Limitation to Live Air is Necessary

Sirikit Syah

An initiative by the Indonesian Communication Commission (KPI) to restrict live air has resulted in criticisms and protests. The strongest anti-restriction statement comes from the Indonesian Press Council. The reason: the freedom of the press shall not be limited and this shall be guaranteed in the Constitution.So, is the protest right? Is KPI wrong?

Let’s reflect on what’s happening now in this country. People do not trust the police and the trial process. The president has a fact-finding team, and yet we don’t trust them. We demand open and live broadcast of its proceedings. The very complex multi-case that we are watching has absorbed our time and energy. We are glued to this KPK-Polri conflict (which involves Antasari and Century Bank ), and we forget many things else. Indonesia is in electricity crisis, and there’s a huge plan of change in our education system: the unition of high school exams (Unas) and university entry test (SMPTN); but we are hardly aware of those.

We have believed that the broadcast news have presented truth to us. We almost commit a trial by the public via the media in this case. In journalism, the facts do not always reflect reality, and there may be a different truth behind the facts. A moslem stabbing a christian on a street fight is a fact, but it is not a reality or a truth that there is a clash between christians and moslems in Indonesia. A witness testified that Antasari was being trapped, but it might not be the truth that Antasari was innocent.

In addition, airing a trial proceeding without limitation might create chaos. Everybody thinks he/she has the right to get involved (if not to interfere/intervene) in the process. Everybody thinks she/he has the best solution. And this ‘everybody’ is about 180 millions of people (there are about 60 million TV set in the country, and one set is probably watched by three members of a family). How can 180 millions of people solve a problem? Sure they can. Topple down the president, reform the parliament. Is this what we want to do now? Yes, if necessary. But first, let’s discuss why limitation of free press is necessary.

Indonesian press is too get carried away with the US slogan of “the people have the right to know”. They never bother to analyze: to know what? Certainly, not other people’s private affairs. There is also an inconsistency in our moral. Indonesian TV viewers had protested the program ‘Smack Down’, after many children imitated the acts and several got badly hurt or killed. In fact, that ‘Smack Down’ program was aired at almost midnight (11 PM) and destined for male-adult viewers (who like sports). Where were the parents when the children watched it at night? Where were the teachers when their students fought to death at school yards?

Ironically, these same parents and teachers do not protest the live airing of Antasari trial, which content includeed sexual descriptions. It was aired at 11 AM while school children were preparing for afternoon school or just coming back from school. A boy asked his father, “What does ‘bersetubuh’ (sexual intercourse) mean?”, while watching it.

KPI should have warned or sanctioned the TV stations right after its broadcast, but it didn’t. It takes almost one month before KPI talks about restricting, and at the moment of ‘political-criminal case’, when many activists (human right, media, public policy) are strongly against. In the writer’s opinion, KPI should use the term ‘limitation’, not ‘restriction’. We are all against restriction of free press, but we would agree on limitation of freedom. Without limitation of freedom, the world would be in chaos, anarchy would take place.

If we agree with the term of limitation instead of restriction, we go to the next question: “What shall be limited? How is the selection done?” During LKM Media Watch interactive program at RRI on the product and conduct of mass media, a media consumer asked: “How can limitation be done?” The answer touches two dimension: content and technology. Concerning content, people must understand that selecting and editing is a natural conduct of any mass medium. There are so many facts that even 24 hours broadcast duration and 32 pages of daily newspapers cannot accomodate them. It’s the era of information abundance. The fact is: mass media select and edit. The problem is: which to select/to edit and why? KPI has the guidance as mentioned in the Article 24 of P3-SPS (Broadcast Conduct & Standard) about broadcasting news of conflict that could inflame rage towards certain group of people.

Another citizen called in the program and demanded that every court trial should be open for public because the public has the right to know. This is a misunderstanding of freedom to access information. Citizen has the right to access information as long as it concerns him/herself or public interest. Citizen has no right to know other people’s affairs. MK (Mahkamah Konstitusi) has launched a proper solution in this matter: trial concerning marital affairs, children, and pornography, shall be restricted. The trial of Antasari, which contains pornographic acts, therefore, must have been banned. However, the open trial of telepone recording, may be accepted because it is about credibility of public officials. It’s a public interest.

Another dimension is technology. Live broadcast could be handled with a device of late-airing, with only a 5-10 seconds gap between the real happening and the airing. The US has implemented such regulation after an incident in 2004. In a live-aired performance at Super Bowl, Janet Jackson’s bra was ripped off by Justin Timberlake, and the audience at home saw her breast exposed. The audience were enraged, their protested to FCC (Federal Communication Commission). After the incident, the FCC implemented two regulations concerning live air broadcast: a delay-device and a dress code.

It may sound odd to us, a liberal country like the US implementing a dress code for a live air performance? But if we always refer to the US for the philosophy of free press, why not consider this one? Without the ethics of costume designer, Indonesian TV viewers see a lot of indecent incidents (such as Aming-Extravaganza’s loose skirt, or Dewi Persik’s loose kemben (strappless), that bear her breasts for a few seconds during live air).

A delay-device is also implemented to give the program director a time to switch/edit the visuals or to ‘beep’ the impropper/indecent language (swearings etc). If Indonesian broadcasters are willing to implement those two regulations, there is no need to restrict live air (except for the MK’s Rule: marital affiars, children, pornography). Limitation of live air can be done technically and content-wise, for the benefit of the people.

KPI as the institution of regulation for broadcast industry shall go on with its policy, not to be intimidated by strong refusals from several groups in society, including the Press Council. Unlike the printing press, which freedom is limited by the amount of circulation and subscription, broadcasting industry uses free public sphere. Responsibility of broadcasters is all we need in return.

The writer is a lecturer of journalism at Stikosa-AWS, and other universities in Surabaya; and Director of LKM Media Watch, based in Surabaya.

Perihal LKM Media Watch
Mass media are watchdogs. But who watch the media? Let's do it together. Watch this very powerful entity, for better journalism, better Indonesia, better world. http://www.sirikitsyah.wordpress.com

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