Long Live the Broadcasting Oligopoly
The transition of television transmissions from analog to digital is ignoring the principles of democratization of broadcasting. The control of multiplexing will still be in the hands of the old conglomerates.
THE decision by the communication and informatics ministry on digital multiplexing television has led to us missing a significant opportunity in the process of digitalization of television transmissions: democratization of broadcasting. It is certain that the digitalization of transmissions in Indonesia will fail to transfer the control of public frequencies from a small number of tycoons who have enjoyed special privileges since the New Order regime.
Two weeks ago, the government decided on digital television multiplexing in 43 regions throughout Indonesia. The winners were the Emtek Group (parent company of SCTV and Indosiar), Metro TV Group, RCTI-MNC, Viva (owner of ANTV and TVOne) and Trans Group (owner of TransTV and Trans7). These five companies are part of the old conglomerates that have long been the kings of the analog television industry. There is only one relatively new player, Nusantara TV. In other words, the government has extended the oligopoly of the broadcasting industry in this nation.
We know that Indonesia has been left far behind in the digitalization of television broadcasts. This is despite the fact that transition of analog television to digital is a decision taken by the International Telecommunications Union in 2006. Many other nations halted analog broadcasts—a process known as the analogue switch off, or ASO—five years ago. This allows the 700-megahertz frequency previously used by the broadcasting industry to be used for more urgent public interests such as emergency communications during disasters and wireless Internet.
Indonesia, which began the transition process in 2012, has made no progress because it is being held hostage by the interests of the old players. The public 700-megahertz frequency is used by 14 national TV stations which every year earn more than Rp140 trillion in advertising revenue, or 85 percent of the total national advertising spending. It is important to note that the majority of this income is only enjoyed by a small number of tycoons, and is not shared evenly among all broadcasters across the nation.
There has been much criticism of this oligopoly model of TV station ownership in Indonesia from the public and from academics. It is not only the fact that the economic cake is not shared out fairly, but also that the centralized use of public frequencies threatens the diversity of information. It is difficult for minority voices and marginalized groups to find a place.
The ministry of communication and informatics should have used the momentum of this digitalization to reform the Indonesian broadcast industry. One way would have been to separate suppliers of multiplexing infrastructure from companies providing broadcast content. Telecommunications companies could have been invited to become owners of multiplexers, allowing all television stations to compete on an even playing field.
Unfortunately, the government has missed this valuable opportunity. The awarding of permits for the provision of digital television multiplexing to all the television station conglomerates means there will be no change to our national broadcasting system. Owners of TV stations who have often been criticized for making use of public frequencies to promote their personal political or business industries will be free to continue doing so. They could even control the content of other TV station broadcasts that rent their digital channels.
The government may well use the excuse that the combined multiplexing system being implemented will promote healthy business competition. This is because no players have obtained much larger concessions than their competitors. But this compromise model only goes to forcefully remind the public of the power of the tycoons that own TV stations in this country.