After built up curiousity, I spent the morning watching the newly launched Kompas TV. Although the station's broadcasting permit is still in question, it has begun airing since Friday, 9 September 2011. The argument stated by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) was that, "They don’t have a broadcasting license and there is a possibility that they could override the identities of local television stations that will carry their programs in the regions." Kompas TV's own argument is that it is not a broadcasting institution. Kompas Gramedia CEO claims that it is a content provider produced by KG Production, aired through a cooperation with local TV stations. The basis of the KPI's warning is the 2002 Broadcasting Law that mandates for all television stations to seize airing nationally; in the attempt to empower local economy, manpower, and the autonomy for each area to determine the cultural content of their television landscape.
I set aside the debate on the legality of Kompas TV's broadcasting permit and observed its content. The 'content provider' claims to steer clear from the general trend of soap operas, reality shows and infotainments in the attempt to provide 'quality TV programmes'. While the main validation behind the proliferation of these 'tabloid-type' shows are 'market demand', ideological TV producers claim that the popularity of such programmes are because the TV industry does not provide any alternative. Being a virtually free entertainment option in a country where the majority falls in the middle-lower class category of AGB Nielsen's audience classification (approximately 60%), any form of television content is consumed. It is less market demand, more 'because we had no other choice'.
My own early observation of Kompas TV's content is that it attempts to reconstruct a television space that includes local ethnic identity that has been marginalised by the TV industry's mode of producing 'least objectionable programmes'. Under the heading of their entertainment programmes are travel documentaries such as Tarung (which is hosted by young blogger turned celebrity comedian Raditya Dika who is also often involved in various social movements), talkshow 180 derajat (hosted by TV personality, music artist, writer, and nationalist Pandji Pragiwaksono) and edutainment programme Science is Fun (aiming to teach young audience physics through experiments)*.
Through the variation of alternative television programmes that is almost absent in other national television stations, I question the feasibility and purpose behind challenging whether or not Kompas TV undermines local identity. The current television landscape is already undermining local identity and to counter the dominance of Jakarta-centric programmes, one needs to employ market logic that is still virtually impossible to be done by local television stations. Having talked to young audiences in Denpasar and Banda Aceh, I realise that although they desire local content, their own taste is shaped by decades of consuming nationally-aired commercial television programmes. "I don't watch local TV because its quality is so poor. If local TV is presented as attractive as the content of national TV, I'd definitely choose local TV," said a Banda Aceh respondent.
In order to rearrange the television industry's competition scheme, there should ideally be an effective regulation. Eight years have passed since the 2002 Broadcasting Law on Network Television is issued and commercial television stations still air nationally. Discreet political economy is at work, and unless a strong player with strategic programming emerges, the competition will mainly remain the same - continually undermining local economy and cultural content. Kompas TV's programming demonstrates that it has plans to rearrange this competition by providing a variation of quality television shows that includes local identity. And if the notion that the popularity of soap operas, reality shows and infotainment is because there is no alternative programmes - free market will work and and the audience will choose programmes that are of their interest, not (only) the industry's.
However, even if this happens, several issues still remain. Firstly, shifting power from one holder to another, regardless of whether or not the ideology is in line with the public's needs and wants, remains undermining towards the autonomy of local actors. The television infrastructure remains centred in Jakarta. Secondly, Kompas Gramedia Group has become one of the, if not the, largest media conglomerate in Indonesia. In the spirit of diversity of content and diversity of ownership, an idea that tries to ensure democracy is upheld through maintaining the plurality of media content and ownership, the Commission for the Supervision of Business Competition (KPPU) is obliged to monitor that the group is not violating any regulation that is set to ensure healthy competition between media corporations. Thirdly, Kompas TV's own attempt to rearrange the content of Indonesia's television landscape questions the role of the state in listening to the public's demands and reconstruct Indonesia's Post Authoritarian collective identity. With various movements that undermine the authority of the nation-state, from violence in the name of religion to the virtual absence of East Indonesia in the country's dominant culture, national identity becomes a crucial issue to moderate potential conflicts and clashing views. Because if the state, whose officials are elected 'democratically' by the public, does not strategise - the industry will.
*I can't help but note that there is a void of religious programmes, which perhaps is Kompas TV's attempt of deradicalisation - also demonstrated by its newspaper.