TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE House of Representatives` (DPR) failure to pass the broadcasting bill last week is regrettable. This Revision to Law No. 32/2002 ought to have been ratified at the DPR Plenary Session, but was instead quietly pulled out without much explanation. Hence, the effort to push the broadcasting world into the digital era- one which is more democratic and sides with the public interest- has failed, at least for now.
The DPR Information and Communications Commission actually discussed the draft revisions to the Law since two years ago. At that time, parliamentarians enthusiastically welcomed President Joko Widodo’s promise to reorganize the ownership of broadcasting frequencies which is fraught with monopolies. With great aplomb, this planned revision was included in his Nawa Cita document, which was Jokowi’s formal political commitment to the public when he was elected president.
The process of formulating the draft revision went smoothly through the Information Commission but stalled in the DPR’s Legislative Body. It insisted on changing the substance of the draft revisions already agreed on within the commission. This tug-of-war has led to the stagnation of the bill ratification.
The fierce debate involves only one article about the system of frequencies management used once all the television stations have migrated to digital. Several fractions wanted the management of digital frequencies to remain in one hand, i.e., The Public Broadcasting Agency (LPP) of the Republic of Indonesia for Radio and Television (RTRI). This new body is the result of a merger of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) and Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI). The corresponding model is known as a single mux. Other fractions, however, demanded that the digital frequency management authority be shared among several parties, or multi-mux.
After a lengthy debate, the Information Commission’s position homed in on the single mux model. Its philosophy was simple: the state’s role as the owner of the frequencies could be delegated to the RTRI as the public broadcasting agency. Discussions should have concluded there since it already reflected the positions of all the fractions within the commission. Oddly enough, the Legislative Body instead dismissed that agreement. After another round of voting strengthened the position of those supporting the single mux, its opponents maneuvered to ensure the meeting failed to achieve a quorum.
It is no secret that the Indonesian Association of Private Television Broadcasters, whose members run the national television station networks, has intensively lobbied the members of parliament to opt for the multi-mux model. They claimed RTRI’s control of digital frequencies would be a form of business monopoly with the potential to do away with legal certainty for the national private sector television industry.
That concern is really baseless. The unilateral cancelation of a broadcasting frequency license without any clear reason would not be possible under any circumstances. The Broadcasting Law could include a mechanism to test every decision on this transparently through the courts. Apart from that, any objections about ‘the potential for a monopoly’ when currently the control of broadcasting frequencies lie solely in the hands of those running the national television stations- sounds ludicrous. It is now time for television station owners to realize that frequencies are a public asset that cannot be permanently acquired.
Having digitalization of broadcasting under a single mux system will be a golden opportunity to reset the clock of history and to return authority for the management of frequencies to the State, as it should be from the beginning.
Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine