Religious Conservatism

I am including a great op-ed in the Jakarta Post by Citra Diani, about the latest twitter-fatwahs by Minister of Communications Tifatul.

When I went to Jakarta last December the religious nutcases in government seemed to be a hot topic among the educated Jakartans that I met. As people who have seen the new freedoms resulting from Indonesia’s democratic transformation, they are not amused that a religious movement is highjacking the government. I first heard about Tifatul when he shook hands with First Lady Michelle Obama during Obama’s 2010 visit. (It was scandalous because it’s against his religous principles to shake hands with women.)

Religious conservatism is a salient topic again now because a 23.5-percent distribution tax for Hollywood movies took effect last month, effectively banning them. As a journalist friend explained to me, ever since 1997, after Suharto’s ban on certain religious groups was lifted, Indonesian society has become increasingly religiously conservative. For example, more young women than ever are wearing the jilbab, and eating establishments and food products are increasingly ‘halalizing’ or branding themselves as halal. The new flows of capital from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia to religious groups in Indonesia, according to the journalist, are one source of this sea change.

More than just pornography

Diani Panjaitan, New York | Thu, 01/13/2011 11:02 AM Opinion
It seems that Indonesia’s Minister of Communication and Information, Tifatul Sembiring, is not yet willing to let go of the “crotch business” as his main agenda in 2011.

Tifatul opened January by issuing a statement that Research in Motion (RIM), the BlackBerry inventor and distributor, must join Indonesia’s war on pornography. Through his twitter account, Tifatul gave RIM an ultimatum to either filter pornographic content from its products by Jan. 21, 2011 or be banned from Indonesia.

Tifatul’s routine tweets about pornography may give the wrong impression that the ministry’s one and only concern is inside our pants. In fact, monitoring pornography is just one of the ministry’s jobs, which was lucky enough to be prioritized after the Earth-shattering celebrity sex tape scandal last year.

This crotch-focused agenda has meant other important information and communication issues must cope with sitting in the back seat of the information policy car. One of those issues involves the Network Broadcast System, which has been ignored for eight years.

In 2002, the House of Representatives endorsed the broadcasting law, which mandated that Indonesia’s broadcast system be changed into a network system. Under the new system there would no longer be a national station aside from state-owned TVRI.

Indonesia’s television industry would consist of network stations and local stations. Any stations that wish to broadcast outside of their licensed area would have to affiliate with an existing local station or establish their own local station.  

The House gave a five-year grace period for national stations to adjust their infrastructures and business plans to the new system. But instead of preparing for the adjustments, the stations waged a war against the law, filing a judicial review to amend the law.

Even after the judicial review motion was turned down, the national stations still showed no signs of fulfilling their legal obligation.  

Now, in 2011, almost three years after the second extension was given to the national stations to begin the switch to the network system, nothing has changed. Ten national stations are still broadcasting directly from Jakarta to every area in Indonesia.

Ishadi SK, director of Trans TV, once questioned the differing treatment given to television and radio from their sibling, the print media. The answer to his question is frequency. Frequency scarcity is the reason, not just in Indonesia but all over the world, the broadcast media is always treated very differently from the print.

To be able to operate, unlike the print media that uses paper for its distribution, broadcast media uses frequencies that belong to the public.

The establishment of a magazine does not reduce the possibility for 100 other magazines to operate. But, when a television station is allocated a frequency it means that there are fewer frequencies in the spectrum available for other stations to use.

This is why an independent regulatory body like the Indonesian Broadcast Commission (KPI) is needed to ensure that these scarce frequencies are only given to stations that are committed to serving public interests above business interests.

One of the public interests that need to be protected is the right to diverse, educating and entertaining programs that reflect their social, cultural and political needs.

And it is the fulfillment of these exact rights that the current national-centralistic broadcast system fails to meet.

Today, all 10 national stations can reach almost every area in Indonesia just by using relay towers outside Jakarta. For more than 20 years, the people of Jayapura, Banjarmasin or Majene have been bombarded with programs flaunting the metropolis’ lifestyle and politics.

This system is not only insensitive to the lives of the suburban people but also stifles the media’s function as the fourth pillar of democracy. Because the media are so fixated in covering national and local Jakarta politics, political cases and crimes outside of the big cities are practically invisible.
The check and balance process of local governments are left to the print media to defend.

The current broadcast system also robs the local people from the economic benefit of their frequency.

Although national stations uses the local frequencies to broadcast their programs, taxes are only paid to Jakarta due to the fact that they are mainly broadcasting from Jakarta and only have relay towers in most areas.  

This is also why the network system becomes important to boosting local revenue. If frequencies are allocated and renewed locally, the local people benefit from the income taxes.

A lively local television industry can also be expected if the network system is implemented. As of today, local television industry is almost non-existent because of the harsh competition with the big national players and diminishing frequency availability.

Local businesses that could never afford to advertise on national television could start advertising their products on the local stations. A vibrant local advertising climate can help boost the local businesses and television industry as well.

These public interests are the rights that are guaranteed by the broadcasting law. The implementation of these interests has been stalled by KPI and the government. If the national television industry is not willing to make the change as mandated by the law, it is the state’s obligation to make sure that the supremacy of Indonesian law is upheld.

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