Northern Light

Censorship in Indonesia

10 years after the Indonesian government lifted its control of the media the parliament has passed a law banning online pornography without bothering to define what constitutes pornography.

According to the UK based Index on Censorship (IOC) the ban may include paintings made in the tradition of eroticism such as the kama sutra style sculpture seen on the temple reliefs in Central Java.

IOC notes:

”Painters have incorporated elements of this into their work, but may now find themselves targeted with ”pornography” charges.”

The country’s leading information technology expert, Zatni Arbi, warns that the new law in the future might be used to shut down other websites carrying information and opinion deemed unacceptable by the government.

Index on Censorship comments:

“Providing for imprisonment and a fine equivalent to £60 million, the law comes into effect against a background of the creeping application of the Islamic sharia legal code. This has seen a growing number of local governments enforce bans of various kinds, such as the one on several performers of the hugely popular dangdut music in the city of Tangerang, west of Jakarta.”

What is dangdut?

Dangdut is a very popular Indonesian music genre derived from Indian, Arab and Malay styles, but it often incorporates a variety of other world influences as well. It has long been associated with the lower-classes of Indonesia (musik pinggiran), and consequently became seen as “the music of the people.” The lyrics often address issues of love, heartbreak, and poverty. Dangdut has long been ripe with sexual innuendos and suggestiveness, but “Inul’s physical portrayal of the words and their meaning was something never attempted by those who came before her” (Jakarta Eye, “Dangdut Comes of Age-Sex and the Village”).
In the 1970s and 1980s, Rhoma Irama popularized dangdut, tamed its sexual attitude, and began to use it to spread the message of Islam – collectively making it fit for mass commercial appeal. Later, “Politicians began using dangdut musicians… to court the lower classes. …the music of the people became the tool of the powerful” (TIME Asia Magazine, 24 March, 2003). By the late 1990s, Rhoma was using his talents to “delight thousands at pro-Suharto rallies… and was rewarded by being nominated for the legislature by Suharto’s Golkar party in 1997” (Christian Science Monitor, 9 May, 2003).
But in the villages, a rawer tradition of dangdut continued – this is the environment where Inul Daratista’s performances began. Her career started around the age of twelve, performing for local audiences in her home community and earning around $US 0.40 per show. By 2003, she had her commercial breakthrough and became Indonesia’s highest paid entertainer, reportedly earning around $US 78,000 per month (Latitudes, June, 2003). Inul had become a ‘rags to riches’ phenomenon.

Critics of the law fear that it might be used to curtail other forms of artistic expression that incorporate any form of eroticism whatsoever.

Feminists of Indonesia are divided: Some have welcomed the law because of the declared intention to protect children. Others like writer and activist Ratna Sarumpaet are critical.