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5/8/11 Indonesia (JakartaGlobe) – Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy and has been declared a fundamental human right by the United Nations.

Having struggled through decades of authoritarian rule, no Indonesian citizen will want to give up their rights, especially as it relates to the freedom of the press. The Indonesian press is one of the freest in the region, and journalists in the country are able to report and write with few restrictions.

The once-muzzled press has emerged as a central player in our fledgling democracy. The courage of journalists in reporting corruption and acting as a check on government and politicians has led to reforms that have further strengthened our democracy.

Freedom of expression is essential for democracy to work because it encourages public discourse. Indonesians will not be able to vote or make informed decisions on government policies without this right. Thus, freedom of expression is not only critical to human dignity but also to a functioning democracy.

However, with freedom comes great responsibility. Freedom of speech, for example, does not give individuals the right to incite hatred and violence, and neither does it allow one person to slander or libel another.

It is against this backdrop that we must condemn reports that certain individuals are using radio to promote hate and violence. Police investigations have found that Islamic hard-liners acted on the broadcast speeches and instructions of Murhali Barda , the former chief of the Bekasi chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) , to attack a church in September.

Media programs devoted to certain religions are part and parcel of an open society. Every religion has a right to preach and educate its followers through the mass media. This is not unique to Indonesia and is practiced in mature democracies.

When the media are used to incite violence, though, democracy itself is threatened. Therefore, we cannot and must not allow our freedoms to be hijacked by those who seek to destroy society and trample upon our values.

Media owners and editors must exercise greater caution and use discretion when they publish or air programs that have strong religious overtones. Murhali was able to incite others because he was afforded a platform to do so. This must not be allowed to happen again.

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