Mr. Arief Budiman

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Name : Arif Budiman
Role: was a lecturer/professor in Melbourne University for Indonesian studies. Retired since January 2008.

Q: about media censorship (prints), back then and now. So far, how’s censorship affected your work as a researcher ?

A: not at the moment. Since 1998, censorship has not been done by the government, but by the media company/industry itself, for publications. It’s a self censorship. When someone’s accused for defamation against the government, you can take the accused to the court to be decided by the law.
The same happens with Pornography Law. The precedent law would strictly prohibit the exhibition of pornography at any stance, whilst the new law would ask the plaintiff to bring the case in court when offended. This new law caused a stir in the extreme Islamic group where they were closing down magazine stands and any places that sold anything that are heavily related to pornography. Censorship was and is implicitly done by the society itself, a one-sided censorship done by the extremes.
In the early of Soeharto’s regime, media publications was quite open except for communism because he believed that Soekarno’s regime was much influenced by communism/Marxism. Books and publications contained Marxism were to be banished.

In 1970, Mr. Budiman was involved in the student committee against corruption (Komite Anti Korupsi). Agreed to retaliate at first, Soeharto then sensed that the committee was holding a conspiracy against him before ordering the committee to be banned from activating.

In 1972, Mr. Budiman was involved in Gerakan Anti Taman Mini. The place was established by Mrs. Tien Soeharto. The huge area was obtained by leasing the land from the owners on very low prices with an excuse that the project was for the nation. The media, though didn't exactly criticizing the action, widely covered the incident and emphasized on the high cost for construction compared to the needs of building education institutions in the country. Soeharto was not happy with the publication and sent the military to handle the matter. From that incident, Mr. Budiman was caught and prisoned for 2 months. Then he was prohibited from getting his writings publicized, which he maneuvered by using aliases. Mr. Budiman had a chance to study overseas on scholarship program.

More incidents in 1974, (Malari). Syahrir Hariman Siregar was imprisoned for 3 years, silenced the committee for a while. In 1978, ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology) against Soeharto's life time regime. The military entered the campus, one killed. The first sign that Soeharto would not tolerate any publications against his authoritative regime is the shutting down of many media channels and publications to scare them from publishing any criticism.

The year 1980, mark the era of Soeharto’s corruption. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men". Chinese businessmen approached Soeharto’s children to hold control of logging industries, etc and nobody dares to say anything. There was infighting among Soeharto’s children for business prospects. The children also control TV stations. The newspaper Kompas managed to stay in production, but they became a safe player in order to survive. Government endorsed newspapers was not well accepted because the people know they only publish government propaganda.

Q: What about Western journalist’s position as a neutral position copared to Indonesian journalist?

A: In Soekarno’s era, newspapers has to have association with a certain political party, if they have none or only run as a business company, they will get closed down. But after 1998, many regulations have been changed.

Q: The scandal of Tempo and Detik banning in 1994. What exactly provoked those banning?

A: And from those incident PWI splits up and AJI was born. There were two foreign ambassadors planning to come to Indonesia. Soeharto fearing that his good name soiled, prohibit any coverage of demonstration, however Tempo and Detik defied this prohibition. Tempo’s news coverage is always balance, dare to criticize the government on a reasonable basis and supported with facts.

From those banning, journalists felt their independent rights violated, so they agreed to form a new organization, AJI. However AJI can only publish bulletins and posts on the internet; not to go against the government, but only so there were an independent voice where the facts of reality can get reported. Because at the time, internet was only accessible by upper-middle class, many people started to print the bulletin posts and sold them cheaply.

Q: The case of Udin in 1996, a small time journalist from a rural area that shock the journalistic world, covered extensively by both PWI and AJI.

A: He knew Soeharto’s past history and claim that Soeharto is an illegitimate child. He only investigated the case, he hasn’t publicized the story, but he got caught and killed.

Q: Interestingly, even though PWI was controlled by the government, they published the story.

A: Maybe because they were afraid being labeled as government watchdog, afraid of losing to AJI. Soeharto is most sensitive when his family is criticized, because his family is fractured, unhappy. If it’s about corruption, he will handle it politically, but this is personal. The case about Udin didn’t have a resolutiuon, there were no settlement or verdict. And nobody dared to ask questions.

After 1998, there were siginificant changes. The Department of Information were abolished, Habibie became president, even though he was under Soeharto’s shadow, just to stabilized the situation. The election of Gus Dur caused by the unification of Islamic Parties, and also because his profile can be accepted by other parties, such as the more progressive Islam. Mega were not allowed to lead the country according to Islam’s teaching. Politic has been mixed with religious ideology.

Q: How about now?

A: After parliamentary election, there were many presidential candidates and SBY was elected.

Q: Anti-pornography regulations. The internet will be monitored and controlled, maybe even banned after the incident of the Dutch movie Fitna, which were released on Youtube. We are currently under SBY’s presidential government, but the censors are still very harsh.

A: I don’t agree with those solutions, it would be better to settle through the court, but people feel lazy because it will take a long process. So the government need to give the matter more priority to speed-up the process.
Pornography is a grey area, there are no clear boundaries. It would be better to report sensitive material to the authority, but there are also lawful arguments for educational purposes.
SBY have already ratified the regulations, State’s authority. It would be very difficult situation, because once ratified and used, it would very likely to be used again.

Q: Will things change back to authoritarian government?

A: It’s heading that direction, but we’re still a long way. If it’s a case about a newspaper criticizing the government and got shut-down, the people will react very strongly. But maybe this pornography case is still new that the people haven’t reacted as strong. If it was reported through the court, people can defend themselves.

Q: The conflict between LSF (The Film Censorship Committee) and MFI (Indonesian Film Society), and the censor regulation on film.

A: Film censorship depends on the members of the censorship committee. If they have a progressive point of views, then a lot of films can get in, but if the view is conservatives……… (Bad)
The censorship committee consist of 25 people. Members were appointed based on political parties, plus people’s representatives, i.e. Islam, Hindu, intellectuals, etc. If the film is considered harmful to the society, it will get cut. Sometimes simple matter can get heatedly debated, i.e. the use of make-up was considered Haram (religiously forbidden).
The process of censoring:
The film will be watched by 5 people, the verdict has to be unanimous, 4:1 can still get pass. If it’s not unanimous, then the film will be watched again by 25 people. So it really depends on the member.
It’s not just pornography that will be cut, but also materials that offend religion, or causing disturbance in society and community. But sometimes even though the film was not considered in any of those criteria, it will still get cut. So again it depends on the member. The official function is to protect the society.

Q: Was it MFI who said that the regulations are no longer relevant?

A: MFI can go ahead as long as they did not use violence; they can give the power of opinion, educated the society, and also give constructive argument.

Q: Is the censorship regulations still relevant with today’s condition?

A: I don’t think so. It would be better if the existing regulations is used in court; if there’s a film that want to get released, it will be debated in court, i.e. endangering the society, etc. So it will no longer be Film Censorship regulations.
Regulations can be civil or criminal. Civil procedure because taken by somebody to court, and Criminal procedure because breaking the law. So a controversial film can be prosecuted in the court of law.
I think LSF is no longer needed. But people fear the complication of protesting an already released film. Or LSF can be applied selectively. Or if a film is indeed harmful to the society, there need to be pre-emptive steps, but censoring a film before it gets published can be authoritarian also.

Mr. Seno Gumira Adjidarma

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A translated interview with Mr. Seno Gumira Adjidarma

A: In general what do you think of censorship in Indonesia?
S: Censorship hasn’t work appropriately because it’s been restraining the growth of the nation. Censor cuts back information, as the lesser the distribution of information, lesser the growth of the people.
Correction, Seno Gumira is not part of MFI (Indonesian Film Society), he is an expert witness of MFI to testify in front of the parliament and rejects the statement that censorship functions as a protection for the population. The argument is irrelevant because audiences are active, they watch films not because they are influenced by the filmmakers. The claim that films influence audiences is just a myth, that media is a constructor of the hegemony of a culture is a fable.

A: Could you please explain about classification system ?
S: I support the idea of classification system, with an understanding that it will trigger many infringements, but it is better because it will encourage people to educate themselves and to be their own policemen. Classification system is more democratic, no one thinks that they know better and choose for us on what’s good and what’s not. I personally don’t believe that there’s an institution that can determine which is good or bad, let alone about moral. Every adult should know that moral values cannot be outlined, and there’s no organization can regulate moral parameter for the whole population. It’s an absurd organization.

But I accepted the reason on the rejection of MFI’s proposal. It’s not that the Judge didn’t understand MFI’s arguments, but they didn’t want to create any frictions, because censorship issue can be a political commodity. Once the public get the information that censorship is not a law anymore, there will be reaction, just like that anti-pornography issue. Constitutional Court wouldn’t let that happen again.

A: So the rejection is more about politic ?
S: Yes. MFI’s arguments are quite solid, compared to LSF. They implied that:
1. The classification system is prone to infringements
2. Legally, LSF should operate to avoid void in law.
What I think is that LSF is actually pro MFI, because LSF exists with all the constitutional standards that have not been wavered before. So I guess there was a negotiation on this issue. In my testimony, I declared that I don’t think of the abolishment of LSF will be possible, but with the legal suit by MFI it demonstrated that we need new social consensus. That has happened in this case, because even though the proposal was rejected, there was one judge who complied with the plaintiff’s suit. And that indicated negotiation. So you can’t say that the proposal was fully rejected. The fact that now you can file a lawsuit and actually are taken seriously has proved a huge improvement has occurred. I want to say that LSF has lost the ‘battle’. MFI’s arguments were not contested, LSF was only strong in vote numbers without strong arguments.

A: From my observation, the dispute between LSF and MFI is about a dispute between generations. Is it true ?
S: Yes, that is one of the aspects. But that’s also too black and white. It’s more liberal versus conservative.

A: You are not a filmmaker, and you work in writing industry. Has censorship ever influenced your writings ?
S: I’m not a filmmaker, but I graduated from a film school, I wrote scripts. And no, my works have not been influenced by censorship. In my opinion, in any circumstances one’s creations are allowed to be censored or to be banned. What about Pramoedya (Ananta Toer) ? It is more important to preserve our creativities, don’t self-censor your work. So if you say that you’re an artist and yet you self-censor your works; that is just sick.

Now, if we’re talking about turbulence, a turmoil for instance the burned down of cinemas, rape cases (influenced by films), those are not under the authority of censorship board. Those are criminal cases. A research on this topic shows that in countries where there is less restriction on censorship, rape cases are not as common as those in countries with more restriction on censorship. This study demonstrates that audiences are not consuming porn media, it is more about the mental condition that leads people to rape. The problem is, it becomes political commodity, films are appointed to be the medium to show that we are a nation with high moral etc. LSF’s arguments are inadequate because they want to avoid those excess. It’s the same as our independence in 1945. We had no preparations, but would we postpone it ?

A: Is MFI going to submit their proposals again ?
S: I urge them to keep doing it. Submit it, if it’s rejected, resubmit it, let people know that we have a problem here. This is a fight, a strife, it’s about culture anyway.

A: Do you think censorship will always be associated with politics ?
S: Definitely, as simple as building a new family is a politic already.

A: So previously you worked as a journalist ?
S: I still am, I write for Gramedia magazine.

A: In your work as a journalist, has censorship ever affected your works ?
S: Not as much, but it is more of the social groups that are doing it. They threat, demonstrate, they occupy office buildings. But as I said, go ahead.

A: For news distribution, are these social groups also more active in censoring ?
S: Yes, the pedantic people who think they know what’s good or bad.

A: Are regulations to protect journalists needed ?
S: We’ve got the regulations, the law. But that self-censorship is still happening, Journalists have to limit the news so it won’t ‘hurt’ the society. So that self-censorship cancer still exists.

A: Does self censorship affect the news that you are covering?
S: Yes, it does. It depends whether you want to look for trouble or avoid it. My work covering about Siti Djenar was postponed because of some myths, though it was published anyway at the end.

A: So what actions should be taken to improve the condition of Indonesian media?
S: Create good and creative writings, freedom of expression is important. Media should be an open discourse for the whole society.

Mr. Iwan Suhadi

The translated interview with Mr. Iwan Suhadi

A: Name and occupation ?
I: Iwan Suhadi, member of creative team of TransTV, production division. It consists of drama department, in charge of television drama series and non-drama department in charge of program constructing, reality show etc.

A: In your work, have you experienced anything regarding censorship ?
I: For TransTV programs, they’ve been managed by programming division in charge of quality control. This division works specially for quality control, just like film censorship board.

A: So it’s programming division that decide what to and what not to distribute ?
I: Yes, they usually references the list of criteria from the censorship board.

A: What are the criterias ?
I: There are quite a few. For example, from social-cultural point of view, nudity or contents referenced to nudity, taking up angles from the front of the side or from behind, or close-ups of private parts, thighs, breasts (are subject to prohibition). Kissing scenes and giving birth, anything that can be arousing.

A: But aren’t angles/point of views subjective matters ?
I: Well, whether it is subjective or not can be seen from the knowledge of the producer (the maker). For example, a giving birth scene. If it’s not for a documentary purpose, the angle won’t be necessarily taken from the front. The angle can be from the side, so the head (of the fetus) is visible, yet you don’t see the vagina. The information is delivered without containing any arousing elements.

A: Is there any criteria for another subject ?
I: Yes, those involving government ideologies, like storylines that are degrading the supremacy of the government.

A: What about critics ?
I: It will be censored if it’s too much. Now at MetroTV you have parodies containing criticism over government. So the criticism is packaged in a funny, comedic way and it gives inputs to government on society’s opinions. Those kinds of things are not censored, as long as you limit the critics.

A: From my research, censorship policy for local contents is not the same as it is for imported contents. It seems like imported films on television have more lenient limitation.
I: There was a debate over that issue between Indonesian filmmakers and film censorship board. In my opinion, it depends on the distributors. From the TV station itself, imported films are not immune to censorship. Kissing or bloody (violence) scenes will be censored, even though it won’t be so strict as censorship on local contents.

A: So, even if it’s shown on television channels, local films/series face stricter censorship?
I: Yes, especially prime-time shows where children are part of the target audience. Scenes containing kissing, violence, or as simple as smoking will be cut out. Rude words (i.e. ‘fuck’, ‘shit’) will also be censored by quality control department.

A: From your experience, have any of TransTV’s products been censored by the LSF (Lembaga Sensor Film/film censorship board) ?
I: Quite often. We were working on religious-content series before, and in those series we had violent characters before they repent on their sins. For instance, there was a story of a criminal who has a dark past; he was sexually abused by his stepfather. Low angles focusing on the legs of the father and the little boy were used to send the message. Unfortunately, those kinds of scenes didn’t get through and the information on the story was held back. We were forced to show it in other ways, like a scene of the father hitting the little boy etc. So we have to find ways to keep the information delivered.

A: So quality control (censorship) department also affects the product ?
I: In a way of influencing, oppressing or deleting the information. The LSF hopes that the television people have an understanding regarding the censorship policy, because those people are educated people so they should know what’s acceptable and what’s not. The LSF asks us to be self-conscious over this matter, so there will no wasted time and money.

A: Is self-conscious talking about self-censorship ?
I: Yes, from the censorship people. People see censorship as a way to dig up negative things.

A: Is there any pressure from the television station itself to the production division?
I: The pressure will be on the story content. Contents such as abuse on women apparently create high ratings. The more she suffers, the higher the rating will be. But the violence will not be to extreme; it won’t be bloody because we can’t do bloody scenes. Once again we have to find ways to appropriately deliver the message. That’s the challenge.

A: Which department in charge of those issues ?
I: It’s us, creative department. We are the struggling ones.

A: Any pressure from higher positions?
I: No, they are more concerned on the ratings. They work on how to reach good ratings despite having censorship policies tying us up.

A: Regarding a dispute between the LSF and Indonesian Film Society, are television stations partial or neutral ?
I: More to the neutral, because TV stations are only mediums and everything are arranged by production houses. Censorship does not have so much influence (compared to films), because the most important thing is ratings. If you don’t have your information delivered, that’s fine, as long as you’ve got good ratings. Those who are most influenced by censorship are people working for big screens. They feel that their freedom of expressions are oppressed and audience doesn’t get the maximum information. That’s their plea.

A: So it’s not that relevant with television industry ?
I: No, it’s not.

A: Is there any spesific criteria for sensitive issues, i.e. religious, ethic, or political content, to be produced ? For example, political talkshow.
I: Yes, the LSF regulates the points of which will breach the production codes, like things that disturbing moral values, or jokes that harassing women, these are limited. We might show them, but in a more implicit way.

A: Are these points applied in general, or for specific shows ?
I: They are applied in general. But a warning letter will be sent for specific shows. As far as I know, there will be three warnings. First-time, second time, and then final.

A: What happens after the final warning ?
I: The show will be terminated. It hasn’t happened at TransTV, though. The board of directors has their tactics to handle those issues. That’s politic.

A: So TransTV has got the warning letters before?
I: Yes, several times. It was for Dorce Show, and 4 Mata (Eye to Eye) because the host of 4 Mata delivered sleazy jokes and inappropriate/harassing actions.

A: The warning mainly on sexual referenced content ?
I: Yes.

A: Any warning for political and religious content ?
I: We haven’t got any formal warnings for religious content. The protests usually come from groups other than LSF, claiming that the show doesn’t conform to some religious values.

A: So the critics for religious shows come from religious groups ?
I: Yes. For political content, TransTV hasn’t got anything yet.

A: Are those critics from social groups affecting the production ?
I: We take them as introspections, nothing more. If we believe that the production techniques are still conformed to the policy, we won’t change anything.

A: Has there been demonstrations from social groups ?
I: Not really. There was a small friction on the story of inedible chemicals in meatballs, and it disadvantaged meatball stalls. But we’ve explained that the chemicals were only used in several stalls only, not in all stalls around the country.

A: It didn’t get to a criminal suit ?
I: No, we concluded it with the bosses of TransTV went to the stalls and had meatball lunches together.

A: So, do you think the practice of censorship has reached an ideal level ?
I: Quite, there are people who believe that censorship doesn’t’ affect storylines because the censorship board is represented by numbers of groups, including military, social, religious groups, thus naturally their opinions and principles are quite rational and logical. Censorship is a good institution, because it is a way to educate ourselves about our cultural values. To preserve a culture, we should focus on the good stuff and not letting the bad stuff disturbing or endangering the society. I’m pro censorship, because I cannot imagine how it will be when there is no censorship. You still can see lots of shows with inappropriate contents everywhere even if we still have the censorship board.

A: What do you think about classification system ? Will it be an effective tool ?
I: It can be, so people can understand why a show is censored. Classification system will be a more concrete and communicative tool to educate people.


  • Professor Arif Budiman. 2008. Interview, 12 May 2008. Melbourne University, Melbourne. [MP3 recording]
  • Mr. Iwan Suhadi. 2008. Interview, 10 May 2008. Jakarta and Melbourne. [Skype recording]
  • Mr. Seno Gumira Adjidarma. Interview, 9 May 2008. Jakarta and Melbourne. [Skype recording]
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