Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 8, No. 2, 1994
Critical Multiculturalism
Edited by Tom O'Regan

Fine tuning control: commercial television in Indonesia

Philip Kitley


In the 1980s, new television technologies presented Indonesian policy makers with a series of challenges. The government's television monopoly, developed since 1962 as a prime engine of national union and unity, of constructing and representing national (high) culture, came under threat. The threat derived from television products and services which expanded the scope for private consumption, where time and content were managed by individuals and not by the state. Some of these challenges were inherently easier to control than others. Advertising and video were dealt with firmly. But spill-over, and transnational satellite broadcasts were elusive and regulators found they could not be met head-on.

Transnational satellite television brought the Indonesian government face to face with the fact that the Indonesian nation space could not be sealed off from exogenous cultural processes, pressures and influences. Elite and middle class segments of the community were prepared to pay for alternative media services. The state had to develop a mode of living with transnational culture.

The problem facing the Indonesian state, and more particularly those who directed its television services, was how to extend its state hegemony across two different cultural arenas - one driven by political and ideological imperatives concerned with nation building and circulation of ideas of national culture, and the other, more audience centred, driven by the dynamics of demand, concerned with the consumption of popular local and international cultural goods and services.

In this context introducting commercial television became an attractive option for the government as it appeared to have the capacity to bring together nation building and popular audience centred dynamics. This paper will examine how the broadcast system changed over the years 1987 to 1993, when Indonesia's sole public broadcaster, TVRI, was challenged for the first time in nearly thirty years by the introduction of commercial television broadcasting.

The Palapa Satellite

In 1976 Indonesia launched its own domestic communications satellite, Palapa. The satellite provided the means to develop a truly national television system. Palapa allowed the government to more emphatically reach and mark the perimeters of the national culture space, to link the boundaries of the far-flung archipelago to the centre, and to each other, enabling Indonesians throughout the nation to begin more effectively to 'imagine their community' in Benedict Anderson's phrase (Imagined Communites).

In extending television services, the state was assisted by the private sector. It had been given rights to advertise on television since 1963 (television was introduced in 1962). Indeed, in 1976-77, 91.58% of the Jakarta station's production costs were met from advertising revenue. Overall, advertising accounted for 34% of TVRI's total income in 1975-76, the balance coming from licence fees and a government grant (Alfian and Chu 97).

The bravura of the Palapa launch (Indonesia was only the third country in the world to deploy its own satellite) encouraged the popular uptake of television with sales of television sets rising dramatically in the late 1970s, accompanied by a parallel development of satellite ground stations funded by the government on the one hand and the development of broadcast stations in the outer islands funded by private capital. By 1979-80 there were nine regional stations each producing about two hours of local programming a day.

Advertising Banned

But in 1981 Presidential instructions banned all ads on television. This slowed the momentum of television development dramatically. The official reason for the ban given in announcing it was:

to focus television more on facilitating the [national] development program and to avoid detrimental effects [of advertising] which do not promote the spirit of development. (Tempo 17 Jan 1981 20)

This decision was inextricably linked to a polemic which constructed foreign capitalism as materialist and based on assumptions and a way of life inimical to idealised principles of Indonesian national culture. It also - perhaps more importantly - shifted the culture of television into the centre of the goverment's ideological apparatus and reinforced television's role in defining and constructing the sovereign cultural space of the nation. In the process it sharpened differences between the Indonesian nation and culture and other, foreign cultures.

The ban on advertising had four major effects. It drastically reduced TVRI's income (despite the government compensating it in part for the losses), it made television more exclusively a government voice, it removed the incentive for private enterprise to take any further interest in television, and it lessened TVRI's appeal (as many people had apparently enjoyed the advertisements) (Business News 28 Jan 1981; Sinar Harapan 8 Apr 1981; Kompas 26 Apr 1981; Leknas/Lipi 120).

The 1980s - Push Comes to Shove

In the 1980s, different forms of television services and programming became available to Indonesians despite policy makers. These put pressure on the government's monopoly of the national television culture space. Video technology, spill-over transmissions from neighbouring countries (Malaysia and Singapore particularly), and access to transnational television programs via satellite dishes tuned to international satellites - all these challenged the state's hegemony and the "national broadcast" model of television. Many regional communities had access to television services which the Indonesian state found it virtually impossible to control, and some of these - particularly the international satellite feeds - were rooted in political, social and cultural assumptions which challenged the corporatism which had been such a cornerstone in the New Order's development of television.

Changes in technology and subtle intrusions into the national culture space proved difficult for the state to come to terms with in the 1980s. These changes were not part of any grand conspiracy, they were the outcome of people looking for new ways of enjoying themselves, and of local and transnational business alike trying to make profits. As the decade drew to a close, these pressures forced the state to look for new ways of managing its monopoly and reasserting its cultural hegemony over the national culture space. It reversed its 1981 decision and reintroduced advertising, opened up commercial broadcasting, and introduced competition. On the face of it, these measures have radically altered the system. But these policy changes were also designed to allow the state to maintain its monopoly control of television and pursue its major cultural objectives but in a new way. It remains to be seen whether policy makers will be able to maintain the kind of tight control over television they did previously. The drive by broadcasters with local licenses, for example, to operate nationally has been intense.

My discussion here is structured as follows. First, I will discuss the challenge video, spill-over transmissions and transnational satellite broadcasts opposed to the sovereign unity of the Indonesian culture space. Second, I will describe the state's response to these challenges and will account for the different policy and legislative responses in each case. Third, I will argue that the proximate cause of the decision to authorise the development of commercial television was the state's experience in dealing with the complexities of these encroachments on its mediascape, and its realisation that the encroachments could not be resisted. Finally, I will examine an emerging tension between the state's interests in commercial television as a means of modifying and mediating international influences, and capitalist interests in developing commercial television into a profitable broadcasting system.

The Video Boom

Following the introduction of colour television to Indonesia in 1979, the potential video offered for private consumption and popular entertainment led to a so-called "video fever", particularly in the urban centres of Medan, Surabaya and Jakarta (Arswendo Atmowiloto 158; Jurnal Ekuin 7 Dec 1981).

In a country which had recently banned television advertising, and emphasised the national development role of the mass media, video represented a threat in the state's eyes. Clearly, if people were watching videos at home, they were not watching TVRI (Ishadi 49).

The government's attempts to curtail video reflected its desire to legislate and define a sovereign culture space where polity and culture are congruent. It also reflected a desire to exercise control over how people should enjoy their media services, products and time. The government chose to see the popular interest and use of video as a cultural challenge, threatening media, law and public order. The state intervened to head off a set of media practices and relations at odds with its dominant hegemony of the state's media practices.

For many people video was cheap entertainment. The cassettes could be hired for Rp1000-1500, enjoyed for as long as desired, and then shared or swapped with friends. If it was still cheaper to go the movies (where a film could be seen for as little as Rp150 in the cheapest seats and cinemas), video tapes had the advantage as they could be watched over and over again, and if shared with just one other friend, in real terms cost only Rp500.

Video's principal attraction was that it offered a bill of fare TVRI could never match. The video underground offered customers copies of the latest international movies sometimes only days after their release in overseas cinemas, and offered films banned in Indonesia (a category which included Chinese language films, propaganda from foreign sources, and pornography) (Jurnal Ekuin 30 Dec 1981). Many of the illegally produced videos in circulation also included advertisements.

Video was a medium which threatened the restrictive media policies and services managed by the Indonesian state authorities. It was able to be consumed in private, and it gave the consumer control over what was on screen. Unlike the "centre-out" model of broadcasting, it was a dispersed, differentiated practice enjoyed by many different people throughout the community. The government initially took the view that home video promoted hedonistic, individualist media consumption and ran contrary to the corporatist and developmental ethos of national television. Many of the tapes in circulation had not been passed by the Board of Censors, and were, in the government's view, likely to damage what is usually referred to as "national resilience" by maintaining ethnic differences within society, promoting individualism, and undermining community moral standards.

Beyond this, the burgeoning video industry was especially feared because it thrived on exogenous culture. The video sector enthusiastically circulated this culture within the Indonesian cultural space, and challenged the government's construct of a distinct, and self-sufficient national culture. The legal challenges presented by a rapid growth of a home video industry were also complex, involving issues of international copyright. In 1982, an international report ranked Indonesia third behind Taiwan and Hong Kong as worst offenders in video piracy and counterfeiting (Boyd and Straubhaar 120). The video industry, which grew largely outside legal frameworks, also threatened the cinema industry and the legally incorporated video producers and hirers. These last interests lobbied the government to move against the black marketeers, pirates and smugglers.

The government moved. Pirate copying studios were closed down and illegal video tapes searched for, seized and burned. Although smuggling still represented a threat, customs officers made spectactular seizures duly trumpeted in the press. To complement this active policing, the government published a comprehensive series of decrees and regulations to control the industry, which Ganley and Ganley describe as 'one of the most strenuous and sweeping efforts of any country to control videocassettes' (127).

A total of twenty one separate decrees and regulations were brought down in the period 1983-1987. The regulations that were issued were all concerned with developing and managing a closely regulated home video entertainment industry. All matters concerning the import, production, copying, distribution and public screening of video tapes were declared the responsibility of the Minister for Information. Videos could not be imported in bulk. Only master copies, for which the importer had an import license could be imported. Once in the country, the videos had to be submitted to the official censor, and the importer was required to demonstrate that they legally owned the video, and had rights of reproduction. Once a video was approved by the censor, it could only be reproduced by one of three state owned institutions, and the copies had to be loaded into specially manufactured and identified cassettes. These stipulations describe only a few of the conditions and procedures importers were required to observe in importing video material.

The overall impact of the regulations is difficult to evaluate because of a lack of data. Consumers are now aware that the only legal videos are the red (18+yrs), blue (13+) and green (unrestricted) cassettes produced by government agencies. But piracy still goes on. In 1988 425,145 illegal cassettes were destroyed (Jakarta Jakarta #270 1991) and the authors estimated that even greater numbers of illegal cassettes were in circulation in 1991. There is data which suggests that the regulations have perhaps had their major impact on the legal industry. In 1983-4, 1920 foreign titles were legally imported for reproduction as videos (Kompas 13 Feb 1986). In 1985 the number had fallen to 700, and in 1991 was down to just 100. In the same year, only 96 titles of Indonesian produced films were released on video (Jakarta Jakarta #270 1991).

Spill-over Transmission

Unlike video which could be controlled, spill-over transmissions are far more elusive and difficult to control. In border areas, and in areas of the archipelago which lie close to neighbouring countries, Indonesian citizens have access to non-Indonesian television without modifying their receiving equipment. Indonesian policy makers have shown themselves to be concerned about the national perimeter in regular statements in major planning documents (Repelita III 25-20; Repelita IV 517; Repelita V 510). They have taken care to extend cultural and information programs right up to the border areas, which are described as "strategic and sensitive" (Repelita III 25-20), and where it is feared modern media both from within and beyond the borders may circulate information not in accord with national objectives and policies.

The strategies employed to resist the transmissions, however, do not always reveal an understanding of the nature of spill-over effects. Alwi Dahlan reports for example, that to counter television spill-over from Singapore and Malaysia in parts of Sumatra, the Department of Information attempted to meet the challenge by strengthening Indonesian broadcast signals to these areas (Interview April 1993). The Minister for Information advised a parliamentary commission that he would take similar action in West Kalimantan province, where Indonesian citizens appeared to enjoy Malaysian television more than TVRI (Harmoko 13-15). Alwi Dahlan pointed out that the Minister and the department failed to understand that signal strength was not at issue, but rather viewers' boredom with TVRI's programming.

Satellite Television and Dishes

Dish receivers for radio and television transmission became familiar technology in Indonesia following the installation of the INTELSAT ground station at Jatiluhur in 1969, and with the erection of nearly two hundred ground stations throughout the archipelago after Palapa's launch. But, only in the early 1980s did satellite dishes mushroom on the roofs of houses and offices in the larger urban centres of Indonesia.

In the early 1980s, dishes were expensive, a three metre dish with horizontal and vertical adjustment costing between Rp15 and Rp17 million (approx. US$7,000 - 9,000). These prices put dishes out of the reach of the working class, and made them very expensive for middle class Indonesians. Given these costs, the equipment was mostly restricted to the social and economic elite. These dishes were tuned to transnational television signals transmitted by regional satellites and delivered for home viewing television programs from Malaysia (RTM,TV3), the Philippines (ABS-CBN,PTV4), Thailand (ARMY,BBTV), Taiwan (FO7), the Soviet Union (USSR-TV) and the United States (World Net America) (Bursa Konsumen July 1988 17; Suara Karya 8 Dec 1989; Bintang #21 July 1991). An unexpected development occurred when advertisements for Indonesian products began appearing on Malaysian commercial television (J.B. Wahyudi).

It is instructive to compare the different legislative response by the state to the home use of satellite dishes and video. Indonesian policy makers acted quickly, comprehensively and with strict resolve to control home video. Unlike the twenty one decrees for video, however, there have only been five decrees issued between 1986 and 1990 to control home satellite dishes.

The difference between the bureaucratic relish with which the video situation was addressed, and the minimalist approach to satellite transmissions is revealing. In the case of video, the authorities were dealing with something that could be stopped at the gates. Alert customs officials could and did make sure that video cassettes and recorders were not smuggled in, and the police were instructed to root out pirate studios engaged in illegal reproduction of films. Once the illegal entry of cassettes was in hand, the Board of Censors made sure that what was available for hire met government guidelines.

But in the case of satellite television, the authorities faced a more subtle problem, and recognsed that in this case there was no way of stopping the satellite transmissions at the gates. The Minister for Information put it this way:

We appeal to all sections of the community who use the parabolas [satellite dishes] to strive to keep at arms length broadcasts which may bring negative effects to us as a community, a people and a nation.

In facing this high technology, apart from the government's efforts to clamp down on its negative effects, the understanding of the community is indeed hoped for, so that we do not weaken our national resilience, because it is just not possible to escape the touch of this technology. (Harmoko, 18 July 1988)

But old habits die hard, and the Department introduced regulations to control the use of satellite dishes. The general tenor of these regulations was defensive. Individuals were permitted to erect satellite dishes, as long as they used locally manufactured antennae, registered them with local authorities, and tuned them only to Palapa. Local authorities in known TVRI "blankspots" were permitted to erect communal antennae at their own expense, and run distribution cables to households as a way of improving the reception of TVRI. All installation had to be done by Directorate of Telecommunications personnel and the antennae were not permitted to be tuned to any other satellite (Decree, Minister for Information No. 167B 1986; Decree, Minister for Tourism, Posts and Telecommunications No. 49 1986).

The legislation was fundamentally flawed. It failed to acknowledge that even tuning to Palapa meant that viewers had access to Thai and Malaysian television because both used Palapa for their own national purposes. The government seemed to recognise this when it acknowledged that whether viewers watched other broadcasts was a moral responsibility (Tempo 18 Oct 1986). The rules seemed to require that viewers develop a kind of moral squint, and look away when foreign content appeared on screen. Beyond that, enforcement of the regulation was impractical. Did the government envisage that inspectors would move around eyeing the angle of people's antennae? Dealing with cross-border transmissions in this way was really like trying to control butterflies by licensing nets. Short of a complete ban on receiving devices, any partial control could only ever be illusory and fruitless.

The government's half-heartedness over legislating to control satellite reception can be attributed to five considerations. Firstly, the equipment was expensive and restricted in the main to a sophisticated urban elite whom it was believed would not be 'corrupted' by the foreign broadcasts (Kompas 13 Feb 1986). Secondly, policing usage was very difficult, as it involved intruding on individual's leisure time and it was very difficult to prove any offence unless someone was "caught in the act." Thirdly, the technology had obvious benefits in extending the reach of TVRI into blank spot areas at no cost to the government (Tempo 18 Oct 1986; Mutiara V Aug 1989). Fourthly, it was acknowledged that satellite broadcasts provided access to foreign films and sporting events which TVRI could not supply, and that this alternative was preferable to the circulation of underground video. Fifthly, international television, being public, was not considered as dangerous as video, for it was a public service, and did not show pornography or illegally sourced tapes. TV3 programs, after all, were broadcast by a neighbouring Muslim country.

The government demonstrated a greater acceptance and a more informed understanding of transnational satellite technology in its update of the 1986 regulations in 1990 when individuals were authorised to erect and use satellite dishes for private use and tune them to whatever satellite broadcasts they wished. The restriction on local authorities' use of cable distribution from a communal antenna was, however, maintained.

Commercial Television

Throughout the 1980s there were intermittant calls in the press for commercial television to be introduced to provide the public with an alternative service and to stimulate business turnover through commercial advertising (Antara 19 Jan 1981; Kompas 7 Jan, 10 Jan; Sinar Harapan 25 Aug 1984; Prioritas 13 Nov 1986, Suara Karya 27 Nov 1986; Tempo 29 Aug 1987 67). There was, however, no sustained pressure for any deregulation or privatisation of the industry, though McIntyre reports that a lively debate on the privatisation of state enterprises was conducted during 1986-87.

It came as something as a surprise, then, when the government legislated on 20 October 1987 to establish a restricted broadcast service for Jakarta and environs (Decree, Minister for Information 190 1987). In practice this meant that the service would be available only to those who purchased a decoder for their television set. The decree authorised TVRI to licence a third party to conduct the service on a day to day basis under terms and conditions to be decided between the two partners. The decree noted that the channel's programs were permitted to carry advertising which would promote national development. TVRI was authorised further to use whatever funds it received from its commercial broadcast channel for normal operational purposes.

A week later, on 28 October 1987, TVRI nominated Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia (RCTI) as the provider of the first commercial television service in Indonesia. On 17 January 1990, TVRI came to a similar arrangement with Surya Cita Televisi (SCTV) to provide a restricted commercial service in Surabaya, Indonesia's second most populous city. This arrangement was outside the terms of Ministerial decree 190A (1987) which had authorised commercial television for Jakarta only. In July 1990, the department widened the provisions of the original decree in a major revision of the structure of the broadcast system.

Ministerial Decree No.III (24 July 1990) authorised two different categories of commercial services and stations. The first category comprised stations broadcasting general program material to a local audience. No more than one such broadcaster was permitted to operate in either the national capital (Jakarta) or provincial and regional capitals. They were not permitted to develop network services, and were intended to provide television services exclusively to the local area. The second, specialist broadcaster category comprised a sole, commercial, educational broadcaster which was authorised to broadcast nationally. TVRI remained entitled to receive a contribution from commercial broadcasters according to conditions agreed to by each of the different parties.

It was not long, however, before Ministerial Decree 111 was revised, firstly in May 1992, and again in January 1993. In 1992 the mixed criteria of broadcast coverage (local, regional, national) plus program emphasis (educational, general) were set aside, and commercial providers were simply categorised in terms of their programming emphasis. Apart from the "general" and "educational" categories familiar from Decree III, an additional category of "special economic" broadcaster was created. This broadcaster was given the right to broadcast nationally and to use satellite and terrestrial links to transmit its programs. There was to be only one special economic broadcaster, and it was to be located in Jakarta (Decree, Minister for Information 84A 1992).

On January 18, 1993, Ministerial decree 04A created an entirely different basis for structuring commercial television broadcasting. The criteria for categorising broadcasters shifted once more, this time reverting to spatial considerations. The decree established two categories of broadcaster, one kind located in Jakarta, with a national broadcast coverage, and a second, located in provincial or regional urban centres with a local broadcast range. A maximum of five national commercial channels was permitted, and there was a limit of no more than one local broadcaster in each of the various regional or provincial centres. National broadcasters were permitted to use Palapa and/or terrestrial link facilties. National broadcasters were permitted to establish a network of stations or branches to assist them. Local broadcasters, however, were restricted to local area transmission and could not use the satellite.

With these provisions, the decentralised structure established in III and more or less preserved in 84A, was radically altered and a highly centralised system of five national commercial broadcasters established in Jakarta. The national broadcasters licensed as of March 1993 were: PT Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia (RCTI), PT Cipta Televisi Pendidikan Indonesia (TPI), PT Indosiar Visual Mandiri, PT Cakrawala Andalas Televisi (ANTEVE), PT Surya Citra Televisi (SCTV).

Deregulation or Re-shaping the Monopoly?

How is this pattern of changes in broadcast regulations and structure to be understood? The changes can be interpreted as a cautious process of deregulation of the television sector prompted by the range of pressures which affected the media scene from 1981 to 1990. On this view, the changes indicate government's readiness to meet community demands by offering private capital an opportunity to inject a new vitality into a service which even the President and the Minister for Information acknowledged was in need of improvement (Kompas 25 Aug 1989). This interpretation stresses how the introduction of commercial television is another step in a pattern of economic liberalisation and deregulation which affected fiscal and monetry policy, manufacturing, trade and other key sectors in the 1980s (Booth).

The assumption here is that these changes are best understood as changes in the economics of the television industry, and that the somewhat uncertain nature of the change is evidence of the government opening a window of opportunity to private capital to enter an industry from which it had been excluded for nearly thirty years. On this argument, stumbles were natural in an industry just finding its feet.

An alternative view, and the one favoured here, is that this deregulation/privatisation perspective sets up an overly simplistic model of state-business relationships in Indonesia. In Indonesia a corporatist state has fostered patrimonial relations with business and limited the free market as a dominant influence in the economy (McIntyre; Robison; Robison and Vedi Hadiz).

The changes in the broadcast system are best not thought of as a struggle between the state and capitalism. They are best understood as a political and cultural strategy of the state implemented through co-operative arrangements with a limited segment of the corporate sector. The introduction of commercial television is a strategy of a state which has always understood the prime role of television to be to integrate the nation and extend and maintain its cultural hegemony throughout its sovereign territory. From this perspective, the rapid and confusing series of changes in legislation are evidence of the broadcasters' attempts to win better conditions for themselves within the confines of a patron-client relationship.

The global trade in new media technologies and transnational flows of electronic goods and services introduced into the Indonesian culture space products over which the state had limited control. These symbolic goods potentially threatened national sovereignty by fragmenting national audiences. Although broadcasting technologies which relativise space and geographical boundaries can neither be avoided nor stopped, states are not completely powerless in resisting influences considered undesirable. Rajagopal suggests how this can be done:

With the recent rise of satellite transmissions in Asia, predictions of the demise of national sovereignty might seem to be coming true. But such fears are still exaggerated. One way or another, states mediate electronic broadcasts, whether by allowing, blocking or dubbing independent programming (external or internal), or by producing their own. (91)

The decision to introduce commercial television in Indonesia may be understood as part of the process of mediation of the transnational flow of electronic broadcasts. It was a strategy for resisting the integration of Indonesian citizens' leisure activities into transnational culture. It was a strategy to domesticate the global, to make it familiar and to tame its excesses.

Commercial television has the ability to domesticate the global in two senses. By becoming a player in the international television market, commercial broadcasters can bring sought after international programs onto their own ground, and screen them as part of their regular programming. Once in the domestic sphere, the programming is then subject to a range of formal and informal regulatory measures, which might involve such matters as the time of screening and the censorship of particular scenes or language.

Other mediating processes include subtitling or dubbing dialogue into Indonesian, a process which often works as a subtle and sometimes not so subtle form of censorship, 1 and the provision of an introduction or a commentary which serves to frame the program. Even live broadcasts can be domesticated. Commentary from "on-the spot" reporters at an international sports meet for example, tends to frame the broadcast as an Indonesian experience. 2 Commentary before, during and after international soccer matches relates what is on screen to local interests and priorities. In this way, commercial television domesticates the global by taming it, by rejecting what is unacceptable, or controversial, trotting out an "acceptable" (to audience and government) product for public consumption.

The print media which feeds off commercial television also assists the process of domestication. Accessible synopses, film ratings, and discussions of films and programs from a perspective which relates them to Indonesian culture and society mediates the "foreigness" of the international products. When a magazine or paper features international stars alongside Indonesian media stars and personalities, they absorb them into the Indonesian star system.

Control can never be absolute, however, as was demonstrated in late 1991. TV3 Malaysia, using international news sources, broadcast a news clip of the massacre in Dili on November 12, 1991. TVRI chose not to broadcast the clip within Indonesia. TV3 gave many Indonesians their first and only images of the events in East Timor. The broadcast brought strong protest from Indonesia, who argued that their neighbour should have been more sensitive to Indonesian internal priorities (Confidential interview, Singapore 3 June 1993).

But in the case of purchased programming, the programming which has been selected from the great range on offer has been the relatively safe, popular, largely American soaps and films such as McGyver, Magnum PI, Murphy Brown and Miami Vice.

Patrimonial Relations

The special relationships the state has made with private capital as a way of re-shaping and managing its control over national television, entails different powers, rights and obligations for each of the parties. The state, specifically the Department of Information, retains ultimate power over commercial television. It is the licensing authority, and can grant and revoke licenses without reference to any other body. What is different from Western regulations is that here there is a lack of transparency as there are no criteria concerning licensing conditions. This strengthens the state's hand, making the continued possession of a broadcast license dependent on the grace and favour of TVRI and the Department of Information. The Department has dragged its feet over the drafting of a broadcast law, preserving its freedom to shape the broadcast system in line with its own interests as they develop.

The Department of Information has also made confidential, separate agreements with each of the commercial broadcasters, and has not applied uniform conditions or requirements on broadcasters. Complaints are likewise dealt with on a one-to-one basis, and not through any formal mechanism.

The enabling legislation which authorises TVRI to nominate third parties to provide commercial television services makes provision for the broadcaster to pay TVRI a licence fee. The terms of the agreements between TVRI and the various commercial broadcasters have not been made public, and it is impossible to know the exact details of the payments. The fees are thought to be substantial.

Commercial broadcasters are also subject to "must carry" provisions, and are required to structure programming in line with TVRI guidelines. Commercial channels must carry TVRI news bulletins and are not permitted to broadcast their own news. Peter Langlois, the American Senior Advisor to RCTI, considered this restriction detrimental to a commercial channel as news reporting is a hallmark of commercial broadcasting, contributed most to station identity and was therefore an important element in developing market share (Personal interview May 1993).

All films and film serials shown on Indonesian television are subject to censorship, and Indonesian authorities are strict in their enforcement of this provision. Censorship guidelines for the commercial channels are the same as those which apply to TVRI.

The Department has also selected its broadcast partners itself, and not by way of the public tendering or tribunal processes familiar to Australian and North American readers. The acceptability of the licensees to the government is a major consideration. The original proposal for what later became RCTI, for example, was made by Peter Sondakh of the Rajawali business conglomerate. Sondakh had explored the possibilities of setting up a commercial channel and approached the Department of Information for approval. Sondakh, a Chinese Indonesian, whose business partners include prominent Chinese Indonesians, experienced great difficulty in progressing his application. He decided his venture might stand a better chance if it was supported by a pribumi (indigenous Indonesian) partner. Sondakh obtained the support of the Bimantara group, whose President Director is Bambang Trihatmodjo, son of President Soeharto. With these connections, the application to pioneer commercial television in Indonesia proceeded smoothly and RCTI obtained its licence. Rajawali holds 65% of shares, Bimantara 35% (Confidential interview April 1993). 4

The licensees of the other commercial channels also have close New Order connections. TPI is owned by the holding company Cipta Lamtoro Gung Persada whose principal is Siti Hardijanti Indra Rukmana, the eldest daughter of President Soeharto. Indosiar Visual Mandiri is backed by the huge Salim conglomerate headed by Liem Sioe Liong who has long and close associations with President Soeharto. ANTEVE is associated with the Bakrie conglomerate which originated in southern Sumatra. Unlike the other major television players the group has no close connections with the Presidential family. It was, however, strongly supported by the State Secretariat in 1980-83 as part of the push to boost domestic manufacture. Bakrie enjoys a high profile as a "home grown", successful pribumi conglomerate (Robinson Pangaribuan, interview Aug 1993). The Surabaya based SCTV is supported by a consortium whose principals include Sudwikatmono, head of the Subentra group and cousin of President Soeharto, Mohammad Noer, former Governor of East Java, and Henry Pribadi, brother of Djuhar Sutanto, a key business partner of Liem Sioe Liong. The limited competition which the government has built into the television industry carries political advantages for the government. With no need to chase ratings, broadcasters, even if they wanted to (and that is a large "if" given the players involved) have no need to differentiate their television product by taking significantly different positions on aspects of social, economic or political policy. By sharing the television sector with only a few, carefully selected partners, the government has been able to develop a compliant television industry which has little to gain by supporting policies not shared by the state.

Furthermore, the Minister for Information has stressed that the television system is not a competitive business, so much as a team effort. The problem for many would-be broadcasters is that it is the government which selects the teams, acts as coach and referee, and decides if, and then when and where the games will be played. Some parties have found it very difficult to advance their bids for a broadcasting license, and have had to secure well-favoured patrons to advance their claim. Some companies have found their applications delayed for unreasonable periods, and then finally ignored. Husein Naro, BGW Budiarto and Peter Gontha, for example, sought a license to operate a local station in Yogyakarta. The bid was overlooked, and the license awarded eventually to PT Sanitya Mandara Televisi which had submitted its application after Naro. Sources suggest that the government were not prepared to risk giving a license to Naro, who through his father, is closely associated with the rival Islamic political party PPP (United Development Party). It was feared that PPP might use the channel for political purposes. The government chose the safer course of simply stalling the Naro bid, and then awarding the licence to a company with family connections with the Sultan of Yogyakarta and links with media business in Jakarta (Confidential interview May 1993; Kompas 21 Aug 1992).

The department has extended resources unequally to different partners. TPI for example, was given generous access to TVRI studio facilities and staff and access to a national audience via satellite transmission. This was resented by other commercial broadcasters, particularly RCTI, which has a gross debt of US$60m incurred for purchase of land, construction of facilities and purchase of decoders (Peter Langlois interview 1 April 1993). TPI is currently building studio facilities, but to date has not had to outlay anything like the funds RCTI and SCTV have invested.

A One-way Street?

In this asymmetrical power relationship favouring the government, considerable advantages do nevertheless accrue to the broadcasters. The most obvious, especially for the pioneering companies, is the opportunity to develop in a controlled competitive environment. Program purchasing under limited competition works in the buyer's favour, and assists in the development of long-term advertising contracts. The government has resisted considerable pressure from within TVRI, the parliament and the community and has not allowed TVRI to carry advertising. This has reserved the advertising cake for commercial broadcasting.

Restricted competition has also meant that the broadcasters have not had to work as hard to develop their market as they might have had to. Since 1989, RCTI, TPI and SCTV have had the market to themselves. They have had time to make mistakes and time to learn what their audiences enjoy. As the new providers enter the market, this comfortable situation will change, but is unlikely to become cut-throat.

The chosen few enjoy privileged status and access to government which enhances their ability to lobby directly and shift the terms of their agreements. They have been vigorous and largely successful in exploiting their privileged status.

The commercial broadcasters work in a loose regulatory environment which has assisted their early development. Community pressure, for example, for the commercial channels to present more local content, was largely ignored by the channels, and was dismissed by the Director General of Radio, Television and Film, who said that people must be aware that the channels were just feeling their way, and would eventually develop more local content (Alex Leo Zulkarnain 10).

The rapid shifts in broadcasting regulations outlined above need to be placed within the context of the special relations between the state and commercial broadcasters. The changes were brought about through the lobbying process of the newly formed commercial broadcasters. The companies challenged the government's generalised interest in simply controlling television and exerted pressure to shift broadcasting organisation more towards the existing broadcasters' commercial advantage.

RCTI and SCTV, for example, pressured the Department to cancel the regulation that they could only offer a restricted broadcast service using decoders. The penetration of the market by these broadcasters was intially slow because of take-up costs to consumers. The pioneer channels saw the free-to-air presence of TPI, the national (commercial) educational channel as unfair competition and this drove their call for decoder-free transmission. The bargaining power of the broadcasters is well illustrated in this instance, as TPI's broadcast presented no direct threat to RCTI and SCTV, being confined to hours when the other two stations were off air. But TPI's aggressive move into the market, and its announcements that it would soon broadcast 24 hours a day were a concern to the other channels.

Secondly, the government's stipulation that commercial stations could not network, and had to establish stand-alone facilities in different cities was unreasonable and unworkable. SCTV sources have frankly admitted that the advertising revenue available to them in Surabaya is insufficient to fund the station, and that their market right from the beginning was centred on Jakarta. RCTI and SCTV have jointly purchased programs since their early days as a way of reducing costs. They have kept to the letter of the law by screening programs in Surabaya a week after their Jakarta screening (Agus Mulyanto interveiw 24 May 1993).

At times RCTI has pushed its privileged relationship with the Department too far, as it did when it chose to send programs to Surabaya by satellite. This gave viewers with satellite dishes access to their programs. The Department did not accept the explanation that this was simply a matter of speedy transfer, and advised that they should transfer the tapes by air. Packages offered by the stations now offer discount rates for advertising which uses RCTI and SCTV programs in Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya and Denpasar.

The decision to offer a national license to one provider, while denying it to others, was a recipe for resentment and intense lobbying. It was obvious that the market for the national channel (TPI) was more favourable and attractive to advertisers than the local licences. Now that the other broadcasters have lobbied successfully for national licences, TPI feels that the terms of its original agreement with the government have shifted too far in favour of the other channels. TPI has signalled that it might have to re-think its name and broadcast mission. Its argument is that educational broadcasting is not as attractive to advertisers as the more popular programming offered by RCTI and the others, and that that was why it was originally given exclusive access to the national market.

While the commercial broadcasters have clearly shifted things more towards their advantage, if not to the satisfaction of all, the state has maintained a large measure of power. It has developed a compliant, non-political broadcast sector. The commercial channels offer a range of popular and sought after programming which has been domesticated. This has largely contained the pressures that built up in the1980s.


In the space of just five years, television in Indonesia has developed from a single channel government monopoly to a service which is poised to take off with five national commercial broadcasters and a public service channel with a broadly cultural and nation building role operating at the end of 1994. At the beginning of this discussion, it was suggested that there was an historical tension in broadcasting objectives and interests in Indonesia - with the needs of national integration and nation building at odds with a more populist, entertainment oriented outlook. It might seem in 1993 that the tension has been largely resolved, with two related but separate sectors addressing these different objectives. And this is true to a certain extent. But the tension is still incipient. The commercial services are largely controlled by the state, and have been established in a way that makes them a compliant adjunct to the political and cultural objectives of the government, rather than an assertive, socially responsive broadcasting sector. TVRI has not let go its monopoly, it is just managing it differently.


1. It is my experience that obscenities or insulting forms of abuse ("bitch", "bastard") in Western films shown on Indonesian television are simply not translated or are toned down in the subtitling or dubbed dialogue.

2. In April 1993 for example, the commentary provided by Indonesian commentators at the Volvo Women's Open at Pattya, Thailand, was focused more or less exclusively on the Indonesian champion Yayuk Basuki. A similar engaging partiality is displayed by commentators at events such as the Asian Games.

3. The Department of Information licenses print media publications. The department has withdrawn licenses and forced the closure of major newspapers such as Sinar Harapan and Pelita. In 1990 it closed down Monitor, a thriving tabloid focused on media affairs.

4. In most published accounts of RCTI's shareholding, these figures are reversed, giving Bimantara the larger shareholding. My informant advised that this was not accurate, but was done to "make Bimantara look good." There is no public register of company shareholdings in Indonesia which could be consulted to check this matter.

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