No satire please, we're Indonesian

The Jakarta Post
22 June 2006

Harry Bhaskara, Jakarta

As World Cup fever hits new heights, a popular television show has been put off the air. The Republik BBM, or Benar Benar Mabok (Truly Drunken Republic), a popular political comedy broadcast every week for six months, quietly disappeared last week.

The high rating show, which poked fun at the political elite, including the President and the Vice President, had been under attack for some time. BBM was unprecedented in a society whose leadership was known to be averse to criticism.

During Soeharto's repressive New Order government, newspapers presented criticism in subtle ways, with readers gaining skills in reading between the lines. Direct criticism was unheard of, and imitating the way Soeharto spoke was the last thing a comedian would do.

Thus, the sight of comedians mimicking the gestures and ways of speech of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla on a television show every Monday night was a radical transformation.

Former New Order officials must have chuckled. It would have been easy for them to ban such a show. Using the popular excuse of "incompatibility" with our "Eastern culture", a show could be taken off the air. Or they could simply stop the show without explanation, as happened to Perspektif, a highly original and intelligent television talk show launched in 1994.

Perspektif, hosted by popular public commentator Wimar Witoelar, disappeared under dubious circumstances. The public could only guess the government was irked by an interview with the late Mochtar Lubis, in which he shot a string of stinging criticisms at the Information Ministry.

The reason behind the termination of Republik BBM is also not very clear but it has been openly discussed. The Indosiar private broadcaster said the cast and the crew of the show needed a break to watch the World Cup. It was an interesting explanation. Does a broadcaster cater more to their crews than their viewers? It also said it had finished its contract of 26 episodes on June 5.

"It is up to them (the show's creative team) if they want to find a new station to broadcast the show in the future," Indosiar spokesman Ghufron Sakaril told this paper earlier this month. It was a clear sign that the broadcaster was not interested in airing future episodes of the show.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who was earlier said to be wary of the show, denied he had ordered it off the air. On April 7, the cast of the show was invited to Kalla's office. A co-producer of the show, Effendi Gazali, said Indosiar had issued a list of "dos and don'ts" after the meeting.

Interestingly, a number of private TV owners also slammed the show in a meeting with Kalla in April. It was not clear if the criticism was motivated by a marketing war or was an effort to win Kalla's favor.

Public criticism has had something of a renaissance in the aftermath of Soeharto's fall in 1998, and is an essential element in a democracy. However, the short-lived show serves as a reminder criticizing the holders of power can be a little hard for some people to chew.

Nonetheless, the show helped demystify the presidential institution, which had turned into something approaching a monarch under Soeharto. The awkward response from Indosiar notwithstanding, it still deserves kudos. Such a show can only survive in a country with mature leaders who understand they are accountable to the people and their lives will always be under public scrutiny.

Our politicians have a steep hill to climb and the people must have patience. They have yet to learn to rightly report their wealth before serving the people, something they do now with some reluctance. For the time being, it is perhaps better to enjoy the World Cup and pretend everything is fine with the country.

The author is a staff writer of The Jakarta Post. He can be reached at

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  1. From Lukidjan tea on 23 June 2006 08:24:45 WIB
    So, gone is BBM.
    Apparently, we tolerate -or even like- criticism on our leaders, which is "a conditio sine qua non" for a democracy, only if we are NOT the leaders.
    As far as I know, Gus Dur is the only President who "forgave" a public entertainer (Mi'ing) fot imitating his physical short-sightedness.
    I was just waiting -before the BBM was closed- for it to happen and for the reason given.
    Well, it has happened now, and the reason is acceptable, which is not "demokrasi terpimpin".
    Of course not (stated)
    Go on trying, please !
    And do not give up.
  2. From gagahput3ra on 27 June 2006 10:43:30 WIB
    Apparently, indosiar was cowardly scared to the government. In the interview with the Republik BBM cast & crew at the Kick Andy (Metro TV), Jusuf Kalla doesn't said that he's fine with all the satire, but it's ok. The only theory that made up in my mind is Kalla might be pushing Indosiar to put Republik BBM off the air.
  3. From Pengamat on 07 July 2006 04:21:40 WIB
    Sebetulnya pengamat mengharapkan kebih banyak komentar mengenai ini, karena sangat menyinggung sendi hidup demokrasi;
    Tidak terlalu canggih cara censhorship ini: bikin takut saja sponsornya atau pemancarnya atau korannya.
    Ada pendapat lain ?

  4. From dmitri on 10 July 2006 15:47:25 WIB
    wah, namanya juga freedom. kalau kita seorang pemimpin memilih untuk menekan aparat/sponsor atau entity lainnya yang mendukung keberadaan program seperti BBM, ya sah sah aja... itu kan sebebas kita memilih untuk membuat program BBM.

    yang perlu disayangkan adalah: kok enggak ada orang sangar yang berani ngocol sama orang 'sangar' lainnya, yang kebetulan secara rakyat indonesia kepleset, terpilih jadi sosok pimpinan di pemerintahan. justru saling koalisi. sungguh bersyukur saya tidak ikut nyoblos, dan besar harapan negeri ini berdisintegrasi, karena saya termasuk orang-orang yang lebih terbiasa hidup dalam chaos. untuk perasaan itu, saya ucapkan terima kasih kepada pemerintah.

    ah, kalau dipikir2, negara mana sih sekarang yang berdemokrasi dengan benar? kan masih yang paling kuat jualan yang menang. yah, seperti sebuah negara komunis, tapi tanpa doktrin komunisnya.

    ibarat kapal laut yang keliling dunia, akhirnya nongol ditempat semula juga. ibarat monyet berevolusi, belum hilang bulu sudah merasa jadi manusia. itulah NKRI.
  5. From diansocool on 13 July 2006 09:42:50 WIB
    I think satire and sarcasm is fun, I often use it in daily conversation and jokes but the result is most of my friends think of me as a harsh/insensitive person hehe...

    Republik BBM is one of my fave show, late night show often the best show as in daytime we only got infotainment and's a shame they're off the air.
  6. From ilyas on 09 October 2006 12:37:28 WIB
    gambarnya mirip banget sama aslinya

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