TVRI attempts to get with the times as a public broadcaster

Hera Diani and Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Bandung

Before the first private television station aired in 1989, state-run Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI) was alone in beaming contemporary pop culture into millions of homes across the archipelago.

Despite the blatant propaganda of its news broadcasts and often amateurish locally produced programs, Indonesians also had their fill of foreign fare such as The Brady Bunch, Dynasty and Highway to Heaven.

Today, with 12 private TV stations offering more slickly produced programming, it often seems that TVRI remains in a time warp of old-fashioned, homey broadcasting.

That could change, with the appointing new executives at its helm and officially changing its status from a state-owned company to public TV, like the BBC, NHK and ABS, on its 44th founding anniversary Thursday.

According to Ignatius Haryanto of the Institute for Press and Development Studies (LSPP), TVRI can be fully supported by the government without being its mouthpiece.

"Formerly, the status was unclear, because the government was only partially financing the station. But it's often been used by the government for its own interests," he said.

"The shift is good because there is a need for a television station which does not merely think of commercial aspects."

Broadcasting advertisements, he added, was not a problem as long as they did not interfere with programs. TVRI, which banned commercials in the 1980s, recently changed its policy to allow them.

However, controversy greeted Thursday's appointments of the station's main executives. Legislators questioned the choice of Maj. Gen. (Ret.) I Gde Nyoman Arsana as TVRI's director because he is an executive of Vice President Jusuf Kalla's party, Golkar, the political machine that supported dictator Soeharto during most of his 32-year rule.

The new program and news director is Rully Charmeianto Iswachyudi, a former Metro TV journalist who is also from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's think tank Blora Center and an editor at Jurnal Nasional daily. The latter is also said to be financed by Yudhoyono.

Communications and Information Minister Sofyan A. Djalil denied Friday there was any political intervention in their selection, because they were named by TVRI's board of supervisors that was appointed by the House of Representatives.

"They have been through a fit and proper test, so I guess there wouldn't be a problem... If there was such a thing as politics, I'm not aware of that," he said in Bandung.

He said the vacancy for directors was advertised in national newspapers. The Economics Department of the Management Institute at the University of Indonesia narrowed the 275 candidates down to 18.

"I only suggested to them to choose the most professional and most qualified candidate who can benefit the public," Sofyan said, vowing that TVRI would remain neutral and independent with monitoring by the House.

Ignatius said the biggest task ahead for TVRI was to allocate programming that accommodated the country's cultural diversity.

"The challenge is to provide room for cultural expression, to reflect the rich diversity, including for minority groups and indigenous tribes. The BBC, for instance, has Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai sections," he said.

"It is certainly not an easy task. And the other question is, does government have the money to support such programs?"

Sofyan said every citizen was a stakeholder in the station, and it would be supported by public funds and advertisements.
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