About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.
Today, Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy, and its free media environment plays an important role in the country’s steady democratic development. In fact, the NGO Freedom House rated Indonesia as the most free media environment in all of Southeast Asia. Over the last decade, Internet penetration has surged, and half of Indonesia’s Internet users are on Facebook and Twitter. There are over one million bloggers in the country.
On Wednesday, I met with leading bloggers and media developers in Jakarta. The lively discussion revealed the dynamic role of Internet activism in Indonesia. Even though fewer than 15 percent of Indonesians regularly access the Internet, the increasing number of people who engage online are making a difference in the way Indonesian society communicates about topics ranging from the environment and human rights to political issues, culture, fashion, and academic material.
The government, online businesses, and consumers all share a responsibility for protecting freedom of expression and freedom of information on the Internet. As co-chair of the NetFreedom Taskforce with Under Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats, I was pleased to learn about how Indonesia’s bloggers use the online space to express their views and advocate for change in their country through a conducive internet environment. It was helpful to listen to their views and look for more ways to engage together.
Indonesian citizens’ active involvement in social media demonstrates how civil society can promote good governance and protect freedom of expression. Of course, as in any country, we must be mindful of threats to such freedoms. The bloggers at the meeting described the Indonesian social media response to a draft law on multimedia content that would form a government committee with the potential to censor online content. The bloggers voiced their objection to the draft law, citing that it would limit freedom of expression online. Fortunately, in response to online protests, President Yudhoyono put a hold on the law. The social media activism and response by the President signify the importance of partnership between government and society when securing the freedom of expression on the Internet. I am encouraged by the lively internet activism in Indonesia, and am grateful to the bloggers and government officials who are committed to protecting freedom of speech.
Under Secretary Otero traveled to Indonesia, May 16-21, to meet with civil society, non-governmental organizations, and senior government officials to discuss global issues on which the two countries can partner. As Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, María Otero oversees U.S. foreign policy on democracy, human rights, population, refugee, health, and environment issues.