Subject: Indonesia Tightening Grip of Media Reins

December 15, 2006

Indonesia Tightening Grip of Media Reins

American magazine Playboy, three films about East Timor's struggle for independence and a television wrestling show called Smackdown don't appear to have much in common.

But in recent weeks, they've all come under fire in Indonesia for being too raunchy, too politically sensitive or too violent.

Eight private television stations have also just joined the mix, with the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission reporting the group to police for broadcasting "violence and porn material".

Programs with names such as Love and Lust, Whispering Lust, and Laughter Special screened on the stations were deemed to be in breach of 2002 broadcasting laws.

And the Indonesian government has just banned a Dutch documentary from an international film festival for being too controversial, as it includes statements by one of the Islamic militants on death row over the 2002 Bali bombings.

Seven years after the end of President Suharto's authoritarian rule over the world's largest Muslim nation, there appears to be a new push towards tighter media controls.

"They are not related deliberately, but are all (occurring) in the same cultural atmosphere where some authorities are used to controlling, and when something goes out of control the people just say 'why don't we ban it'," Jakarta Post managing editor Ati Nurbaiti said.

"In Indonesia, we wouldn't want that. We would want self- regulation, not anyone banning content."

A tame Indonesian version of Playboy, featuring no nudity, was the first to stumble.

The editor-in-chief Erwin Arnada is currently on trial in the South Jakarta District Court on charges of indecency over the magazine, which was launched in Indonesia in April.

He could face up to three years in jail if convicted.

Then Smackdown was, er, smacked down, when the American wrestling television program was pulled from Indonesian television following a public outcry over the death of a nine-year-old boy who had been imitating the televised fighting moves with friends in west Java.

And last month, the Indonesian Censorship Board (LSF) banned four films, warning the screening of three about East Timor's struggle for Independence, and a fourth on Aceh, at this month's Jakarta International Film Festival could "disturb security and order".

It added a fifth documentary to the list, deeming the flick, Promised Paradise, too controversial because it contains statements from the convicted Bali bomber Imam Samudra.

University of Indonesia communications expert Effendy Ghazali described the banning of the five films as "wrong".

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