, what the reasons were, and if they had any evidence," Stanley said.
"The ministry always consults with the Press Council before blocking anything. They asked whether the suspects were of media organizations registered on or affiliated with the council," he told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday (05/01).
He said the Press Council regularly provides the ministry with an updated list of registered media outlets and that there are currently 234 verified news websites.
However, he said one of the blocked sites was a legal entity and a self-proclaimed news service.
"During an undisclosed meeting with the ministry, I was informed that one of the 11 blocked sites was already a legal entity. I told them [the ministry] that the company could apply to be included on our list of verified media organizations as long as they were ready to comply with the codes of conduct and stop disseminating hoaxes," said Stanley, who is co-founder of the Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI).
He said to be verified, a media organization must adhere to the 1999 Press Law as well as all Press Council regulations.
Once a media organization is verified, it will receive protection from the council and any complaints directed against it will be processed according to the Press Law.
"If they are unregistered, then we cannot advocate for them. It's the same with the Obor Rakyat tabloid libel case," Stanley said.
"The lawyer defending Obor Rakyat asked for the Press Council's protection, but we could not provide it because they did not produce news. Besides that, they used a false company address and even false names for their writers," he added.
Despite the websites having been banned in accordance with ethical standards, the government has come under criticism for being repressive, with a public backlash against what is seen as internet censorship.
Stanley suggested that the ministry should be more transparent about its grounds for blocking websites.
"The government should accept representatives [of the blocked sites] if they request a meeting," he said.
"Most importantly, the government should explain its reasons for blocking the sites. It would not block sites without any proof. Why does it not just publicize the information in the media so that the public will not judge its actions as being excessive?" said Stanley, who is also a former commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
He confirmed that the information exists and that the ministry cited it during a meeting with the council. The reasons for the action was said to have been presented to those responsible for each of the sites that were blocked.
Amid what appears to be a recent plague of false information, internet censorship has been one way for the government to prevent the dissemination of hoaxes, or information that cannot be verified.
"There is no further detail available when people want to check the validity of the information. The hoaxes appear on what are disguised as news portals, while they are only blogs," Stanley said.
"Those hoaxes were created to mislead people for financial gain," he said, referring to how fake news sites generate money from clicks.
He urged the public to be more careful in reading the news as the veracity of the information still needs further verification.
"Find out if the issue is reported in the mainstream media. If not, check the source of the news. Try to find who is responsible for publishing it," he suggested.
If those measures cannot confirm the legitimacy of the article, then it must be a hoax, Stanley pointed out.
Another type of falsehood people should watch out for is slander. If a written piece defames a person or a group, then it is not a media article.
"Don't make any of that go viral [on social media]. The more people share hoaxes, the more it is believed to be true, as people don't bother to double-check it," Stanley said.
Antara reported on Wednesday that the Press Council and the Communication Ministry are in the process of launching barcodes to label verified printed and online media outlets.
Readers can use smartphones to scan the barcodes, which will give them access to official Press Council data to help the public determine whether a media organization is legitimate.
The ministry has blocked access to the 11 websites for propagating hoaxes and fake news, or for containing hate speech based on ethnicity, religion, race and group affiliation.
The sites are voa-islam.com, nahimunkar.com, kiblat.net, bisyarah.com, dakwahtangerang.com, islampos.com, suaranews.com, izzamedia.com, gensyiah.com, muqawamah.com and abuzubair.net.
From January to mid-December last year, 51 websites were blocked for hate speech.