Tuesday, March 06, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, March 6, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

The landmark television political satire News Dot Com, also known as Republik Mimpi (Republic of Dreams), is challenging the limit of freedom of expression in Indonesia amid increasing political pressure.

Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil said that the show, aired on television station Metro TV on Sunday nights, presents a negative political education for people.

He admitted that he had no authority to ban the weekly show, which has been given the new name of Kerajaan Mimpi (Kingdom of Dreams). However, he said that he was planning to lodge a complaint with the country's broadcasting commission.

The man behind the show, Effendi Gazali, said that members of Metro TV have thrown their unconditional support behind the show despite the recent pressure. However, last week the show's main sponsor, cigarette company HM Sampoerna, severed its contract, forcing producers to reconsider a planned roadshow to 10 major cities which was to be financed by the cigarette company.

However, Effendi was defiant. "Suryo Paloh said that as long as there is press freedom, the TV program should continue," he said during a recent telephone interview with The Jakarta Post.

Surya Paloh is the founder of Metro TV and is a senior member of the Golkar Party. Golkar is Indonesia's largest political party and is widely regarded as being the most influential party in the country. It is also the political vehicle of Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Effendi said that he was aware of the fact that the Democratic Party, the political party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was planning to file a complaint against the show. A group from the ethnic Chinese community has also complained that the show is a "character assassination" against the national leader.

The program features actors humorously portraying current and former national leaders such as former presidents Soeharto, B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri. Effendi said he believed there had been no complaints about the show from those portrayed.

Another satire co-produced by Effendi, Republik Benar Benar Mabok (Heavily Drunken Republic), was canceled by television station Indosiar due to political pressure. Jusuf Kalla had previously assured the shows producers that he was not offended by the program and that it offered an educational alternative to the public.

However, the management of Indosiar asked that the program be changed into a situational comedy with a pre-planned scenario, a move that Effendi refused. The show was thus discontinued in May, 2006, after 32 episodes and was replaced by Pengadilan BBM (BBM Court), a standard comedy in which Effendi was not involved.

Effendi continued his program "off air", conducting a roadshow to major cities in the country, receiving a warm welcome from the public.

Republik Mimpi, a similar program, went on air in August 2006 on Metro TV.

Effendi believes that political satires provide effective political education for people. He claims that a large cross-section of the public are enthusiastic about such programs, which often humorously challenge government policies.

Born on Dec. 5, 1966, in Padang, West Sumatra, Effendi is also an academic and intellectual, having graduated from the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Indonesia majoring in communications. He also holds master's degrees in communications from the University of Indonesia and Cornell University, U.S. as well as a PhD in political communications from Nijmegan University, the Netherlands.

Aside from his television commitments, he is also a lecturer in communications in the post-graduate program at the University of Indonesia.

His published scholarly works include The Suharto Regime and Its Fall Through The Eyes Of The Local Media in the International Journal For Communications Studies (2002) and Negotiating Public and Community Media In Post-Suharto Indonesia in the Journal of The European Institute For Communication and Culture (2003).

Effendi received an academic award from the University of Indonesia for his research publications in regional and international journals during the university's 54th anniversary in 2004.

During his student days, he formed the comedy group Ikatan Remaja Memble Aje (IRMA) with colleagues. The group made an appearance on television station TVRI in the 1980s.

Effendi also once worked as a journalist for tabloid Mingguan Bola and was assigned to cover the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

He regretted the fact that despite Indonesia embracing reform, press freedom is still constantly under threat.

Effendi said that presidential endorsement for the recruitment of members of the Press Council had taken too long. While he admitted to having no idea what was behind the delay, he said that in the future "the recruitment process should follow that of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission", which was conducted in a more transparent and effective manner.

Effendi quoted Thomas Jefferson in saying that if he was presented with two choices, "government without the press" or "the press without government", he would choose the latter.

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