Monday, December 05, 2005

Back to Super State?

Did I say the government is always busy doing things it's not supposed to do? If memory serves, yes I did, and here's yet another example.

According to the news, the President has just signed four new regulations on broadcasting. Among all, those regulations give full authority to the government to remove broadcast licence, to give sanction to broadcasters (incl. shutting down), and --bear with me-- to decide what can and cannot be broadcast!

The Jakarta Post has good editorial on this issue today. The paper also features an article by a member of the Press and Broadcast Society of Indonesia. The latter cites Article 17 (5.a) of that Government Regulation No 50/05 on Private Broadcast Institutions:
Private Broadcasting Institutions are forbidden to relay regular broadcast programs originatingt from foreign broadcasting institutions, which include program types: a. news; b. music programs; and c. sports broadcasts which show sadistic acts.
Once upon a time, we had this communist-type of ministry called "Departemen Penerangan" (Ministry of Information). Then, thank God, it was abolished (the function was given away to an independent body outside the government). Then it was reinstalled again (it's now the Ministry of Communications and Information). What, are we in Nazi era?

Minister Djalil, why don't you just ban the internet as well?

By the way, parents, if you think those stuff on TVs are immoral, it is your responsibility to protect and educate your children, not the government's. Trust me, you know your kids way, way better than the government does. And, in case you think the government can ban or filter information, it simply won't work.

Update: At least some guys up there still have ears. Wait and see.


  1. Ok, but what if millions parents turn out to be incompetent with respect to protecting their kids from adult media contents? After X years this at first cultural problem will turn to daily problem that impacts people life nation wide. Teenages sex increase, so is teenage pregnancy, teenage single parent, teenage sexual abuse, and so on. And in another X years these teenages will become parent themselves, and are likely to become worse parents than their own parents.

    In short, there is a practical, economic if you like, in controling cultural tendency of a nation.

  2. We're always tempted to think that other people are stupid. It's us who knows what's good and what's bad. I would be very surprised "if millions of parents turn out to be incompetent" in protecting their kids. That'd be a real tragedy of history of humankind. Let's not exaggerate. Yes, there are some really bad parents. But millions? And even if they're bad, I don't see any good reason to believe that OTHER -- government included, and especially -- will ALWAYS be better. We've seen evidence of "bad" parents struggling to keep their kids with them, not the with the government (damn, I hate to admit this, but my eyes were wet when I watched that movie with mentally crippled Sean Penn fighting for his daughter's custody).

    And why should we blame TVs and other media when teenage girls got pregnant? Back then, when TV was non-existent, teenage girls got pregnant. Even today, in poor, remote areas with no good access to information, teenage girls got pregnant. In fact, I think, many of them got pregnant because they LACK of information.

    That brings us to the issue of "GOOD" information and "BAD" information. Protectionists will argue: the government should ban "BAD" information. Who decides an information good or bad? I'd like to have both, so I can choose at my own risk.

    But kids don't choose wisely, no? That's what parents are for. I'm tired of seeing failed parents giving the blame to TVs. After all, if TVs are just plain evil, why do they buy one? To my understanding, buying TV and all that is not obligation. Is it?

  3. I agree 110% with Aco, especially with things of silly thing of "banning the TV and other kind of information". This kind of policy not only 'strange' but also difficult. Just like trying to block a giant wave of sea water coming to the mainland. The only realistic stuff we can do are predict when it will come, or trying to avoid the "negative" effect or impact. In my practical thinking, the best way is whether to inform such "bad" information earlier for preparation and enhancing human capital capacity. Informing "bad" information through labelling or show time management (jam tayang) are the best instrument instead of totally forbid the show. Or, with regard of "avoiding the negative effect", education and personal communication are the best media to coping the effect. My experience conducting survey about youth reproductive health resume that lack of knowledge due to "taboo" policy lead to inappropriate information searching activities among youth and at the end they learn by trial and error ways (via inadequate media). And, the results is obvious, they get many errors results and society judge them to be immoral. What if they being inform earlier and fairly? This is what I called human capital capacity. Are we ready to listen and learn (not just judging which one is good or bad, or sinful or blis)?? For Indonesia, I do not think we are ready yet.

  4. Aco, you can ban TV from your own house, but you can't make others to do the same. It's not only about your own kids, but also what other kids can do to your kids.

    We have almost full media freedom here (Holland). Are you sure that's the way you want it in Indonesia? The infrastructure to 'inform' and 'educate' people is very good here; but still you have a group of teenages caught raping 10 years old girl. There are reports of worrying number of bad parents. Teens trying sex at 14 is not uncommon (and guess what they will try when they get bored at 30). More investment in the infrastructure is out of question; it's already expensive.

    Now if you open this pandora box in Indonesia ... with 10x the number of population, and only 1/10th budget, I say you'd better be sure what you're doing...

  5. hmmm... can't really blame the preggies from TV. you want to prevent it? better sex education and more condom machines. not banning Sex and the City, it's utterly ridiculous.

    what shown on TV is a mere representation on society's value. it doesn't always go the way one wants to but one can't simply ignore that it is happening. as much as kids learn their family value, the decision ultimately falls in their hand.

    the pandora box is there, it's just a matter of time when to open it.

  6. Dear Blogowner. That's exactly my point. I can ban TV in MY house. But I can't make other people do that. In fact, I SHOULD NOT make others do that. And nor should the government.

  7. Aco, I think you've raised a very interesting point. It should indeed raise eyebrows as to why the Indonesian government chose to re-establish an information-related ministry, albeit under a different name. However, I think you might be taking it a little too far.

    If we take a look at the US for example, it has what is called the Federal Communicatins Commision (FCC)--which is also a government institution. In fact, it's role is not much different from Indonesia's Ministry of Information, atleast in writing. It can revoke broadcasting licenses, it certainly regulates, it imposes penalties/sanctions (such as in the case of Janet Jackson's breast exposure during last year's superbowl), and it also determines what can and cannot be broadcasted.

    The FCC might perhaps not be much different from Aco's quotation regarding the newly adopted regulations: "...those regulations give full authority to the [Indonesian] government to remove broadcast licence, to give sanction to broadcasters (incl. shutting down), and --bear with me-- to decide what can and cannot be broadcast."

    Nobody, I presume, perceives the US' FCC as Nazi-like. Indonesia's Ministry of Information shouldn't be either. The adoption of these regulations in and of itself does not constitute Nazi-like behavior.

    What will ultimately determine whether what Indonesia has done is Nazi-like is how it plays out in reality. The real issue is not whether a government should or should not regulate the media. Most governments in fact do. The question is 'to what extent?'.

    How these regulations will be applied (or possibly abused) is what will determine whether or not Indonesia has gone too far. It might make sense to ban certain things from being aired simply because the values of our society say so, or because the costs of doing such a thing outweight its potential benefits--these new regulations can, I would argue, be a force of good.

    I certainly see Aco's point of view in that the regulations certainly have the potential to be abused by certain groups to impose their values on others. However, I argue that this is a risk that all democratic nations must bear--the risk that democratic procedures and institutions may yield "un-democratic" results.

    Hopefully Indonesia will be able to achieve a balance between promoting civil liberties and advocating the public interest--whatever it may be.

  8. Dear J.R.
    Thanks. That was an excellent comment. I agree, it's an issue of to what extent we can tolerate government regulation into the broadcasting business. To my understanding, FCC was first established to manage frequency distribution. There were thoughts that broadcasting license constituted monopoly -- no two broadcasters can use the same frequency, in fact, no broadcasters can operate within a very narrow band of frequency without creating noise/interference each other, so it needed government role. (Of course disputes arose -- see e.g. Posner's Econ Analysis of Law). It is true, that along the time, FCC has also assumed the role as a censorship authority (or at least, an ex post finer, as in the case of Janet Jackson). But many reactions from FCC actually are responses to society's pressure. Remember that SuperBowl accident? It took some time lag before FCC made statement; after the public did.

    In Indonesia we have KPI (Komite Penyiaran Indonesia) that is independent. It's not a part of the government. It's role is more of the second function (making sure that no broadcast material/content violates society's value), not the first one (regulating frequency assignment). In this case, I'd say we're better than the American system. However, the new proposed laws seem to takeover the KPI and give the full authority (both function) to the government. And that bothers me.

  9. "But many reactions from FCC actually are responses to society's pressure. Remember that SuperBowl accident? It took some time lag before FCC made statement; after the public did."

    If you're saying that the FCC works based on the demand of the general public, doesn't it mean that the new regulation imposed by the government THEORETICALLY functions the same way? That if the people think that a show violates Indonesian common norm, the general public deserve to run to the broadcast censorship and ban the show? Hence, the new regulation serves as an instrument of the people. Of course, the government can misuse the regulation, but utter skepticisim towards the government can also endanger our democratic stability. As long as the broadcast dept. does not function as authoritarian body of censorship, i think it should be fine.

    Moreover, given the prevalence of our traditional culture, I think the government needs to make an effort to limit the 'liberalism' in shows. If Inul, the 'aduhai' dancer, received a plethora of condemnations by the people, it is suffice to say that there are still a lot of people that would condemn 'overly liberal- shows. Our culture, somehow, is not ready to accept too much liberalism. Intervention, conversely, might works better.

    One more, on bad parenting, to a certain extent, I have to agree that although it is true that the parents should hold the utmost responsibility for 'censorship', the general fathers and mothers in Indonesia has yet to reach that stage yet due to the low level of education in our country. That is, of course, only my opinion.

  10. Thanks for the clarification. I must admit that I don't know much about the KPI. I tried looking online but to no avail.

    I can see why it may be better to have an independent institution, such as the KPI, to "regulate" an industry. However, I am skeptical of a non-governmental institution in being able to have enough teeth to enforce its laws. It might have other softer means of enforcing societal values, but in the end of the day, it is left with little, if any, binding power.

    I still think the risks of having a governmental regulatory institution, namely that it might be abused for political purposes amongst others, is outweighed by its potential benefits.

    Perhaps why not have both the KPI and a government sanctioned regulatory body?

  11. Dear sgma,

    Yes, theoretically the government can function that way. But experience tells otherwise. Having the complete authority in its hands, the government many times didn't bother checking it first with the society if something in the moral domain was socially acceptable or not (yes, this actually involves a social cost-benefit approach in any form, as mentioned by one of the commenters rightfully). As a result, the paternalistic government went too far: everybody still remembers the days when the government banned so many books, monopolized broadcasting, or limited students' freedom of expression. And there was no counterbalance. What I'm saying is, a sole authority in the hands of the government is bad. That said, I can see that j.r's solution is well taken. Another one is to allow more competition in the broadcasting business. If the existing broadcasters are bad, we hope new entrants will come with better offer. It's challenging of course to outcompete channels with all those youth magnet programs. But it's not undoable. The thing is, we'd tend to just give up and then completely rely on the government for protection. Yet, another one is to encourage broadcasters to apply more pay-per-view system. There are reasons to believe that the market together with social value will decide how much to charge for an adult-only program and how much for a religious teaching. We'll talk more on this next time.

    Anyways, I have enjoyed this discussion. Thank you all for the stimulating comments and responses. It appears to me, our talk has shifted completely to ideology issue (liberalism, etc). I will write a post on this so we can talk with better focus. Thanks.