Sun, 13 Aug 2000

Ratings system helps viewers decide on what to watch

By Gotot Prakosa

JAKARTA (JP): A TV viewer recently wrote a letter to a newspaper complaining about the films screened by a private television station during the school holidays.

He said the films were too violent, even for adults, let alone children.

Meanwhile during a discussion forum on TV, a young mother complained about a film expert who said if people were not satisfied with the TV programs, just switch off the TV. It seems that the burden has been put on parents, while TV stations broadcast noneducational programs at will.

Entertainment from programs broadcasted by private TV stations can refresh us and make us forget about real life for awhile. TV broadcasts can also set an audience's viewing habits, said Rusdi Mochtar, a communications researcher at the Indonesian Science Institution. He gave an example of the telenovela or sinetron (soap opera) trend which is capable of making someone reluctant to leave the TV set during certain hours. And if closely observed, not only can TV broadcasts form the viewing habits of spectators, but in some cases they can change the morals of a spectator. "Or on the other hand, this social change results in the change of morals, so it affects the TV broadcast and it is adjusted to widespread development," Rusdi added.

In 1995, when a TV station broadcasted the serial film Wonder Woman, some people criticized the exposure of the character's body and the broadcast was subsequently banned. But now, the programs Xena, Warrior Princess or VIP, which features sex siren Pamela Anderson Lee, is relatively acceptable for spectators. Kissing scenes, formerly prohibited by the Film Censorship Institute (LSF), can now be seen on several broadcasts. Likewise, some films on fighting, bloodshed and consecutive shots are no longer considered taboo to be shown on TV.

The recent change has been noticed by many people as being connected to the change of power from the New Order to the current one. Social changes in the community also affects the way they communicate with the mass media, including on TV. The current situation is still considered in a transition period where law and social control are poorly upheld. This transitional situation is not only utilized by TV businesspeople to provide new and "bolder" broadcasts, but on the other hand, the community wants something different from those of the New Order era.

This situation will give rise to an interaction between TV stations and spectators, until one day there is a point of similar perception on shows.

"Let the public assess the shows broadcast by the TV stations, whether they comply with morals or not, and don't make something taboo because it has been considered that way for 30 years," said Rusdi.

With quickly changing conditions, the LSF as an institution serving as a filter for entertainment, especially for TV broadcasts with mixed audiences, is questioned in respect to its existence.

Taufiq Arifin, RCTI's corporate secretary, said despite the existence of LSF, the more dominant element was the censoring section at each TV station.

In fact, the public has censored films through unorganized efforts. Input from readers' letters sent to TV stations or as open letters sent and published by major newspapers have to be taken into account. Such input must be heeded if TV stations do not want to lose their audiences.

For the chairwoman of LSF, Tatiek Malyati WS, community changes should also be considered for evaluation of films or commercials broadcasted by TV stations. She convinces us, though, that the LSF is operating under the Ministry of National Education when it carries out its tasks and it is independent in making its evaluation.

As an example, she said the programs VIP and Baywatch had successfully passed the institution because the characters' costumes in the films, though consisting of minimal clothing, were relevant to the story.

Garin Nugroho, a noted film director and chairman of the Indonesian Public Television Community, suggested that television stations train society to stay in front of the TV screen longer to watch educational programs.

"For example, they can prepare an educational program for several minutes initially, let's say five minutes. The total screening time is then increased so it eventually becomes one hour. Only with such an exercise can audiences have the patience to watch the entire educational program," said Garin.

If TV stations prepare audiences for educational programs, there will be more of a demand on parents to play a greater role in having children sit through the programs.

According to Garin, parents need to ask their children to learn to patiently and seriously watch educative programs, so the children develop a congenial habit.

Parents' involvement by accompanying their children when watching educative programs can also produce explanations if the programs they are watching are incomprehensible. In addition, parents have a duty to help choose the programs for their children to watch. But parents having no time to give guidance to their children is a specific problem in this society.

As a concrete step, starting from July, RCTI will feature icons in the form of drawings and letter codes on the TV screen's upper left corner before a program. If the letter code is SU, short for Semua Umur (All Ages), it means it can be watched by spectators of all ages. A program labeled BO means Bimbingan Orang tua (Parental Guidance), and children need their parents' discretion to watch it. A 17+ symbol means that the broadcast is only for people over 17 years of age.

Although the application is not easy, said Anita Wulandari Naryadi, an RCTI public relations officer, the icons will not only apply to films, but also to sinetron, quizzes, dialogs, etc.

Some examples of programs belonging to the BO category, said Anita, are Gerhana, Panji, and Jinny Oh Jinny. A number of quizzes are given an SU rating, and almost all sinetron are labeled 17+.

According to Anita, RCTI's awareness to be the pioneer of establishing a category code for shows came about because of its care for social control. With program rivalries, people are said to be more captious and aware of the shows they are watching. "And hopefully this pioneering action can be rewarding and become a prototype," Anita said.

Although there might still be bugs to work out, this action can help remind the audiences of the programs to be screened by the stations. We do not know whether this action will be followed by other TV stations, as ratings of programs also needs evaluation after some time, or if it will have a good impact on audiences to continue it or not.

It is not easy work to serve as well as to control mixed audiences.