Illustrated by Diniella Putirani
Illustrated by Diniella Putirani
License for Domination
Indonesia's ten nationally broadcasting private TV stations are currently undergoing their first broadcasting license renewal. The process was poorly executed and lacks transparency.
License for Domination
Indonesia's ten nationally broadcasting private TV stations are currently undergoing their first broadcasting license renewal. The process was poorly executed and lacks transparency.

“The meeting’s closed for the public, Mas,” said the security guard who greeted Remotivi in the lobby of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) on Wednesday the 1st of June. The KPI was holding a meeting with television broadcasters to evaluate their proposal for broadcasting license renewal.

Part of the meeting’s purpose was to create letters of recommendation. The letters form the principal basis on which the Ministry of Communication and Information (Kemenkominfo) will decide whether to grant broadcasting license renewal due to expire in 2016.

Indonesia’s TV broadcast licensing system today is part of a major decentralization project. The Broadcast Act of 1997 was the first to limit private broadcaster license terms to ten years. Previously, the licenses of private broadcasters, which began growing in popularity in 1989, were not limited by time. Revisions to the Act in 2002 installed the KPI as one of the agencies managing broadcast licensing, alongside with the Government.

This step marked the transition from the broadcasting model of the centralized New Order towards democratic reforms. The KPI was designed to regulate the broadcasting industry with the public interest at heart. While the Indonesian Government has the authority to grant broadcasting licenses, it cannot do so without the KPI’s recommendation. The process for extending a broadcaster’s license must therefore first include a “feasibility evaluation” of the broadcaster based on its past ten years, and its expected next ten years of performance.

This current regulatory model is certainly not without its critics. On the 31st of May, the day before its internal meeting, the KPI met with a number of members of the National Coalition for Broadcasting Reform (KNRP) following public outcry over the KPI’s Evaluasi Dengar Pendapat (EDP – Hearing Evaluation).

The criticism generally boiled down to one main issue: the KPI didn’t have sufficient data to evaluate each broadcaster’s past performance, relying instead on the subjective evaluation of each commissioner.

The meeting with the KNRP brought forth a spate of issues for the KPI. It was revealed that the KPI had not finished compiling the required data. This was surprising not only because of the significance of the renewal process, but also because the renewal date is set ten years in advance. The current commission, elected in 2013, had more than two years to prepare for the occasion.

Furthermore, the KPI also said they would be addressing shortcomings of the EDP process the following day, in meetings with the broadcasters whose licenses were up for renewal. Can we really expect that they prepared all of the relevant data in just one night? The question was answered behind closed doors.

The Birth of a Tragedy

The origin of private television licensing in Indonesia is the same origin as that of every soap opera in the country: it concerns family and colleagues. Five private television stations that received licenses under the New Order—and which are still broadcasting today—were originally owned by family members and cronies of Suharto, the President of the New Order regime.

The Suharto era of broadcast regulation created problems that have slowly festered into today’s chaotic broadcasting situation. When RCTI (Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia), a station owned by Suharto’s son Bambang, first aired in 1989, it secured a license as a Limited Broadcasting Channel. The station is only permitted to broadcast locally in Jakarta. This licensing model mimicked that of several other countries, where TV stations had to be affiliated or establish themselves at a local level if they wished to broadcast outside their territory. It was a system that in Indonesia was applied to TVRI (Televisi Republik Indonesia), which had a parent and local network, as well as private television stations that were set up afterwards, such as SCTV.

This rule was changed, however, when another of Suharto’s children, Tutut, founded TPI (Televisi Pendidikan Indonesia – Indonesian Education Television) in 1990. Because TPI was deemed “national”, it was allowed to borrow the transmission infrastructure of TVRI and thus broadcast nationally. This changed the game considerably. Many private broadcasters considered the Government’s policy towards TPI to be unjustly benevolent, as it allowed TPI to advertise to a national audience, where other networks were not.

In 1993 the Ministry of Information changed the licenses of all private networks to become “Saluran Siaran Umum” (Public Broadcasting Channels), allowing them to broadcast nationally. New licenses were given to AnTeve (owned by Aburizal Bakrie, a Golkar party cadre and businessman close to Suharto), and Indosiar (owned by the Salim Group, also closely tied to Suharto). Once the country’s private networks were allowed to broadcast nationally, they closed their regional operations (such as SCTV in Surabaya and AnTeve in Lampung) and moved to Jakarta, as they were no longer obliged to produce local content (Armanda, 2011: 129).

The 1997 Broadcasting Act gave greater legitimacy to this new centralisation by determining that private stations were allowed to broadcast to up to 50% of Indonesia’s territory. Although claiming to be in the interests of “equalization of information and national unity”, this rule instead caused even more economic and information inequality.

With this rule, labor increasingly came from Jakarta, where stations were based. Private television networks were given free reign to turn vast swaths (up to 50%) of Indonesia’s territory into a captive market for advertisement, and revenue thus flowed back to central offices in Jakarta.

This also created inequality of information. With the new priority on advertising dollars, television content was increasingly determined by advertisers looking to maximize revenue. Television rating agency also contributed to the problem. In order to earn advertising revenue, TV stations had to boost ratings, achieved by responding to the tastes of large groups of consumers in big cities. At that point in time, AGB Nielsen had just 2,200 rating panels in 11 major cities in Indonesia, despite there being 27 provinces at the time and many other cities in the country. A large part of the population was thus not represented in ratings figures.

The fall of the New Order in 1998 was predicted as a moment of democratization. In the television industry, this was marked by the 2002 Broadcast Act, which aimed to decentralize the industry and break up geographical concentrations of power by altering broadcasting licenses.

But such decentralization was hobbled by the contradictions inherent in the country’s broadcasting system (Armando, 2011) and the fact that the Government did not monitor implementation of the Act. What occurred instead was a strengthening of the cultural and economic hegemony of Jakarta—and Java in general—over Indonesia.

The number of national private television broadcasters increased by 100%—from five stations in 1998, to ten stations in 1999. Simultaneously, ownership was increasingly concentrated in the hands of five national media conglomerates, which had fingers in multiple print, radio and online media pies. The end of the 20th century saw Indonesia’s television industry concentrate itself geographically, and the beginning of 21st century saw it concentrate in the hands of a few oligarchs.

The 2002 Broadcasting Act indeed aimed to break this concentration of capital, by limiting entities to a maximum of two broadcasting permits. But there were still gaps in the rules. Article 18 of the Act read: “Concentration of ownership and control of private broadcasting institutions by one person or legal entity, either in one or in several broadcast areas, is limited.” Using the stock market to acquire licenses through subsidiaries, as mogul Harry Tanoe did, was one way around this rule. In the Broadcasting Act, specific restrictions on indirect ownership were only applied to cross-media ownership (i.e. across television, newspaper and radio). This gap in the rules has produced today’s concentrated media ownership.

The First Evaluation, the Second Defeat

By  simple maths, the previous license renewal process was supposed to have occurred in 2006. Interestingly though, there was no renewal process in 2006, as it was a transition period from the broadcasting regulations of the New Order to those of the Reformation. The 1997 Broadcast Act was updated in 2002, so what occurred in 2006 was instead a “license adjustment” initiated by the then Minister of Communication and Information, Sofyan Jalil. In Ministerial Decree number 17 of 2006, Minister Jalil essentially granted national private television broadcasters nearly 20 years of renewal-free broadcasting licenses by setting 2006 as the new starting point for the ten year licensing period.

“Adjusting” a broadcaster’s licensing period, it turns out, is a very easy process. Broadcasters need only provide administrative papers and pay their licensing fees. Restrictions on ownership and broadcasting regions, two of the promising aspects of the Broadcast Act, have been corrupted by the implementation of these subsequent rule changes—the very rule that aims to enact them.

The 2016 license renewal process sees history repeating itself: first as tragedy, then as comedy. Over seven days, the KPI conducted the evaluation process by calling a range “experts” (a large number of whom were not broadcasting experts) and television industry figures, and opening up to the public (the invitation was not publicized however, and very few members of the public attended). When the members of the public that did attend criticized the evaluation process, the KPI took matters behind closed doors.

The evaluation process didn’t strike at the heart of the structural problems that continue to plague the Indonesian broadcasting industry. The KPI’s carefully staged process instead reaffirms the domination that large media conglomerates have over the national broadcasting.

This is rather ironic. The KPI was originally created to encourage public interest in the regulation of the broadcasting industry and limit the dominance of big corporations. In reality, though, many wonder: can it be guaranteed that these corporations have not influenced the KPI itself? []


Agung, Mumpuni (2011) Implementasi Regulasi Kepemilikan dan Isi Siaran Sistem Stasiun Jaringan SUN TV Network. Masters thesis, Master Program in Communication Science Universitas Diponegoro.

Armando, Ade (2011). Televisi Jakarta di Atas Indonesia: Kisah Sistem Televisi Berjaringan di Indonesia. Jakarta: Mizan

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Yovantra Arief

A writer. Also serves as an editor at Indonesian leftist online publication, IndoPROGRESS.

Jaime Berrill (Translator)
Jaime graduated from The University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications). He studied bahasa Indonesia at the University of Indonesia. He currently lives in Melbourne. 
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