Defining the right of public in EPL case


The right of the public has become a centre of attention once again. These days, Indonesian football fanatics are expressing their angers and frustrations for having no prospect of watching the game they would die for, the EPL (English Premier League program), on TV. To watch the game, they shall pay (subscribe) to Astro Cable TV, which got the license of distribution.

This case contains two issues. First, it is a matter of broadcasting licensing and competition among broadcasters. Secondly, it is about the right (or not) of the public to watch the game freely.

On the issue of licensing and competition, Astro Cable TV has exists in Indonesia for quite sometime, but not without controversy. The fact that it is a foreign company (51% foreign share) has inflicted debate among broadcasters. The question is always, how the Indonesian government permits such institution to operate in Indonesia, challenging the broadcasting and telecommunication regulations, creating more fierce competitions, giving ways to another foreign influence in our consumption of the mass media products.

The government, supported by the broadcasting commission, is in dilemma now. After allowing the legal operation of Astro, now it tries to interfere with the content programming. The minister of communication and the broadcasting commission pressure Astro to open its access to public in this particular case: the football game (EPL). In the eyes of broadcasting business, this is a de ja vu of the Soeharto’s New Order. It seems that you are let loose, but the rope is tightened one way or the other. You are given a permission to air and to buy the game, but you cannot sell it. It is enough to make the Astro CEO furious.

To worsen the business climate, there is a rumor that the strict regulation from the government and the KPI (Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia) is influenced by the lobby of some business competitors in the broadcasting sphere. EPL used to be broadcasted by TV7/Trans 7 freely. With Rp 45 billions buying price, it was optimistic to gain enough from advertisement to pay the bill. But now the price is Rp 500 billions and it gives up. It lets go of the right to air it, giving way to Astro Cable service to take charge.

Indonesian audience, however, cannot let go. They cry for “justice”, which they call “the right of the people to watch the game”. These people demand free access to the game, saying they cannot afford to subscribe Astro. On the other hand, Astro has to sell it to pay the bill. Who is willing to loose Rp 500 billions?

Now, what is the right of people? Is there any danger if we miss the game? Will the country be in chaos if public is denied access to watch it freely? The majority of Indonesian people may misunderstand the meaning of the right of people. But it is the task of intellectuals, observers, and media practitioners themselves, to straighten this out. Instead of inflaming the debate into an anarchy (by banning Astro to operate, for instance), knowledgeable people shall accept the consequence of free competition in business (including media). They shall as well disperse what they know to a wider audience that watching football is not one of those meant by “the right of people”.

Content programming

Besides the matter of licensing and competition, the EPL is also an issue of content programming. In 2002, national televisions, in their resistance against the Broadcasting Law, argued that: “The spirit of decentralization of broadcasting operation brought by the Law will eliminate the opportunity for people –local people particularly- to enjoy world class programming.”

I countered that opinion with an argumentation that “Any world program which is popular to local people will still be aired in local TV stations in cooperation with national TVs, which need numbers of audience to draw advertisements to finance the program. The difference is that national TV must share the advertising revenues with local TV.”

The fact that now the people still cannot get the world class program, as I assumed when defending the Broadcast Law, is a loss for both the people and the TV stations, national or local. But is it the victory of Cable TV? Not yet. It is still being debated and it may end with an unexpected result.

The problem is, national TVs which promised to bring the world class programs to their audience are now running away from the consequence of spending big budget. They do the simplest thing of programming strategy: buy and air only cheap programs. They let go of popular world programs to Cable operators, and play safe with domestic programs dominated by sinetrons and comedies.

This complex problem of broadcasting, terrestrial or cable, licensing, competition, and programming, are more than enough to make the minister of communication feel headache. But one thing to remember: leave the content to the audience, guarded by the broadcasting commission. The minister shall concentrate only on whether the operation of TVs, terrestrial or cable, are according to the law and regulation.

Sirikit Syah
Former Broadcasting Commissioner, East Java
Published in The Jakarta Post


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