17 November 2009

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Live broadcast limitations are often necessary

The idea of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) to restrict public access to live TV broadcasts of court has sparked public protests and even condemnation, including from the Press Council because the plan was regarded as a restriction on the public’s access to information. But is KPI totally wrong?
Let’s reflect on what’s happening now in this country. People have little trust in our judiciary system, including police, prosecutors and judges. The Constitutional Court last week allowed the playing of wiretapped conversations that reportedly involved senior police generals and prosecutors suspected of trying to criminalize two Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputies. The live broadcast of the Court hearing has absorbed our energy as it has sparked controversies.

We are preoccupied with the KPK- National Police (Polri) conflicts and we have forgotten many more urgent things. Indonesia has an electricity crisis, and there’s a huge planned changes for our education system. The new national education minister plans to unite senior high school exams (Unas) with a university entry test.
The Court’s live broadcast has presented the truth to many of us. We almost commit a trial by the public via the media in this case. In journalism, the facts do not always reflect reality, and there may be a different truth behind the facts.
A Muslim stabs a Christian on a street fight is a fact, but it is not a reality or a truth that there is a clash between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia. A witness testified that former KPK chairman Antasari Azhar has been trapped in a criminal case, but it might not be the truth that Antasari was innocent.
In addition, airing a trial proceeding without limitations might create chaos. Everybody thinks he/she has the right to get involved (if not to interfere/intervene) in the process. Everybody thinks she/he has the best solution.
Indonesian press gets too carried away with the US slogan that “the people have the right to know”. They never bother to analyze: to know what? Many people said court trials should be open to public.
This is a misunderstanding of freedom to access information. Citizens have the right to access information as long as it concerns him/herself or public interest. Citizens do not have the right to know about other people’s affairs.
Another dimension is technology. Live broadcasts could be handled with a delayed-airing device, with only a 5-10 seconds lag between the action and the airing.
The US implemented such regulations after an incident in 2004, when in a live-aired performance at Super Bowl, Janet Jackson’s bra was ripped off by Justin Timberlake, and the audience at home saw her breast exposed.
The audience was enraged, they protested to the FCC (Federal Communication Commission). After the incident, the FCC implemented two regulations concerning live air broadcast: a delay device and a dress code.
A delay device was also implemented to give the program director a time to switch/edit the visuals or to “beep” the improper/indecent language (profanity etc). If Indonesian broadcasters are willing to implement those two regulations, there is no need to restrict live broadcasts. Live air limitations can be done technically and content-wise, for the benefit of the people.
KPI as the institution of regulation for broadcast industry shall go on with its policy, not to be intimidated by strong refusals from several groups in society, including the Press Council.
Unlike the printing press, in which freedom is limited by the amount of circulation and subscription, the broadcasting industry uses free public sphere. The responsibility of broadcasters is all we need
in return.

Sirikit Syah , The writer is a lecturer of journalism at several universities in Surabaya; and director of LKM Media Watch, based in Surabaya.
Opini The Jakarta Post| Tue, 11/17/2009 |