JAKARTA (Reuters) - Days after a long-running Indonesian television comedy aired last month, its producers got a letter from the broadcast commission warning that a male character in the show was “dressed and behaving like a woman” and could violate broadcasting standards.
“We evaluated the show...we immediately reminded our staff to be careful because we are minimizing LGBT content on our network,” said Anita Wulandari Prasojo, head of marketing and public relations at Trans7, the private television station that aired the show “Opera van Java” last month.
She may have to do more than that in the future. Indonesia’s parliament is considering national legislation that would ban lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) content from TV screens by the end of the year.
The draft bill, which Reuters reviewed, would revise the broadcasting law to scrub content with “LGBT behavior”. Broadcasts and advertisements that show “lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior” would be banned. It does not explicitly define “LGBT behavior”.
Lawmakers told Reuters the ban could include dramas with gay characters, traditional folk or comedic performances with cross-dressing or “effeminate” men, and broadcasts advocating LGBT rights.
It would be the latest measure targeting the LGBT community in a rising tide of hostility in the world’s third-largest democracy.
Indonesian police last week briefly detained 51 people, including eight foreigners, at a “gay spa” in Jakarta, one of several raids targeting the LGBT community.
“LGBT is not criminal, but if it enters the public sphere, if it’s broadcast to the public, then of course it must be regulated,” said Bobby Rizaldi, a member of parliament involved in drafting the law.
Another MP, Hanafi Rais, said “LGBT is an abnormality”.
“It is destructive for our younger generations. If the content has no educational qualities, and is only for commercial or advertising purposes, then we must reject it,” Hanafi said.
If the content was aimed at “fixing the abnormality”, then it would be allowed, he added.
The United Nations human rights office on Friday condemned anti-gay crackdowns in Indonesia, Egypt, and Azerbaijan.
“Arresting or detaining people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is by definition arbitrary and violates international law,” UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news briefing.
In May, police detained 141 men at another gay sauna, and reportedly strip-searched them before marching them almost naked from the venue into police vehicles. Photos were then shared on social media in what activists considered an abuse of power and violation of privacy.
Police have used a controversial anti-pornography law that outlaws any physical display of sexual relations to justify the raids. Activists say the law is too sweeping and can be abused to target the LGBT minority.
Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, except in the ultra-conservative Aceh province which enforces Islamic law.
Programs like ‘Opera van Java’, are a regular fixture on Indonesian TV. Drawing on Indonesia’s traditional performance arts and folk tales, they often depict transgender and transvestite characters.
The transgender community, known locally as ‘waria’ - a contraction of the Indonesian words for woman and man - is largely accepted in most parts of the country.
The entertainment industry fears the proposed broadcasting restrictions could end up further discriminating against the LGBT community.
“This is a serious issue that can impact our industry because it will stifle creativity,” said Nanda Persada, head of the Indonesian Association of Managers for Artists.
“LGBT artists have had to adjust their behavior to avoid sanction. They can’t be as expressive,” he said. Artists have been told in programming meetings at private TV stations not to be “over the top” and scripts have had to be rewritten, Persada said.
Prominent gay rights activist Dede Oetomo said the draft law was misinformed. It did not take into account local cultures where transgender people are an accepted part of society in which traditional performances, based on ancient myths, can feature transgender characters.
“It just shows the ruling elite has lost touch with our traditions,” Oetomo said. “It’s already difficult to be LGBT here. ..but in the long run, we will continue to protest and fight,” he said.
The draft legislation, put forward by the commission on information, is pending approval from a plenary session of parliament later this year.
Editing by Bill Tarrant