Is film censorship a moral responsibility? The head of Indonesia’s Film Censorship Board on what it does and why.
Mar 06, 2019 | Gilang Ardana and Peter Sean Lie
Film censorship is a touchy subject nearly everywhere, with issues of free expression often juxtaposed against protecting social norms, morality and cultural sensibilities.
These days, Indonesians are more exposed to imported films, especially Hollywood ones. Their marketing and promotional efforts are more intense compared to our local films. However, as the Hollywood movies are created for global audience, they often do not take into account the social, moral and cultural sensibilities of a place like Indonesia. That is where the Indonesian Film Censorship Board, or LembagaSensor Film(LSF), comes in, seeing itself as the protector of the people from the possible negative impact of Hollywood films.
To understand better the function of film censorship, AmCham Indonesia reached out to the censorship board, an independent body with the responsibility for screening and approving movies – both local and foreign – shown in Indonesia. Its head, Ahmad Yani Basuki, sat down to provide more clarity regarding film censorship.
AmCham Indonesia: Why do we need the Indonesian Film Censorship Board?
Every nation has its own rules and standards. It is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens from negative impacts. We see that films have the potential to have a negative impact on citizens. This [censorship] is necessary because the level of education and maturity of Indonesian citizens is still low, thus censorship of films is important. Other than giving protection to Indonesian citizens, film censorship also provides legal protection and certainty to the films.
Film has a strategic value for the life of the people and censorship has been in Indonesia for about a century, since the Dutch occupation. This shows that every nation has its own interest in film censorship. The Dutch did not want films that could possibly disturb their existence in Indonesia, so they only allowed films that showed the Dutch as a great power. The same with the Japanese when they invaded Indonesia. Their film censorship had a purpose to glorify Japan.
When our country first got its independence, film censorship was very strict, and the interest was to show films that gave a sense of nationalism and patriotism. The Film Censorship Agency was highly controlled by the government at that time. Eventually, Law No. 33 of 2009 made the Indonesian Film Censorship Boardan independent institution, but still responsible to the president through the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Other than protecting Indonesian citizens from the potential harm of films, the Board also has a responsibility to support the development of the film industry in Indonesia. We have a vision that films can give not only entertainment, but can also build character, provide knowledge and enhance cultural values.
Do you deal only with films?
In the Law, film is defined as cultural art made based on cinematography and shown to the public. This means that films, TV shows, and other forms of shows with cinematographic production are included in the censorship. However, the censorship standard in theaters and TV differs because the audiences are different.
What are the indicators for censoring a film? Do you involve the filmmakers in the censoring process?
In the censorship process, we look at all aspects of the film, including the title, theme, scenes, dialogue and sound. We forbid films that contain pornographic images, SARA [the Indonesian acronym referring to the use of ethnic group, race and religion to sow discord], triggering violations of the law, promoting drug abuse and undermining human rights. However, sometimes we need to adjust the censorship to the context and theme of the film. If the film is about a bank heist, then it obviously contains aspects that show violations of the law, and we cannot automatically ban the film. Everything needs to be put in perspective. However, ultimately all films also need to be classified based on age. Films about bank heists are, of course, not suitable for all ages.
The censoring process itself is very strict, and only chosen people who have taken an oath can be involved in the censoring room. Even our staff cannot enter the censoring room. However, once the censoring process is done, we try to be open to discussion with the filmmakers. If we find some parts of scenes need to be cut, we give them back to the filmmakers to determine whether to revise and follow our suggestions. For example, a filmmaker wants his/her film to be rated PG-13, but there are some R-rated scenes in the film. So we give suggestions to cut some of these scenes so the film can achieve a PG-13 rating. But if the filmmakers think those scenes are crucial to explain the whole story of the film, then we will give an R-rating to the film and the filmmaker should accept that.
Another example is if a filmmaker wants to describe a society where Christians and Muslims live in harmony and peace. The scene involves a Muslim funeral attended by some Christians who are also praying for the dead Muslim. This is a description of a harmonious pluralistic society. But [some] Muslims cannot accept this because a Muslim funeral should be done in the Muslim way and with Muslim prayers. Showing this movie could trigger unwanted rage and protests. This is why we need film censorship. We try to not only protect our watchers, but also the filmmakers.
We try our best not to completely ban a film because we understand how costly film production is. However, if the film is extremely pornographic, or it contains elements that can divide our national unity, then there is no choice other than banning the film.
What about films that show in Indonesia without going through censorship process? Do you have the authority to take action on this?
According to the law, there are sanctions for filmmakers who distribute their films without being censored. But today, in the digital era, platforms to enjoy films and TV are varied. Right now, online platforms headquartered abroad are showing films without our censorship, but Indonesian citizens are enjoying them because they have Internet access. Currently,it is out of our jurisdiction to take action on these foreign companies. This issue has been discussed within the government, particularly the Ministry of Communication and Informatics. However, there have been improvements. YouTube, for example, has given age and location restrictions to some of its content, resulting in some videos not being able to be viewed in Indonesia. Some filmmakers who distribute their films through online platforms also have taken the initiative to come to us and ask for censorship. The awareness among filmmakers is increasing, fortunately.
So, what’s the plan on this? What’s LSF take on this issue?
In the future, we still don't actually know how to deal with millions of films on online platforms. The discussion is still ongoing, and the answers cannot come only from us. But, according to the legal framework, every piece of content made with the cinematographic process and distributed to the people of Indonesia needs to be censored. The law has said so, and if we find a way to take action on the online platforms, then we must carry out our duties.If the law said that we need to censor millions of contents on online platforms, LSF will do so. We’ll expand our censorship crews and staff if we need to. It is only a matter of our resources, capabilities, and the state budget given to us. Actually it has been a discussion to expand LSF’s presence regionally because of the growing need to censor films produced by provinces. We have opened our first branch office in East Java on 2017, and we’ll continue to expand our wings if we need to.
Alternatively, even though we do not have jurisdiction over these online platforms showing uncensored films, we have a program to educate people to pick and choose films that are suitable for themselves. Firstly, they need to see whether the films have been censored or not. Second, people need to look at the age classification and rating. By this, we hope that the harm done by films can be minimized
There’s still some confusion on the role of LSF and KPI. Can you explain it? What is the relationship between LSF and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI)?
The underlying difference between us andthe KPI is that we have the responsibility to censor before the film is released and give an age classification, and the KPI has the responsibility to monitor films, TV shows, and other content that are already showing on broadcasting devices such as TV and radio. If a film is broadcast on TV, then it is also the responsibility of KPI to monitor the film. But before the film enters TV, it needs to go through our censorship. It should be noted that censorship standards in theaters and TV are different. However, the blurring censorship [of images or parts of images] that you see on TV is not done by KPI, but by the TV stations themselves, following KPI guidelines or the concerns of viewers. TV viewership is broader, and kids have more access to TV than theaters. That's why parents are more concerned about content on TV. So in order to avoid protest, the TV stations take the initiative to blur some scenes.