Are Letters To Editor Protected Under Press Freedom?

An interesting case has arisen in Indonesia over the issue as to whether a letter to the editor is protected under provisions of freedom of the press. The Indonesian Press Council wants clarification regarding what is the status of freedom of the press as it pertains to letters written to the editor about issues of concern to citizens. Four people wrote letters to the editor complaining about a company’s fraudulent behavior. The company sued for defamation of character under criminal law provisions. In April, 2008, one court found Pan Ester guilty of defamation while another court found him innocent on grounds his letter was covered by freedom of the press. A government official, Leo Batubara, noted: “It shows how law enforcers do not embrace the same legal standard when handling similar press-related cases.”

This is clearly an important issue about freedom of the press. Does a letter to the editor automatically fall under provisions of what newspapers are allowed to print? Should newspapers have disclaimers in their letter to the editor section? This is probably an are of freedom of the press that must be carefully examined.