10 September 2009

The New Law On Film In Indonesia -- Some Preliminary Thoughts...

The bill is not short on controversy and not all stakeholders are happy about the provisions that have been codified into the new law. The bill, as most Indonesian laws do, make grand and bold statements as to the context in which the bill was drafted and debated. In this case, the bill suggests that the reformasi that Indonesia has undergone since 1998 and the fall of the New Order Regime of the former president Soeharto, included not only a political reformation but a cultural one too. As part of this cultural reformation the manner in which film is viewed has changed. Consequently, the previous regulatory framework for film, Law No. 8 of 1992, is no longer fit for purpose and needed to be repealed and replaced with a piece of legislation that reflects the current state of the Indonesian film industry in 2009.

The government views the new law as a step in the right direction with respect to the promotion and development of the thriving Indonesian film industry. However, in contrast, some within the thriving Indonesian film industry are openly questioning whether the new law is going to be conducive to the freedom of expression they have enjoyed in recent years to make the films they have wanted to make or whether the new provisions are going to stifle their creative opportunities with respect to making films that satisfy their creative energy. And, any stifling of the creative aspects of film-making would seemingly fly in the face of a recent Presidential Instruction on the Creative Economy.

The debate, although seemingly settled, with the passage of the bill through the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat / DPR) on 8 September 2009 may not be the end of the matter as there have been concerns raised with regards to whether or not quorum was reached in the DPR when the bill was passed. However, a more pertinent debate is whether the provisions infringe on the freedom of expression that Indonesians believed they enjoy as part of the series of Constitutional amendments made at the beginning of the reformation period or not.

At the heart of this debate is whether a modern and developing democracy such as Indonesia needs a censorship board or agency to vet film content or whether a film classification board would be sufficient for the purpose of rating films based on their content. Furthermore, the new law stipulates that film scripts must be registered and listed with the minister at least three months prior to any filming being undertaken. Ostensibly, this is to ensure that no two films are being made with the same title or on the same content / issues. Nevertheless, this provision would seemingly provide the power to the minister to vet and then veto any film which the minister deemed to be inappropriate.

The provisions of the new law require that all films conform to explicit societal mores and norms, and these are set out with respect to what is prohibited in Article 6. Simple, scenes that show violence, gambling, the misuse and abuse of drugs and other addictive substances, pornography, provocation between ethnic groups or races, questions religion or religious practices, encourages criminal activity or lowers the honor of the community are all prohibited. In essence, a foreign film like Ocean’s Eleven, which deals with gambling, and therefore would seemingly have to fall foul of the censors and be prohibited from screening. Similarly, local Indonesian films such as the martial arts film, Merantau, might also fall foul of Indonesia’s new censorship board as a consequence of the scenes that portray violence, drugs, and perhaps even scenes devoted to issues of human trafficking.

The new law sets out four classifications; all ages, 13+ years of age, 17+ years of age, and 21+ years of age. Films for the 21+ classification can only be screened between the hours of 23.00 and 03.00 and these films cannot be screened in a public space.

Foreign film makers wanting to use an Indonesian location must obtain the permission of the minister prior to shooting being commenced. The Elucidations to this provision only state that it is ‘self-explanatory’. Presumably, the permit procedure would require that the foreign film maker submit a script and all other relevant information prior to the minister considering a permit application.

The government’s argument for the new law supporting the development and expansion of the Indonesian film industry relies on the rather short Article, Article 32, which stipulates that at least 60% of all the hours that films are shown during any six-month period must be Indonesian films. The question many film makers have is whether they can make a sufficient number of films in light of all the prohibitions they are under with regards to content.

Film festivals, or more broadly film appreciation activities, are specifically regulated under the new law. These activities can be undertaken by private individuals, groups or organizations, the central government, or regional governments. Nevertheless, specific provisions on how the relevant articles are to be implemented will become clearer once the associated Ministerial Regulations are issued.

The devolution of authorities under the provisions provides that the regional governments can facilitate film production within their respective regional areas. This would include facilitating Indonesian films to satisfy the 60% content provisions noted previously. Regional governments would also be required to facilitate the production of documentary films on their respective cultural uniqueness and other regionally specific issues.

The central government has responsibility with respect to facilitating film-making through the provision of tax and other kinds of duty and excise exemptions and reductions.

The funding of films is set out as a joint responsibility that would permit the central and regional governments to contribute. However, it is expected that any funds that are to be provided by government would be best administered through the creation of a film corporation which is tasked specifically with managing these funds. Unfortunately, the new law and the elucidations do not provide any additional input on this issue beyond funding being a joint responsibility.

The new law sets out both administrative and criminal sanctions. The administrative sanctions are the standard written warnings, fines, temporary suspension of activities, and the revocation of licenses and permits. The criminal sanctions provide for terms of imprisonment of between 6 months and 2 years, and fines of between IDR 10 billion and IDR 100 billion.

Finally, the current censorship board is to remain in place until such time as the new censorship board is installed. The new censorship board must be installed no later than 18 months from the date of enactment of the new law.

The new law is not without some controversy. However, the entry into law appears a mere formality with the president expected to sign the bill.


lawky said...

When reading the following part of your excellent blog ..........

The provisions of the new law require that all films conform to explicit societal mores and norms, and these are set out with respect to what is prohibited in Article 6.

I was reminded of what my student said today when I asked her to contrast the civil and common law systems. She came out with the "moralistic approach" of civil law systems - something that took me aback and forced me to explicate it for her. Do you think this (seciton of the) law might be a good example?

Rob Baiton said...


Can I say that it depends on what you are expecting it to prove in terms of any contrast between the civil and common law traditions.

Article 6 of the Film Law is just a list of subject matter that is prohibited from appearing in films and film advertisements. The elucidations to the relevant article are not much help in enlightening us as to whether there are exceptions, and if there are, what they are.

How do you make, say, an educational film about the dangers of drug use without referring to drug use? Or on the entertainment front how do you make a film like Ocean's Eleven about ripping off a casino without referring to gambling?

Have a look at some recent Indonesian films to hit the local bioskop and check out the levels of violence, sexual themes and references, and the like.

FOr example, would a film like Arisan which deals with all manner of subject matter including homosexuality (if I am not mistaken) get passed the censors.

As I said, it depends on what you are trying to evidence or explicate :D

lawky said...

All fair enough. But I sense that you see no purpose in comparing the two traditions, and further that you see the Indonesian code as no more moralistic than the common law of say, Australia? I cannot fail to see the dogmatism of laws such as this - which seem to cut right across any notion of rule of law.

Rob Baiton said...


Mate, the comparing of traditions is getting increasingly more difficult as I believe that the "purity" of each systems is slowly but surely being whittled away in favour of hybrid systems.

For example, the Indonesian bankruptcy law is pretty much a rip off of the common law of bankruptcy. Not that that is a good or bad thing.

Not all civil law is moralistic and not all Indonesian law is moralistic. This particular law on film is an example of where a law attempts to codify an "agreed" set of societal mores and norms. Agreed here does not necessarily mean agreed by all.

I am not sure that I see this as a law that cuts across the notion of the rule of law.

But, I guess it depends on what you define the rule of law as and also on what point you are trying to make with respect to dogmatism and the rule of law (perhaps I am not sure what you are saying here in the somewhat truncated comments that tend to be the norm in blogging :D).

lawky said...

ok, thanks Ill leave it. You are certainly right about the mixing of traditions - 19 languages and sets of laws - public and private in the European court - Id hate to be a judge in the midst of that.

Rob Baiton said...


Okey Dokey.

Enjoy the coming weekend!

Anggara said...

do you have the law Rob? can you send it to my email

Rob Baiton said...


I do, and I have.

Rob Baiton said...


It is the PANJA version but as far as I know it is the same as what was passed.

Jakartass said...

Two points immediately come.

1. Please verify this, Rob, but Iseem to recall that film makers must be registered or certified. Why? As this could take a few moths, this will surely impede the emergence of new, creative talents and may even stifle those gifted film makers such as Mira Lesmana who have much to say.

2. at least 60% of all the hours that films are shown during any six-month period must be Indonesian films.

I can't see the benefit of that, but can foresee a general dumbing down of content, an inevitable load of dross that is quick and easy to produce, such as sequels, tales of the supernatural, soft porn etc., to fill the quota.

I think I'll stick to HBO and pirated movies.

Rob Baiton said...


My understanding is that the proposed film has to be registered / permitted. The purpose supposedly is to ensure that there are no two films with the same title and covering the same subject matter.

Personally, I think it is an additional vetting process designed to weed out "undesirable" films even before they make it to the censorship board.

Yes. This is a quantity over quality issue.

I am about to post an extended piece on the new law. Extended because it is long. :D