Kalla meeting puts fate of political satire show in doubt
M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post
Although TV airwaves are clogged with crassly produced crime programs, ghost-hunting "reality" shows and superficial soaps, one of the most original and witty examples of local programming could be yanked from the airwaves.
The future of late-night political satire Republik Benar Benar Mabok -- literally "drunken republic" -- on private TV station Indosiar is uncertain following a meeting of the owners of seven private TV stations and Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Saturday.
Kalla asked TV stations to reduce the graphic content of their crime shows, and did not allude to the satirical show, better known as Republik BBM for the acronym for fuel.
However, some of the other executives present used the opportunity to slam the show, claiming it crossed the line in poking fun at the country's leaders and went against local cultural norms.
Details of the meeting, including the chastened reaction of outnumbered Indosiar executives, were leaked to the public. News quickly circulated that Kalla ordered the program off the air, which he denied.
"We just talked about ethics in broadcasting. We did not touch on specific TV shows, including Republik BBM," Kalla was quoted by Antara as saying in the East Java town of Madiun.
The public could be forgiven for assuming that Kalla, as well as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, took offense at the show's regular lampooning of the leaders, down to their physical appearance and gestures.
The program has Republik BBM's president and vice president -- played with a heavy dose of gleeful irreverence by comedian Taufik Savalas and Yogyakarta-based comedian Kelik Pelipur Lara -- scrambling in their heavy-handed attempts to find ministers for their fictitious Cabinet.
The cast, guests and studio audience also get the chance to criticize the running of the state during the 90-minute program.
A host of politicians, including presidential spokesman Andi Alfian Mallarangeng, House Speaker Agung Laksono, People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid, government critic Amien Rais, have appeared on the show.
Cast and crew vowed to sit out the broadcast until there were assurances there would be no political or corporate pressure on their work. However, the program was broadcast Monday night with the regular cast.
Effendi Gazali of the University of Indonesia's Postgraduate Communication Program, a co-sponsor of the show, regretted efforts to stifle press freedom.
"TV programs can only be taken off the air by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) on the condition that we violated the broadcasting law," Gazali, who is also a regular guest on the show, told The Jakarta Post
Gazali said there would be no way to censor live skits, and the show would thus have to be taken off the air.
Indosiar spokesman Gufron Sakaril said Republik BBM would continue despite the controversy.
"It depends on our viewer's response," he told the Post.