Regulatory Battle Rages Over Concentration in Indonesia’s Television Industry

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SINGAPORE — On Aug. 17, as Indonesians celebrated their independence day with a national holiday, rival television stations vied for viewers by airing local films related to nationalism and the independence struggle.
SCTV, part of the Elang Mahkota Teknologi (Emtek) group, broadcast “Darah Garuda” (“Blood Of Eagles”), while RCTI, part of the rival Media Nusantara Citra (MNC) network, aired “Sang Pencerah” (“The Enlightener”).

For many viewers it was perhaps a brief respite from the growing number of religion-related programs local stations aired to boost ratings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. This year, even local “sinetron” — soap opera — writers found ways of inserting references to the annual religious observance into their story lines.

But while rival television stations battled to improve their market share, the real struggle for the hearts and minds of local television viewers has been taking place elsewhere.

The long-running battle intensified in April this year when the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) announced that Emtek’s planned acquisition of Indosiar, another local television station, was against the law.

“There is the potential that broadcasting institutions would be concentrated, and that means a strong potential for information domination,” said KPI chairman Dadang Rahmat Hidayat. Dadang was referring to the 2002 Broadcasting Law, which seeks to encourage decentralization.

But since the KPI’s function is to regulate broadcast content rather than corporate ownership, it did not have the authority to enforce its view. The final word on the merger rests with the capital market supervisory board, Bapepam, which has said it sees nothing wrong with the takeover, and the Communication Ministry, which has been reluctant to make its views known.

The result has been a torrent of criticism from local media watchdogs, with many accusing the government of being unwilling to stand up to powerful corporate interests.

There are currently 14 television stations in Jakarta, including 10 national networks. However, a series of mergers has resulted in a considerable amount of ownership consolidation in recent years. Should the Emtek purchase go through, the television industry will be dominated by just four holding companies. Apart from Emtek and MNC, they are Transcorp and the Viva Group. Each group typically owns two or three television networks targeting different income segments.

Those who argue that these consolidations have broken the law point to provisions in the 2002 legislation that make it illegal for a company or individual to own more than one broadcasting license. The companies concerned deny any wrongdoing, arguing instead that the acquisitions took place indirectly via holding companies, and that the broadcasting licenses continue to be held by the respective stations.

But while some observers lament the alleged decline in the variety of information sources available to the public as a result of the mergers, the criticism is far from obvious.

It is true that Golkar party chairman Aburizal Bakrie is closely associated with the Viva Group, and Surya Paloh of the National Democrats controls Metro TV, an independent 24-hour news channel with a much smaller audience. Apart from that, however, the major networks appear to be politically independent. Competition between them is also strong.

Media watchdog MediaLink, however, sees another issue. The real problem, MediaLink executive director Ahmad Faisol said in Jakarta last month, is the relative weakness of public broadcasting. He wants the spirit of the 2002 legislation to be respected. This means government television station TVRI would be the only national broadcaster, with private stations having a more local or regional focus.

Putting the clock back, however, hardly seems practicable. Television media groups are becoming increasingly profitable on the back of a surge in advertising revenue, and can therefore be expected to vigorously resist any such attempt.

Even so, some reforms would help. Ahmad’s model for TVRI is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), with the government network setting the standard in educational and cultural programming. For this to happen, however, the station needs to be properly funded. The quality and scope of TVRI broadcasts have decreased markedly in recent years due to the lack of finance.

Rival proposals to revise the broadcasting law currently before Parliament reflect the lack of national consensus about what is wrong with the television industry and what should be done about it. Some focus on the need to increase TVRI’s funding, while others attempt to legalize the existing pattern of ownership. There are also opposing views about the future role of the KPI.

Clearly, the battle is far from over.

 

Artikel Bruce Gale ini pernah dipublikasikan di The China Post 5 September 2011

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