Policing Moral on Our Screen
The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission issued guidelines for broadcasting during the fasting month of Ramadan. It turned into a moral police force.
THE Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) should not intervene in private matters such as people’s religious beliefs. The circular on broadcasting during Ramadan issued by the organization is a step too far because it seems to be an attempt to regulate public conducts and worship.
The guidelines were drawn up together with the Indonesian Ulema Council and the ministry of religious affairs. There are 14 points that regulate all broadcasting during this year’s fasting month. For example, the guidelines ban television stations from broadcasts deemed to contain lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elements.
This rule proves that the KPI supports homophobia. In 2021 alone, the KPI issued 12 written reprimands to various TV stations considered to have aired LGBT content. This shows that the KPI views this vulnerable minority group as a dangerous enemy that could be a public threat. This is a step backwards because KPI Regulation No. 1/2012 on broadcasting conduct guidelines orders broadcasters to protect groups with particular sexual orientations.
It is baseless fears that are also believed to be behind other strange rules in the circular about Ramadan broadcasts. Among them is a ban on showing people eating to excess. The KPI even regulates presenters’ clothing. And radio and TV stations are forbidden to use preachers from banned organizations. These guidelines are excessive. With these regulations, the KPI is dragging viewers and radio listeners back to the Middle Ages.
This circular seemingly turns the KPI into a religious organization. But religious worship is a personal matter between each person and their God. The commission should not give special treatment to Muslims during the fasting month. By entering into this private domain, the KPI has forgotten its main responsibility, namely to ensure that broadcasters work in the public interest.
This is not the first time the KPI strays outside its remit. At the end of 2019, the commission expressed a desire to oversee content streamed on Netflix and YouTube. It took the view that Internet content needs to be supervised as it is also a broadcast. A number of public groups, and even the ministry of communication and informatics, strongly opposed this plan. The KPI’s desire could not be realized because the Broadcasting Law states that the KPI only has authority to monitor conventional broadcasters, not Internet based services.
The KPI should focus on supervising broadcast content that is far more harmful for the public. There are still TV stations that dedicate airtime to leverage their owners’ political interest. The KPI also does nothing when TV stations go too far in broadcasting celebrities’ weddings and household gossip. And it even remained silent when one TV station broadcast a show called Lookout! Gays and HIV are Lying in Wait in December 2019.
Broadcasters use public frequency bands that are limited in number. This means that broadcasts cannot be used only in the interests of a few people. The KPI was born from the enthusiasm for reform to protect the public right to information. Therefore, broadcasting must be monitored to ensure that it is used in the interests of public education and welfare, not to put pressure on minority groups or frighten the people.