Minister fails to find humor in political satire

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Members of the groundbreaking political satire Republik Mimpi (Republic of Dreams) defended themselves Friday from government efforts to pull the plug on the TV show.

Effendi Gazali, the brains behind Republik Mimpi, which is aired on Metro TV, dismissed accusations by Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil that the show represented a "negative political education" for people.

"None of the current and former leaders that we lampoon have ever said that they dislike it," Effendi told The Jakarta Post.

He added that the family of former president Soeharto said they were bemused by the show, and that former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid openly supported the show. Effendi also pointed out that the comics who portray former presidents B.J. Habibie and Megawati Soekarnoputri have appeared on other shows.

"So what's the fuss? Why doesn't the minister take care of television shows that promote violence and the supernatural, which are the true purveyors of bad taste," Effendi said.

Sofyan said he would likely file a complaint against Republik Mimpi, which features actors humorously portraying current and former leaders.

He told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with lawmakers that although his ministry could not ban the show outright, he still planned to file a complaint with the country's broadcasting body.

This is the second time a political satire has run foul of the authorities.

In June last year, Republik Benar Benar Mabuk (Drunken Republic) was taken off the air by television station Indosiar after complaints from government officials, who disliked the depiction of a fictitious president and vice president who resembled President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Republik Mimpi's troubles began last month when a group of people claiming to represent the ethnic Chinese community complained that the show was "unethical".

Earlier this week, the cigarette company that was the show's main sponsor severed its contract.

There has been speculation the company ended its relationship with Republik Mimpi after high-level political pressure.

Butet Kartaredjasa, the actor who portrays both Soeharto and Yudhoyono, said the show did not aim to embarrass political leaders.

"It's just like a cartoon strip in the newspaper," he was quoted as saying by Antara News agency.

Communications expert Ade Armando of the University of Indonesia said the current administration has given off worrying signs that it could move toward an active suppression of press freedom.

"At its outset, the New Order regime was also friendly toward the media. But as time went by, it began to show its true colors and started to stifle the press. We don't want this to happen again," Ade told the Post.
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