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Jakarta Post: 4 July 1999


A raging debate on flourishing erotic media in Indonesia has added fuel to public resentment over mounting unresolved national problems. Some government officials and youth groups are crusading to reverse the media "revolution".


Pornography elicits mixed reactions

Who draws the line between pornography and art?

  • A raging debate on flourishing erotic media has added fuel to public resentment over mounting unresolved national problems. Some government officials and youth groups are crusading to reverse the media "revolution". The Jakarta Post's journalists Pandaya, T. Sima Gunawan, and Stevie Emilia and contributors Tjahjono Ep and Ahmad Solikhan examine the saucy issue.

    JAKARTA (JP): After about half an hour of browsing, Iwan pulled two Rp 1,000 banknotes out of his trunks, threw them at the newsstand attendant and picked up a copy of Pop.

    "Isn't it great? Spend Rp 2,000 and get lots of saucy pictures and stories," he grinned, clambering onto his bike and pedaling away clutching a copy of an "adult" tabloid featuring a busty, scantily clad woman posing provocatively on the cover.

    Many newsstands in major cities have been busier than usual lately thanks to erotic tabloids, magazines and illicit publications which have come out in droves over the past month.

    Badri, who runs a newsstand on Jl. Kaliurang, Yogyakarta, said he sells about 50 copies a week of erotic tabloids and magazines, which cost Rp 3,000 to 4,000 each. His regular customers are mostly young women and middle-aged men.

    Publications selling sexual fantasies are thriving amid tight competition with the regular news media.

    If sex content, both pictures and articles, is a yardstick of press freedom, then Indonesia has probably just joined countries proud of having free media.

    The unprecedented freedom of the press spurred by Soeharto's downfall last year has also given rise to pornography. In big cities like Jakarta, the "adult magazines" are sold side by side with children magazines.

    Newspaper boys at busy intersections aggressively offer the tabloids to motorists without fear of being apprehended by the police. And bystanders are getting used to buying one without shyly looking around.

    Scenes of newspaper boys shoving adult tabloids in the face of bystanders' are common at Harmoni roundabouts, just a few meters from the Bina Graha presidential office. Transactions there are done as if to show that no government authority can stop the new-found freedom to enjoy erotic reading.

    Some of the adult magazines, such as Pop, Power, Map, Kiss, Liberty, Tragedi and Top, are brand new, and others like Popular, Pos Film and Matra are old ones with fresh courage.

    Not all juicy media, it turns out, have the mandatory government publishing license. They have names but no address or lists of journalists, editors or publisher. But they all sell like hotcakes thanks to flashy pictures and hot stories.

    The growing number of sexy media is often attributed to the government's policy to simplify the procurement of publishing license for a publication. In the Soeharto era, when the press was tightly harnessed, tabloids would feature soft porn material, and illegal hardcore pornography publications were widely on sale, albeit covertly.

    The tabloids and magazines feature topics like how to find child prostitutes or tips on how to enhance sexual enjoyment. They also carry explicit accounts of readers' sexual experiences. One tabloid goes so far as to tell readers where to get call girls in various towns in Java.

    A Surabaya-based magazine, Top, gives names, physical features and particular sex "skills" of favorite call girls in a brothel in Bojonegoro a small town in East Java.

    Editors and advocates of adult media insist that what they publish is not pornography but, rather, "artwork" or sex education, which people cannot obtain at school.

    "Can anybody criticize us, give me the definition of pornography?" asked Slamet, a marketing executive of Pop. "All the contents in the tabloid are true stories that people can read with their heart beating faster," he said with a nasty chuckle.

    He said he knows many people are hypocritical about adult magazines because they enjoy reading them but they will say the media must be killed for promoting pornography.

    Sex objects

    Obviously, not everyone is happy about the presence of the magazines. Women's rights activists, for example, charge that the media portray women as "sex objects".

    Smita Notosusanto, a member of the Jakarta-based Society against Violence toward Women, said that the exposure of revealing pictures stains the image of women.

    "Women are treated as a commodity, not as human beings with personalities. They are exploited to make a profit. As for the women, I don't blame them. They need money. But isn't it fair if they then receive such treatment?" she asked.

    Traditional critics of such media are Muslim groups that do not want to see publications carry any articles or photographs they considered obscene. Wave after wave of Muslims have demonstrated their disgust of the media that they say are "threatening the morality of the young".

    Last week, adult media enjoyed a spurt of free promotion when the city police summoned top model Sophia Latjuba for a five-hour questioning on her nude picture on the cover of the May edition of Popular magazine.

    The magazine's photographer and executives were also summoned for questioning. The police action, apparently, did not harm the adult media business. Popular enjoyed greater sales with agents reporting a sellout. People became aware of soft porn publications at newsstands in their neighborhoods.

    In a show of concern, senior Cabinet ministers made a media showing last week, telling journalists that the authorities would "take stern action" against anyone deemed responsible for publishing pornographic material.

    To prove they are serious about their threat, the police have set up a special team in charge of monitoring the media. As has the Ministry of Information.

    Under Article 533 of the Criminal Code, anyone showing or offering sexually arousing objects are punishable by two months imprisonment. The Criminal Code has no definition of pornography. But it does have articles covering obscenity and indecency.

    Interestingly, Minister of Information M. Yunus Yosfiah, who has won major adoration for allowing greater press freedom, said that pornography was not his cup of tea. Because pornography is a criminal case, the responsibility for handling it lies with the police, not his office.

    But this does not mean he is among those who are happy with the mushrooming erotic media. In a Cabinet meeting at the Bina Graha presidential palace on Wednesday, ministers gleefully received tabloids carrying pictures of partially clad women that Yunus distributed to show that media freedom has been misused.

    "Many of the publications can be classified as pornography and they are freely traded in by children on the street," Yunus said on a separate occasion.

    The increasing pressure on the government to take action against the erotic media has forced the media people to lay low -- at least for now.

    "You have to duck when you come under public scrutiny," Slamet said.

    Media observer Ana Nadhya Abrar theorized that the flourishing juicy media is spurred by pornography on the Internet. They publish erotic material to gauge public reactions.

    "The trick turns out to be effective," she said. "It cannot be denied that the media make a lot of money."

    As the sex-oriented media stay under heavy attack, debate is raging over the definition of "pornography". The media and advocates insist that the disputed pictures are "works of art" and the articles are light matters that people are supposed to enjoy in leisure.

    Th. Gieles, an ethics teacher at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, said the pictures in licensed erotic magazines largely fall in the "sensual" category, which does not aim to sexually arouse readers. While pornography, as unlicensed media, is aimed at sexually arousing readers.

    "Generally the pictures in licensed media are sensual-artistic in their design," he said.

    According to Gieles, what needs better government control are pornographic video compact discs, not erotic magazines and tabloids, which can be properly controlled by the public.

    Defining pornography, it appears, is not that easy now that the public is flooded with sex publications.

    "Everyone has a personal interpretation and different point of view," Ana said. "The issue must not be blown out of proportion, so that Indonesia can focus on more pressing issues."

    Some advocates of media freedom say the government's threat to punish erotic mediums is just another trick to silence the media in general and to put the brakes on media freedom. Or to divert public attention from mounting crucial issues that the government is unable to handle.

    Now that the war against pornography is ensuing, erotic media lovers are wondering if they still can have those "stories that they read with their heart beating faster".

    Jakarta Post
    04 July 1999

    Pornography elicits mixed reactions

    JAKARTA (JP): Take a look at any newsstand on the street and you'll see magazines and tabloids with hot pictures of seductive women on them. The exposure of such pictures, along with sex stories, is not new indeed. Recently, however, following the government's decision to relax the publishing license regulation, there has been a mushrooming of new media, including those focusing on sex.

    The case has become a hot topic of discussion after the police charged several magazines and tabloids with pornography. In the past few days, a number of different groups, including Muslim organizations of students and women, have staged demonstrations and called upon the police to take stern measures against what they call pornography in the media.

    The issue has drawn mixed reactions from the public.

    Smita Notosusanto, a member of the Society Against Violence Toward Women: I will be really happy if such media is regulated. We have been addressing this issue for many years. We invited the magazines, Popular and Matra, to discuss this. Matra never accepted our invitation. Popular argues this is a matter of marketing: people buy it and the women are willing to pose like that.

    In fact, the exposure of such pictures stains the image of women. Women are treated as a commodity, not as a human being with a personality. They are exploited to make a profit. This is a violence against women and human rights. As for the women, I don't blame them. They need money. But isn't it fair if they then receive such treatment? These types of media only give weight to claims of sexual exploitation.

    I wish the media could be more responsible. They never think about the impact on women. Women are cornered for their role as the one who should satisfy other people's sexual desires and profits.

    This is supported by capitalism. And worse, the media is dominated by men.

    I remember when we once protested against the photo of a golf course ad featuring a female caddie wearing shorts, we were regarded as silly feminists.

    We are in the field of research and teaching. The image of women in mass media, film, sinetron (TV films) is negative. In sinetron, women always become the victims, they are beaten, they become sex objects.

    This can not be stopped if the media and society do not improve their awareness and understanding on this matter.

    Djoni Irawan, the lawyer for Popular: The police charges Popular with pornography. But what is pornography? You see, in the 1960s, men growing long hair was not appropriate, in the 1970s people frowned at you if you wore a miniskirt. Nine years ago when Popular first hit the market, it carried photos of models wearing swimsuits. What's wrong with that? They are not naked. If they look naked, it is only trick photography.

    Some say that it is an exploitation of women. From a conservative view, maybe it is. I don't mind. They have the right to say so. But from a liberal point of view, it is beauty, art.

    So far, I haven't seen any social impact from the photos. I've never heard of any case of sexual harassment, rape or other crimes which could be triggered by the pictures.

    My client is charged with violating the Criminal Code's Article 282 on obscenity. It carries a maximum of one year and six months imprisonment or a fine of Rp 4,500. But let the courts decide. In the meantime, the magazine will publish less photos using trick photography which make women wearing bikinis appear nude.

    Dimas Widosasongko, 29, a marketing staff of a security company: I like beauty and I don't see any problem with erotic pictures of beautiful women like those in Popular. They are not pornographic. I have seen the pictures of bodybuilder Ade Rae and I also like them.

    I have never had any idea that it is an exploitation of women or exploitation of men.

    The problem here is that anybody can buy them. In some foreign countries, they have Playboy and Penthouse but they are only for adults. I think what we have to do here is not ban them, but regulate the circulation by allowing sales at authorized book shops only.

    About the stories, I like them if they are informative and well written. You can learn from other people's experiences, for example if they contracted a disease because of their sexual activities. But it also depends on how the story is written. It should not be written like in porn books."

    Priscilla, a youth counselor at a Christian church: There is nothing wrong with such pictures in the media as long as they can be categorized as art. I am more concerned with the sex stories. The publications are available at the market and to everyone, including adolescents who can easily buy them. As we know, there is a lack of sex education at school. Therefore, adolescents might want to have a try.

    But it is also good the media exposes things which are always forbidden. Now we know more about the dark side of life, which is also reality.

    In this era of globalization, I believe that such things can not be concealed any more. What is important is how the government, parents and teachers handle it. There should be proper sex education for young people, for example those at junior high schools.

    Alwi Nurdin, head of Jakarta's Ministry of Education and Culture office: In my opinion, one of the media's roles is to help provide something beneficial. If there's any media which reports improper things and sells it to the public, there will be a negative impact on students. They might read it. And we're really concerned about this.

    Sex education at school is covered by the biology lesson. I think there's no need to add sex education at schools yet. In biology, there are explanations on ovulation and other things.

    And it is also included in religious lessons about marriage. Besides, my office does not have the authority to decide. It's the central government which has the authority. But do we have to specially add sex education at schools? Even the word, sex, is already arousing.

    Nanik, an advertising executive: What is pornography? Pictures of naked men or women can be pornography or art, depending on how they are presented and what is the purpose of the presentation.

    I don't agree if the government bans any media on the grounds it is pornographic. It is good to have a wide variety of media. Let people pick their choice. To let people choose also means to educate them. What is important is that it should be the people who dictate the market, not the publishers.

    Siwi, 22, a private university student in Yogyakarta: I like reading this kind of media because the content is lighter and it does not need serious thinking.

    I even learn more about social realities that are considered 'dirty'. If we keep on thinking about politics, it makes us tired.

    Asroni, 16, a magazine vendor operating at traffic intersections in Yogyakarta: Selling this kind of media is easier and brings more profits than offering serious media publications.

    Only particular people will buy serious magazines or newspapers, but for these magazines, it looks like everyone likes it. (sim/ste)

    Jakarta Post
    04 July 1999

    Who draws the line between pornography and art?

    By T. Sima Gunawan

    JAKARTA (JP): A group of yuppies burst out of an office on the 12th floor of a building on Jl. Sudirman, Central Jakarta, headed for a leisurely lunch at a cafe downstairs.

    Over their meal, they talked about work and politics before turning to lighter topics, like new eateries in the city. Soon, they were engaged in a discussion on pornography in the media.

    A "newsmagazine" with a cover of a woman clad in a bikini was put on the table. Splashy headlines offered teasers on what lay inside, including tales of an official's "other woman" and "metropolitan freelance sex".

    "It's nice," a woman said of the cover. "She has a beautiful body."

    She shrugged as she flipped through the 104-page magazine. "It has titillating pictures and stories about sex, prostitution. But I don't think it is pornography. I have no problem with it."

    Another woman said: "If it graphically exposes the genitals or especially sexual intercourse, then you can call it pornography."

    None of the people, all in their 20s and 30s, objected to the suggestive photos in the magazine. They did not believe they exploited or dehumanized women, or treated them like objects.

    After all, the models agreed to have their photos taken, they said.

    Granted, there have never been any widely publicized reports of the coercion of models for glossy magazines in Indonesia. Many of the women are reportedly proud that their photos make it onto the country's newsstands.

    Chitra, director of Image Modeling Agency, acknowledges that there are aspiring models and entertainers who agree to be photographed naked or seminude in the hope of furthering their careers.

    "Some hope they will get a role in a sinetron (TV film), as promised by the photographer. This is not right. How can one build a career as an actress without talent?" said Chitra, whose husband Darwis Triadi is a noted photographer.

    "If the woman has a side job as a call girl, that is another case, and it all depends on the individual."

    Classifying a provocative photo as art or pornography depends greatly on the viewer's perspective, how the picture was taken and in which media it appears.

    "Art has no limit. It can be presented in nude pictures. But if you view it with a dirty mind, you may say it is pornography," Chitra said.

    Actress-model Sophia Latjuba, who was summoned late last month by the police as a witness in an investigation into obscene materials printed by Popular magazine, said she agreed to pose as though she were nude after considering all the risks.

    "I know that in this country nude photos and even seminude ones are still regarded as unethical, but I think it depends on how people see it, as art or not," she said.


    Feminist Myra Diarsi explained the phenomenon of erotic pictures in the media according to the idea of reward and punishment.

    Models will give the nod to the photos if the reward is greater than the punishment.

    "They know that they might be condemned by some people, but that is regarded as trivial compared to the reward," she said.

    If a model is paid well, she can share the money with her family. Posing in skimpy clothing becomes a small price to pay for her family's approval.

    She may use the money on expensive clothes and accessories, leading to recognition from society, also a form of reward, Myra said.

    And the ultimate gratification may be derived from the recognition of her attractiveness by those around her and society.

    "Patriarchy prevails among most of the people here. They enjoy looking at smooth skin, they feel amused. Most of us also accept this even though we do not say anything," Myra said.

    Picture this scenario: you are simmering with frustration in a traffic jam. Then a magazine vendor holds up an array of magazines with appealing photos of seminude women. Suddenly, all is fine with the world again.

    According to Myra's way thinking, you have just put yourself squarely in the ranks of the patriarchy.

    A patriarchal society is a male-dominated society, one that is marked by the supremacy of the males. Patriarchal views persist not only among men, but also women. It is a society in which men always set the standard, Myra said.

    Patriarchal societies are unlikely to object to eroticism, and may allow pornography.

    "As long as people enjoy it, as long as they still see women as objects, exploitation against women will continue and pornography will remain," Myra said.

    But what is pornography? "It is too difficult to give a definition of pornography because this will likely simplify the issue," she said. "What you call pornography depends on how you look at it."

    Each of holds individual views on where we draw the line between art and porn. Some of us may even wish to see those involved in suggestive photos prosecuted, such as women during an antiporn protest on Thursday who held up posters calling for Sophia Latjuba to be tried.

    Myra believes dealing with pornography is not as simple as ferreting out the producers or performers of the materials for punishment.

    "The public must be reeducated. The efforts to combat pornography should start with education at home. The media, especially television, should take a great role to educate people on how to view the relationship between men and women."

    She added that changing societal attitudes should also involve religion and the law.

    Another problem is that porn is big business. "There are many parts which gain benefit from the sale of pornographic media. There is the patriarchal capitalist interest in the industry."

    She said a "structural war" would be required to change patriarchal society, but it may take forever to do so. Feminist groups have repeatedly brought the issue before the government. One of the recommendations is the revision of elementary school textbooks which stereotype men and women and distort their relationship according to entrenched gender roles.

    "But the government has never responded to our input," Myra complained.

    The media, including mainstream enterprises and those who claim to be respectable publications, also are blamed for prevalent use of sexist language. Women are often described based on their physical attributes, even when it has nothing to do with the focus of the story. TV series also put women on a pedestal according to their physical attractiveness.

    Despite the lack of gender awareness in the society, Myra still holds hope for change.

    "I often give training on gender issues and receive positive responses from the participants." She added that marginalized members of society are more open to the idea for structural struggle against the patriarchy.

  • Copyright 1999 contact John Miller and Asia-Pacific Network. This document is for educational and research use. Please seek permission for publication.

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