Censorship still an issue

A new film and TV censorship regime took over in Indonesia last month, but it’s too early to say whether the change will usher in more liberal policies in a country that banned “Schindler’s List” and yanked “True Lies” 11 days after it premiered.

In this predominantly Islamic nation, censorship seems forever caught in a tug of war between progressive elements and those who insist the community should be “protected” from films and TV.

Last month, the Film Censorship Board (BSF) was replaced by the Film Censorship Institute, whose 45 members are drawn from a wider section of the community.

In a break from tradition, the new authority’s chairman is not a high-ranking official from the Information Ministry, the department that supervises mass media including TV and films. By this change, the government may be signaling that the censorship body is no longer a bureaucratic extension of the Ministry.

Yet some suspect the new regime is nothing more than a spruced up version of the old. Rather ominously, Information Minister Harmoko recently railed against on-screen portrayals of sex and violence.

Still, the harsh standards enforced two or three decades ago have been loosened.

The BSF, in fact, initially passed “Schindler’s List” on condition that “pornographic and sadistic scenes” be cut, causing an outcry. Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic was denounced by opponents, who had not seen it, as Jewish propaganda, so the BSF invited intellectuals and other public figures to preview the film, earning positive responses. But the row became more heated and the full board eventually nixed the film.

After “True Lies” opened last September, some Islamic groups complained about the portrayal of Arab terrorists in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s actioner as offensive to Islam. The board relented and ordered the curtain to come down on Oct. 1 – resulting in packed houses for the remaining shows.

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