Censorship of WWE Causes Concern
Despite statements by authorities that the death of a young boy in Indonesia cannot be tied to WWE programming, WWE has been taken off the air by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission. This has caused concern among those who support media freedoms in that country, notably the Jakarta Post Chief Editor Endy M. Bayuni. The Jakarta Post today says that WWE being taken off the air "raises a disturbing question; what other programs will the public target next."
When the free media gets a public 'smack-down'
Endy M. Bayuni , The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
December 4, 2006
The Jakarta Post
(c) 2006 The Jakarta Post
Last week's decision by private TV station Lativi to drop its American wrestling program in response to strong public demand has left a bitter aftertaste for those concerned with media freedoms and raises a disturbing question; what other programs will the public target next.
This is the first occasion in post-Soeharto Indonesia when a TV program was taken off air after public pressure. The "smack-down" shows have been blamed for a boy's death and a series of injuries to children, who reportedly imitated the wrestling's dangerous moves.
This form of action is a form of censorship, imposed not by the authorities but through pressure groups. There was no trial or hearing for Lativi or the program's proprietor World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. to allow them to defend themselves against charges the program had caused death and injuries, or to prove the link between the program and the boy's death.
The program had been aired in the evening, well past children's bedtimes but obviously this was not an acceptable defense to a frenzied public bent on the show's end. Listening to the strong chorus demanding the program's demise -- from politicians, media experts, parents, teachers, psychologists and government officials -- defending the program would have been a futile exercise.
But here comes the rub: Not content with the decision to drop the program, now the public is also calling on banning the sales of wrestling program DVDs -- presumably most of them are pirated -- because they say children can still watch the shows and thus come under the same influence that supposedly led to the recent death and injuries. Most likely, police will gladly comply with the popular demand.
And victory usually is not enough to satisfy the public's thirst for power when events are on a roll. Already we are hearing calls from the same groups of people clamoring for bans on many other programs aired on television nightly for the questionable reasons that they condone violence and encourage sexual promiscuity.
The problem with censorship is that if one tolerates a little there can be no ending to it. And it does not matter where the ban comes from. Public opinion can be just as powerful as official censorship. While public opinion in the smack-down episode was undoubtedly genuine, we know that in other cases it can also be susceptible to manipulation.
Is this the beginning of the end as far as media freedom from censorship is concerned? Perhaps, unless TV stations get their acts together.
This does not mean I am defending much of the trash aired night and day on the nation's TV screens. This writer would be happy if half of all the programs the nation is being fed through free-to-air channels -- but not cable television -- were scrapped. Wrestling programs are probably among the least harmful of all this junk.
Most TV programs, especially those aired during peak hours, are designed to exploit the commercial opportunities for TV stations and their sponsors. On most nights, there are often so little differences between the 10 or so commercial channels that one gets in Jakarta, that there is hardly any point in having the remote control.
Like many people in this country, this writer objects to the use of public TV frequencies leased to broadcasters with the air time they provide used to rake in as much money as the stations can, while little is given back in the way of good programming to the public. Most of these programs belong to the cable networks or private content providers.
It is probably only a matter of time before viewers or the government acting on their behalf does something about the widespread abuse of public bandwidths by the commercial TV stations entrusted with the frequencies.
Criticism of the TV stations failing in their legal obligations to allocate equal amounts of time to inform, educate and entertain the public have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Channels here continue to be clogged with junk. Reacting, public pressure took an objectionable program off air.
If the ban on the wrestling programs is a form of censorship, then Lativi and other TV proprietors in Indonesia had it coming. The bottom line is that they have not lived up to their responsibilities as the trustees of public air frequencies. If they cannot meet this criteria then they probably didn't deserve any freedom in the first place.