Jakarta. While television stations prepare to roll out their usual Ramadan lineups of programs laden with piety, the broadcast watchdog and a council of Islamic clerics is calling for “better-quality” programming all around.
The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) joined forces with the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and veteran actor Deddy Mizwar on Tuesday to call for a carrot-and-stick scheme to get broadcasters to improve their programming in terms of morality and values.
“We have to reward broadcasters who put out good programs and punish those who violate the public’s right to enjoy high-quality and healthy programming on free-to-air TV,” Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, from the MUI’s edict-issuing body, said at the KPI office.
Deddy, renowned for playing the pious father figure in Ramadan shows and in the popular “Para Pencari Tuhan” (God Seekers) soap opera, said such a system was needed to effect change.
“There must be the threat of firm punishment for such broadcasters, otherwise they’ll never change,” he said.
Metro TV spokesman Adjie S Soeratmadjie agreed with the idea, saying it could help “facilitate, empower and nurture television stations.”
The call follows a recent outcry against so-called infotainment, or gossip shows, which most Jakarta-based stations broadcast and which are hugely popular.
The KPI and civil society groups, among others, have blamed such shows for the media circus that sprang up over the celebrity sex video scandal over the past two months.
Last month the KPI ruled that infotainment shows would be classified “non-factual,” thus making them liable to censorship.
The Press Council lauded the move, saying the shows lacked journalistic values, as did the House of Representatives’ Commission I, for communications.
The MUI has also weighed in against infotainment shows by issuing an edict labeling them haram , or forbidden in Islam. Asrorun said this move was the result “of the broadcasting stakeholders’ growing concern for the need for broadcasters to shape up.”
KPI official Iddy Muzzayad said most broadcasters were cognizant of the need to tone down the sensationalist nature of their reporting, citing a hearing last Thursday between TV representatives and House Commission I, at which broadcasters pledged to clean up their acts.
Iddy said that broadcasters could use Ramadan, which starts next Wednesday, to overhaul their prime time formats to match the shift in viewer demand.
Prime time during this period will be just before dawn, when most Muslims get up to have their pre-fast meal. Viewer numbers during this time are expected to increase 1,200 percent from non-Ramadan times, Iddy said.
The evening prime time, meanwhile, will be from 5 to 7 p.m., when people gather together to break their fast. Iddy said this would be up 35 percent from noon-Ramadan times.
“The audience demographics will also shift significantly,” he said.
“There will be a sharp rise in the number of children from 5 to 14 years old, representing a 2,200-percent increase during the pre-dawn meal hours and a 50 percent increase during the fast-breaking hours, compared to non-Ramadan figures.
“This is one of the reasons why television shows during Ramadan need to really consider and respect the children’s sensitivities.”
Asrorun, however, accused most stations of just dressing up their programs with Islamic trimmings without actually conveying the true meaning of Ramadan.
“Most such shows are just labeled as ‘Ramadan-themed,’ but fail to show the core values of the fasting month,” he said.
Titin Rosmasari, the chief news editor at private broadcaster Trans7, agreed, and added that universal values of Islam should be insinuated into programs targeted at other viewers.
“This is what we’re doing with our programs,” she said.
Broadcasters have for the most part welcomed the call to improve their programming, but say clear guidelines must be put in place on what constitutes good or bad TV.
“If we knew what the boundaries were, we could adjust our creativity to stay within them,” said Hardijanto Saroso, the corporate secretary at private broadcaster SCTV.
Meanwhile, KPI chairman Dadang Rachmat Hidayat said the commission was revising the prevailing code of conduct and programming standards, for which it had enlisted help from legal experts, media practitioners and other TV stakeholders.
He said that he hoped broadcasters would continue to abide by the current code, particularly in terms of their Ramadan programming.
“Ramadan or not, the code remains the same,” he said.