Self-censorship in Indonesia has reached absurd heights in Indonesia, spurred by the fears that stations may be shut down by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) by for showing inappropriate content.
For example, the picture above shows blurred-out images of the Puteri Indonesia 2016 beauty contest. Close-ups of breasts, thighs or buttocks are not allowed on Indonesian television.
According to this report, as the country’s supervisory body overseeing television and radio broadcasters, the KPI will file warning letters and demand that broadcasters stop showing content deemed to be in violation of the code of conduct and broadcasting standards. It does not issue fines. Instead, the KPI has the authority to revoke a company’s broadcasting permit after issuing a third warning letter.
One such warning letter was sent to a television station for airing a kissing scene in a in an episode of Shaun the Sheep, the British animated children’s series and spin-off of the popular Wallace and Gromit franchise.
The KPI ruled that the programme, which aired in July, violated Article 14 on child protection and Article 16 on the limitation of sexual content in the Broadcasting Code of Conduct and Broadcasting Standards.
KPI spokesman Andi Andrianto said that the segment was inappropriate and unacceptable for a television programme aimed at young children.
The scene began with a ring falling between a woman’s breasts, and then the couple stared at each other and kissed.
Today we learn that under a planned new code, an Islamic religious body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) – recently accused of opposing vaccination – will have a bigger role in supervising broadcasting.
According to Cholil Nafis, the chairman of the Preaching Commission at the MUI, the body would supervise religious content in television shows, while the KPI would follow its existing practise of issuing warning letters and sanctioning broadcasters.
Some preachers have been criticised for using their shows to spread hatred towards other religions, or for spouting “misguided” Islamic teachings.
Sex party in heaven
Last July, a cleric on the television show Islam itu Indah (Islam is Beautiful), broadcast on Trans TV, claimed that pious Muslim men who strictly adhered to the teachings of Islam would be rewarded with a sex party in heaven.
His comment attracted widespread criticism online. In another programme, preacher Febri Sugianto stated that women who use menstruation pads and wear high heels would have difficulty bearing children.
MUI can guide the preachers on television and give them training … we can give input on which programmes are credible and competent.
KPI chairman Yuliandre Darwis stresses that it is broadcasters who decide what to censor, and the agency’s job is merely to monitor the programmes that they air.
According to Darwis, the regulations stipulate that there should be no close-up shots of a person’s breasts, thighs or buttocks. It is not stated, however, whether the regulations also apply to animated characters. The quality control department of television stations must decide whether a scene should be censored based on the code of conduct and broadcasting standards.
Of course, they need to have a clear understanding of the law.
But Nina Mutmainnah Armando, a communications lecturer at the University of Indonesia and an activist at the National Coalition for Broadcasting Reforms, says the system of self-censorship and warning letters is flawed. She criticises the KPI for cherry-picking which programmes become the targets of warning letters.
Armando says the agency tends to issue warnings for what many viewers would consider to be trivial matters, while other issues such as breaches of journalistic ethics go unchecked.
There are more serious things that they should monitor.
Armando agrees that the KPI needs to perform its duty of monitoring programmes, but adds that self-regulation within the media and entertainment industry has become ridiculous.
“They blur [scenes] without looking at the context. For example, a swimmer in a swimsuit. That is an insult to our common sense. It’s misguided,” she says, referring to a 2016 case in which CNN Indonesia blurred the body of a female athlete who was competing in National Sports Week. The television station later issued an apology.
Sumanto Al-Qurtuby, an assistant professor of anthropology at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, says the trend towards conservatism among Indonesia’s Muslims is growing.
I think Indonesians are followers. They like to follow the current trends, such as women wearing hijabs. But as to whether they do it because of religiosity or social pressure, this needs further study.
Indonesian television audiences have a good number of religious-themed shows to choose from, and programmes targeting pious Muslims are among the most popular.
In 2015, KPI statistics show, Mamah dan Aa Beraksi was the most watched television programme in the country. Hosted by prominent female Muslim preacher Mamah Dedeh, above, the show reached 44.7 per cent of the national television audience.
The Indonesian government is in the process of discussing a revision of law No 32/2002 on broadcasting. According to Darwis, any changes would give the KPI more authority in dealing with television stations that violate the standards, possibly including the imposition of fines.
This is an industry. They fear economic [sanctions] the most. For example, in Turkey, a fine will amount to 3 per cent of the station’s revenue [in the following month] if it is deemed to be violating regulations.
Going forward, Darwis says he hopes the KPI’s authority can be used to create wider awareness about broadcasting standards and encourage the production of more educational content.
Even more sinister is the fact that the revision will also include the monitoring of digital content offered by Internet streaming sites. Darwis says this is becoming a big issue because Indonesian audiences are increasingly turning to the internet for information and entertainment. He did not say whether standards for the internet would be as conservative as those that apply to television stations.