Thu, 25 Aug 1994

Violence on television

In these past few days, as a number of our television stations are busy marking their anniversaries with a variety of special entertainment for the benefit of their viewers, many of us tend to forget that there is reason for us, Indonesians, to be grateful for their presence.

The truth is that while the printed news media also deserves due credit for doing its part in making the Indonesian public better informed about current affairs at home and abroad, it is television that has the strongest impact in this area. As for entertainment, the share supplied by television is without doubt unsurpassed. Because of all this, the expansion of our television networks over the past few years is surely something to be grateful about.

Ironically perhaps, but certainly not surprisingly, it is this very power of impact of television that has, over the past few years, given rise to numerous expressions of concern over the fare that is being presented by our television stations.

True, there seems at present to be no consensus among researchers as to the influence which television has on the behavior of its viewers. The Indonesian psychologist, Darmanto Jatman, in a seminar held in Semarang a few months ago, offered the view that the impact of television on the behavior of Indonesian youngsters was negligible compared to that of family upbringing, schools and social environment.

A survey made by the Jakarta newspaper Kompas late last year, on the other hand, appeared to confirm recent American research findings that there seems to be a correlation between the high exposure to violence on television and the growth of violent behavior among American youths. In September of last year, when the Kompas survey was held, each day Indonesian youths were exposed to at least 127 scenes of violence broadcast by four television stations -- RCTI, TPI, TVRI and SCTV.

In the absence of a more recent survey we cannot say whether or not, or to what degree, there has been any improvement over the past months -- that is to say, whether or not those television stations have complied with the many requests from educators and other concerned viewers to reduce the number of violent scenes in their broadcasts. We tend to believe that if there has, indeed, been such a reduction, it has not been near enough.

In view of all this we would like to refer to a statement made by Ishadi SK, head of the research and development department of the Ministry of Information, in December last year. He said that some kind of institution to oversee television programs, regulated by law, is needed at present because practically no one can escape the impact of television, either in the positive or the negative sense.

We believe this is a good time to seriously ponder the proposition. Elsewhere in the world consumers appear to have enough clout to pressure television networks into heeding their appeals, either through boycotts of products promoted by advertisers on television or by other means. Since such a situation does not exist here, assistance is needed, either from the government, from legislators, or from others who are in a position to do something about the situation.