New Order style censorship being used to limit data on forest fires

Source – October 18, 2015
Driver cross bridge covered in haze from forest fires in Pekanbaru, Riau - September 30, 2015 (Antara)
Driver cross bridge covered in haze from forest fires in Pekanbaru, Riau - September 30, 2015 (Antara)

Parliza Hendrawan, Palembang – The bad old practices of the New Order dictatorship of former President Suharto are still being applied in some government agencies in Indonesia.

This time round they came down hard on the South Sumatra Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), which plays a vital role in forest and land fires.

“There was a government agency that asked us to restrict the circulation of information about the weather, hot spots, visibility and the ISPU [Standard Air Pollution Index] levels”, said Indra Purna, the information and data section chief of the Kenten Climatology Station in the South Sumatra city of Palembang, when speaking with Tempo on Saturday October 17.

According to Indra, the external agency put pressure on the BMKG to restrict information provided to the media with a specific intent and for particular interests. He was not prepared however to name the agency trying to enforce this censorship of information ala the New Order.

Yet, said Indra, who is a graduate of the Geophysics, Climatology and Meteorology Institute, such data is essential for industry, aviation, transportation and educational institutions.

The BMKG, said Indra, has never bowed down to external pressure saying that his position requires him to be honest with whoever requires the most up-to-date information, including journalists.

In addition to this, they cannot hide the weather conditions, smoke density levels and the number of hot spots because these things can be seen with the naked eye and felt by people’s in their daily lives.

Indra said he was happy to be involved in dealing with the forest fires and haze because he can share his knowledge and experience with others.

He is convinced that his knowledge will grow and society’s understanding will spread. “It’s saddening when a certain party only takes action after there are victim and financial losses arise”, he said.

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was Ada yang Tekan BMKG Agar Tak Sebar Data Kebakaran Hutan.]