14 September 2008

Pornography and Indonesia

If recent reports are to be believed, then the controversial Pornography Bill (previously known as the 'anti-pornography and indecency bill) seems to be set to pass the House of Representatives soon. Some lawmakers are hailing this as some kind of prophetic Ramadan gift.

The bill is clearly a threat to the stability of the nation. The provisions appear to criminalize a good deal of Indonesian culture and will undoubtedly have a significant impact on tourism. For these reasons alone the current format of the bill needs to be re-worked in order to make the bill enforceable and not controversial. The provision provide for a little more than just prohibiting the publication of magazines like Playboy.

The bill poses significant threats to privacy as well.

There is opposition to the bill. Unfortunately, this opposition does not appear to be well-marshaled and it would seem the bill's supporters are likely to be bulldozing this through the Special Committee and to a vote on the floor.

Interestingly, Golkar through one of its lawmakers has suggested that the best course of action that may induce a rethink is if there was spontaneous rallies that provided vocal opposition to the bill.

The biggest issue is that the bill regulates morality. There will always be legal questions as to how far a government can go in regulating the morality of its citizens, particularly in the private sphere. The morality issue then gives rise to questions such as whose morals and how are these morals to be defined? To name but a few. There is little doubt that people support the idea of restricting or prohibiting access to pornography and indecency. What is in doubt is whether the current definition of either of the key terms is suitable for the purpose.

Another important question is whether there is a need for a specific pornography and indecency law. Most legal scholars would agree that the key offenses are already regulated in existing legislation, including the Criminal Code, Child Protection Law, and the Cyber Law (ITE). Some might argue that this is a lex spesialis law that deals with a very particular set of circumstances and offenses. However, this argument is moot in the sense that there are no arguments can be made that the provisions are not anything but mere duplication of provisions contained elsewhere.

With a definition of pornography like this:

"Pornography is any work that includes sexual materials in the form of drawings, sketches, illustrations, photographs, text, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, poetry, conversations or any other form of communicative message"

it is little wonder that people have concerns.

Even greater concerns arise when the issue of enforcement is discussed. The bill would seem to allow an interpretation that suggest vigilante justice is permissible. The relevant provisions suggest that the community may take preventive measures. This is clearly different from the community having a mere reporting role where they suspect a breach may have occurred. If this indeed is an acceptable interpretation then you are going to have unqualified individuals and groups making legal determinations with regards to what constitutes pornography and indecency.

The stoning of Playboy's offices and the forcible closures of bars, pubs, and entertainment venues is just the beginning. Other places of indecency and pornography are likely to include museums and theaters.

A cold change is definitely in the air!


Elyani said...

And we all know the people who will legalize the law are the ones who have no moral and unlawful. Take Al Amin case for example. Am sure there are hundreds if not thousands Al Amin who use women as part of their deals to pass certain bill. This law (if implemented) will give organization like FPI to enforce the law based on their interpretation. Scary.

Rob Baiton said...

Scary might not be the half of it.

Too many holes in this one which seem destined to bring greater division in contrast to greater unity.

Sad really.

The Weary Traveller said...


To what extent (%) do you think the bill is about stemming moral decline, and what % do you think is it the under the counter introduction of Sharia Law......

(Just asking)

I always believe the people get the govenment (and thus laws) that they deserve.

Rob Baiton said...


I should have thought that this might be a post that would pique your interest.

I guess my point in this post, although I do not make it all that explicitly, and the earlier post on HIV, is that I do not know whether governments can effectively regulate morality or stem the moral decline.

This assumes that there is moral decline going on. The Prosperous Justice Party platform for the coming election makes note of the moral decadence in society and the need to stem it (so I am told -- still trying to get their platform in the written form).

Perhaps the cynic in me would see this more as the implementation of Sharia incrementally and by stealth. By stealth I mean by not openly characterizing it as Sharia.

One of the complaints is that this doubles up on already existing legislation. So, perhaps an argument can be made that the law does not criminalize anything that is not already criminal. Begs the question, why bother?

Yet, the counter argument is that the law is purposively broad in its definitions so that it can be a lot more all encompassing in what falls within the gambit of pornography and indecency than is already regulated in the other laws which I have noted.

However, any cynicism aside, my view is that it is not a Sharia-based law. It is poorly drafted and creates more problems than it resolves and for that reason alone the DPR needs to reconsider the necessity of this piece of legislation.

On the getting the government you deserve, I do not know whether I concur.

Yes, this is a democratically elected government (by most accounts the electoral process was free and fair). So, in that sense I understand your point. But, whether or not the people of Indonesia deserve these laws I will beg to differ!

After all it is my blog and I can believe in whatever I want, right?


Unknown said...

we'll do the subject in due time, but first things first, is it really going to pass???

Rob Baiton said...


Word on the street is that it will. If it is not a sure thing then there is a beat up going on to make sure that people think that it is.

NGOs are protesting left, right, and centre because it seems that it is going to come out of committee in pretty much the same format that it went in.

There is talk that it is a matter of weeks before it hits the plenary session floor for a vote. You and I both know that a plenary floor vote is nothing more than a formality of passage.

Is it going to pass, I would hope not. The signs though are looking like that the bill will be bulldozed through. Golkar and PDI-P are publicly opposed which makes it all the more interesting as they would conceivable have the numbers to force changes or block it.

Yet, both the PDI-P and Golkar are on the record as saying they think the bill will get to the floor.

I will be checking it out Monday once I get into the office.

The Weary Traveller said...

Rima will throw a fit.....

I suspect Sharia by stealth, but I see shadows at the foot of the bed, so who am I to judge, and it isn’t my country.

Maybe the government really just has the well being of the population in its mind.

Unknown said...

I haven't heard anything but i've the calendar and at a glance, they look likely that they will be too busy doing other things in the next few weeks.

I'm ignoring the sharia comment cause, like you, i don't think this has anything to do with that. This is more Dep Penerangan making a stealthy come back.

I'm more scared of that than the sharia law.

posted a quickie just now on this, too over at my place. I'm bored and i need a system setup for my WDP

Anonymous said...

""Pornography is any work that includes sexual materials in the form of drawings, sketches, illustrations, photographs, text, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, poetry, conversations or any other form of communicative message""

So if I draw an artistic-looking naked woman and post it on my blog, will this be considered as porn?

And what about naked oil paintings of Balinese woman? Are those not going to be allowed to put on display as well?

How can the govt define what is sexual and what is not? Everyone have their own preference. I mean look at that Balinese guy who fucked a cow. He obviously thought the cow was sexy. So a picture of a cow's ass should be banned too?

Maybe the govt really are the experts on sex since they're the ones who frequent brothels most often and can get away with it.

They obviously want sex whenever and wherever they can, but they don't want other people to have the same privilege.


Rob Baiton said...


Yes. Your art work could conceivably be deemed porn under the provisions. As stupid as that is, the scarier part is that some people are interpreting the community role to include some kind of right to prevent pornography and indecency wherever it may be found.

This is scary because it appears to be legalized vigilante justice. I hardly think the FPI, MUI, MMI, or any other members of the alphabet soup are the right arbiters for porn and indecency.

As I said it is going to be interesting to watch how this one plays out.

Unknown said...

I probably really should take a look. Do you have a copy? Mail me?

I'm probably over confident, but really, i just couldn't see how things will change. It's one of those things, once they let it free, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. So they cut a deal when genie follows a very specific short instructions in short sentences. If anyone break their words, the world's fucked.

I hope that makes sense.

tere616.blogspot.com said...

Rob, I have the same question like PB and Ace.

My mind was going straight to Therry, of how beautiful her sketch can be categorize under pornography. How the Balinese artist painting and sculpture get the same sanction.

Is the law also regulate the way we dress ?

Who is the actor behind this law ? Is MUI part of it ?

How's the government will implement it in our day to day lives ?

Its absurd. Can you give me the link ?

Rob Baiton said...


I have a copy of the version of 13 September 2008. This is the version that is currently in Pansus. It is to all intents and purposes the agreed version. It seems to be the version that the JP is writing from as well.

The word I have had today is that it will pass and will pass soon (a matter of weeks). It appears that Golkar is beating it up in the media about having reservations but are ensuring that is gets through the Special Committe (pansus).

The only real opposition to the bill is from PDI-P and PDS in parliament. If this thing is going to be put back in the bottle then you would want to have some serious street demonstrations and protests over the next 7 - 10 days or PKS will be getting the Ramadan present that it craves.


Yes, my reading of the bill would suggest that Therry's sketches could fall within the definition of pornography. Yes, photographs of semi-naked Balinese women could be classified as porn. My take would be that carvings, statues, and other museum pieces might also conceivably be deemed porn.

Theater performances where any nakedness is present would be deemed indecent and perhaps pornographic.

I think that the scarier part of this bill is that it provides a role to the community that is loosely defined as preventing porn (and presumably indecency) from rearing its ugly head in the public or communal domain.

I would be expecting plenty of community based sweeping events to clean up the city of porn and indecency. The bill would allow the community and groups inclined to do so, to take the law into their own hands.

How will the government enforce the provisions. Good question, but they might not have to if the community is doing it for them.

Anonymous said...

In other words, the govt created an ambigous sounding bill and let the people interpret it and use it as they please for their own purposes...

I think this bill is giving a lot of favour to extremists like FPI!!

Oh hell. Someone should start rounding up some dobermans.

Unknown said...

no therry, not angry dogs. takes too long. we don't need dogs to attack or protect anyone.

what indonesia needs is more people who disagree to think, and to speak and to vote. anyone could propose a bill, the one with the largest voice get to say, that's just how democracy works. so people should really learn to speak up.

I think the biggest problem with this country, is too many good people who said nothing. Can't really blame them, the country lived that way for 32 years, it just never learned how.

People who don't know how to say what they want don't get what they ask.

I don't vote.That was for Polar bear.

tere616.blogspot.com said...

Rob, it's scary, totally scary.
It will create chaos, and all the FPI's or other whatever under the name of Haram, will legalized their action just under the name of the Pornography law.

It's an art, therry's for example, it's her art.

How come that we, a country where always see the beauty in the eyes of an art, can have the stupid law like that ?

Can we do something to decline the law ? No one in this country try to decline it ?

I think I will ask my daughter to get a job not in Indonesia, someday, not now, she's still in her teenage age, but she wishes to be like Therry.

Pathetic, sorry, but I can't keep my frustration.

Unknown said...

How could it escaped my mind the first time! Therry, since i actually used your art for my template, they probably gonna have to arrest me first - publishers go first, not artists.

At the very worst case, we both get busted. At the lesser bad, only i go to jail. Ideal scenario is of course, none of us got arrested.

That's what we all want.

At least you know i will always use your art - thanks for that first one, i hope you do more :D

Anonymous said...

Yepyepyepyep... as I have predicted, Indonesia is now (almost) officially Saudi Arabia Jr. As I have commented in IM

"this is another MAJOR ACHIEVEMENT of our government that is a 'clear indication' of the 'improvement' of Indonesia in general."

Cool.. I'm just anxious and excited of what other 'morally supportive' regulations they will come up with next. Death sentence for homosexuals unless they have a sex change operation like in Iran maybe? Why not forbid women to speak out their minds?
Oh how I love Indonesia in 2008!! (detect sarcasm there?)

Rob Baiton said...


Masa? Sarcasm? I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't said, honest :D

This might make the proposed changes to the Criminal Code a little easier to force through.

The ones about kissing in public and the like.


Frustrated? Can you oppose the law? Yes, you can oppose the law. get some like-minded frustrated people to join with you and protest the stupidity of the whole premise of the law...

Good Luck.


Yes, that is exactly what the government didi.

Anonymous said...

I have never voted for anything in my entire life.

If anyone is interested to start a demonstration against the government and make them all step down from their positions - better yet, make them all dead or being given capital punishment especially for Bakrie, I'd gladly join.