Sat, 28 Jun 2003

Heated rivalries no excuse for media to flout rules

Ardimas Sasdi Staff Writer The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Fierce rivalries among electronic media amid a tightening market, especially after the emergence of several new television stations in the past few years, benefits the public as consumers as each vies to present variety of entertaining programs.

But the heated battles among the broadcasters lately has run contrary to public interests.

A case in point is a trend among private TV stations to air dubious and controversial talk shows or present cheap music by raunchy singers, further tainting Indonesia's already tarnished image abroad.

A Malaysian writer expressed cynically that Indonesians "seem to be more interested in the gyrations and pelvis pumping of sexy singer Inul Daratista, who seem to be getting more television airtime and press coverage, than any Indonesian including President Megawati Soekarnoputri" and the simmering conflict in war-ravaged Aceh province (The Jakarta Post, May 23).

Such a judgment merits our attention judging from the flagrant violations of press ethics by some media, especially TV stations and tabloids.

Laymen, senior officials, media watch executives and religious leaders have queried the standards and practices in the media.

In a blunt, hard-hitting criticism during a gathering with ulema (Muslim clerics) and Islamic organization activists in Cianjur, West Java last week, Vice President Hamzah Haz lambasted the shows as indecent programs which exploited sexuality at some private TV stations. He also ordered the Ministry of Religious Affairs to reprimand executives and owners of the stations.

The Vice President said that if left uncorrected, the sexually liberated programs would have a negative impact on the younger generation.

Hamzah's criticism was echoed again by State Minister of Communications and Information Syamsul Mu'arif this week, criticizing some print and electronic media which he said had gone overboard by showing "pornographic" programs, even though many were broadcast very late at night.

The concerns of senior leaders came on the heels of frequent complaints from certain members of the public against the airing of the talk shows and dubious sexually suggestive ads, which infringe upon the code of ethics of the press and advertising world, but have fallen on deaf ears in media boardrooms.

Among the questionable adult programs which sparked the above outrage are Love and Sex on Metro TV and Bantal (Pillow) on RCTI. Both talk shows, held in the form of interactive dialogs with viewers, often touch on delicate issues such as love and sex between adults, but are run by incompetent personalities. The handling of such sensitive issues requires a lot more class, dignity and tact from skilled persons -- qualities which are lacking among the sultry, airheaded hosts.

In one recent episode of Love and Sex the host asked her two celebrity guests bluntly whether they masturbated to satisfy their sexual desires. Such a permissive attitude was also displayed by a guest star portrayed in a silhouette. Upon receiving questions from another guest during an interactive dialog in a recent Bantal episode, she admitted to having sex at her office everyday, while a man boasted of his intimacy with several secret lovers.

Muarif argued that the government could not take action against the recalcitrant TV stations, citing Article 18 of the Press Law No. 40 of 1999 which states that no party, including the government, would be justified if it interfered in the program contents of the media. Those proven guilty of interfering with program contents are liable to a two-month imprisonment or a fine of Rp 500 million.

Yet article 3C of the Indonesian Journalistic Code of Ethics states that the press shall not publish materials that are offensive to moral standards, religion, belief or faith of a person or groups protected under the law.

Advertisements are undeniably the main source of income for the media, including electronic media. The slice of this advertisement pie has, however, dwindled since the economic crisis hit Indonesia in 1997, intensifying competition among the media. The rivalry among broadcasters to procure ads has been complicated by the birth of new TV stations like Metro TV, Star TV, TV7,Lativi and Global TV in Jakarta and several TV stations in the provinces.

One of the numerous questionable ads is an commercial on Irex, a new but popular sexual enhancer for man at RCTI, which is aired during the day and night time.

The ad portrayed a male worker, who complained to his colleague upon receiving a SMS (short messaging service) from his wife at home, that he had to do overtime (lembur) later. His friend smiled broadly, saying that the request was not a big deal and then offered a package of Irex. In the ensuing act, the same man received another SMS, which reads Terima Kasih Kadonya, Mama (Thanks for the Gift, Mom).

Most local TV viewers, especially adults, understand what the message the marketer and advertiser want to pass through the ad. But the timing of the airing of the ad during day time and the way it was presented is not well-thought that it sparked curiosity from unwanted targets -- children.

The competition among older, established broadcasters are also very tight with stations like Indosiar and SCTV, which have slowly grabbed a large chunk of ads, even surpassing the country's oldest private broadcaster RCTI, which led the market until 1999. These factors have forced TV executives to generate new ideas and explore new sources of revenue by using all possible means, including the airing of low-quality, cheap but marketable programs -- some of them just plain rubbish -- although they cannot claim ignorance of the ethics and prevailing laws.

Public protests over the broadcast of dubious talk shows, which corrupt people's minds, deserve to be well-heeded by TV executives. TV stations must not use tight competition or press freedom as excuses to flout ethics and rules, but should take the problem as a challenge to generate fresh ideas to produce educational and entertaining programs, which are attractive to advertisers as well.