Regulators often struggle to keep up with the speed of technological change. Two Indonesian television channels, Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia (RCTI) and iNews TV asked the Supreme Court for a judicial review of the country’s broadcasting law. According to the plea, the existing regulation only covers conventional broadcasters, like television and radio, and doesn’t include internet streaming services, such as YouTube and Netflix.
The claimants also wanted the court to have a look at the definition of “broadcaster,” stated in article 1 of the law, to include over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
Although the initial hearing had been conducted on June 22, it only stirred controversy on social media after the government, represented by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kemenkominfo), said that the appeal risks the public freedom to use streaming features available on social media platforms.
In a virtual hearing session on August 26, the director general of the Post and Information Technology Administration (PPI) Ahmad M. Ramli said that if approved, everyone would need to ask for permission before doing a livestreaming session, according to state-owned news agency Antara.
“If the definition of broadcasting will include activities such as Instagram TV, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Youtube Live, and other audiovisual content distribution on social media platforms, they [content creators] will be required to become licensed institutions,” he said, “That means we have to close them if they don’t apply for a permit first.”
This could curb creative expression and content creation on social media platforms which are very popular with Indonesians.
Creating a new law
Individuals or business entities who are livestreaming on said platforms without a permit could be arrested by law enforcers, as illegal broadcasting is a criminal offense under Indonesian law. Illegal broadcasters can be jailed for up to four years and fined IDR 1 billion (USD 68,000). Ramli added that it would be “impossible for state institutions, educational institutions, and individual content creators to meet the broadcasting licensing requirements.”
He admitted, however, that the country needs a more rigid regulation for OTT platforms, which are currently only ruled under Kemenkominfo’s circular letter (SE).
“We are still preparing a higher regulation than SE to cover it all,” he said. “At the time, the SE was issued to respond to the speedy development of OTT platforms in Indonesia, which took us all by surprise.” Instead of amending the broadcasting law, he suggested to create a separate law for OTT services.
‘We want equality’
RCTI and iNews TV quickly came under fire, and netizens accused the channels of being envious of the livestreamers’ popularity. They also became a trending topic on local Twitter, with more than 80,000 posts in a day, most of them negative.
In their defense, the channels said that the appeal was never about curbing freedom of expression and content creation, but for “equality and moral responsibility.”
“RCTI and iNews’ judicial review is motivated by the desire to create equal treatment and protection of YouTubers and “Selebgrams” (Instagram celebrities) and encourages them to grow in a modern environment,” said Christophorus Taufik, corporate legal director of MNC Group to local media Kumparan. MNC is the parent of both RCTI and iNews TV.
He added that the company is also pushing for an updated regulation for broadcasters, considering the development in the entertainment industry.
With the popularity of internet-based streaming services rising, the traditional Indonesian television industry has taken a hit. In 2019, several stations had to close their local bureaus and shut down programs, citing a drop in audience as the principal reason.