Mon, 12 Jun 2000

United perception sought to combat pornography

By A'an Suryana

JAKARTA (JP): Although they are supporting efforts to combat pornographic publications, observers and religious figures called for a united perception of pornography on Sunday to assure fair justice for all concerned parties, including the media.

They were commenting on a decision by the South Jakarta District Court to sentence Matra monthly chief editor Robertus Riantiarno on Thursday to a five-month suspended jail term.

Deputy chairman of the Indonesian Committee for Islamic World Solidarity (KISDI) Ahmad Sumargono and spokesman for the Indonesian Bishops' Conference (KWI) Father Sumantoro agreed that the publications of pornographic pictures should be restricted.

"Any pictures, which evoke people's sexual desires, must not be published in a religious country like Indonesia. They will lead to immoral practices, such as rape," Sumargono told The Jakarta Post, while referring to a recent case of a teenager who raped his neighbor, a child, after watching an x-rated video compact disc (VCD).

Father Sumantoro shared Sumargono's view, saying that the publications were morally unacceptable.

"Pornographic pictures are dangerous as they exploit the prurient desire of human beings," Sumantoro told the Post.

However, the issue has become more difficult as there is no unified criteria here to judge whether a publication is pornographic.

Media observer Alwi Dahlan said pornography was developed in line with the advancement of civilization.

"Pornographic terms develop in all levels of society. What is now tipped as a pornographic picture by the community may not be considered pornography in the future," said Alwi, a former minister of information.

Sumantoro said different groups in the community might have different perceptions of pornography.

"Every culture has its own perception of pornography. A picture may be considered pornographic by a culture, but others may consider it as natural," he said.

He said it was high time to create an institution to discuss a common perception of pornographic substances.

Sumargono said all parties concerned could form a watchdog to define and set the boundaries of pornography, including pictures.

"The independent watchdog should include actors, cultural observers, religious figures, the government and the media. They discuss the criteria and establish it as law," said Sumargono, who is also a legislator from the Crescent Star Party (PBB) faction.

Riantiarno, also known as Nano, supported the establishment of a watchdog.

"The criteria of what constitutes pornography is important for journalists to carry out their journalistic duties," he said.

Nano regretted the judge's verdict, saying that the magazine had published pictures of what he called as art.

"The judge has failed to provide clear arguments over what he called pornographic pictures. It's understood that Todung Mulya Lubis, our lawyer, has asked for an appeal," said Nano.

Alwi, however, suggested that the judge should issue a verdict based on his/her feelings.

"The judge should make a verdict which is in favor of the majority.

"Since it's difficult to determine the dominant will of the majority, the judge should make a verdict in line with his/her feelings," he said.

Secretary to city police spokesman Maj. Alex Mandalika supported Alwi's statement.

"It is difficult to judge whether a picture is pornographic as people have different perceptions and no law explicitly defines what the pornographic term is," Mandalika said.

Alwi said the media should be maintained but the media must not provoke the people's prurient interests.

"The media must produce interesting reports and pictures, but the products must not go against the common norm of society. The media must be retrospective before publishing any pictures so that they will not breach social norms of society," he said.

Sumargono partially hailed the judge's decision to sentence the editor.

"It sets a good precedent. There are more vulgar publications than Matra today, but no stern actions have been taken by the police. In this matter, Matra has been unfairly treated by the law," he said.

Sumargono said people's protests against the pornographic pictures were not necessary.

"Let the law decide since we are a country of law," he said.

Sumargono said the verdict was also a good lesson for the media.

"The media has its limits. The verdict was a kind of slap on the wrist, so that the media will not only push for provocative and sensational reports, but will also strive for the nation's morality," he said.