Indonesian television industry hit a new nadir when they celebrated the release of child molester and bribery convict Saipul Jamil from prison this week, with several TV stations handing him special show in which he is treated like a superstar rather than a person who had molested at least two teens and bribed officials to have his sentence reduced.
These TV stations have just disregarded grave risks caused by their excessively cheery treatment of Saipul for the sake of gaining high rating. Many fears such a hot welcome would encourage pedophile actions, sending wrong message to the public that it’s great to commit a crime of molestation because when you get out of the prison people will treat you like a hero.
Also, such a welcome will give Saipul impression that what he has done not only tolerated but making people like him even more. Even before being sent to prison, he never got this kind of cheerful reception. So, if he could get away and become more popular with his action, why not repeat it?
We probably get ourselves a dangerous pedophile on the loose.
And then how about the feeling of Saipul’s victims and their families? They must have been extremely sad, disappointed and angry to see a person who raped them, and who molested their children received such welcome parties. They must have questioned themselves: Was what Saipul’s did to them a crime? Why do people welcome him like a hero?
But all of these concerns either never crossed the mind of the TV producers and directors, or they just ignored it altogether because what they considered was to attract viewers as many as possible, or increase their rating as they are facing stiff competition from internet, including streaming service company, such as Netflix. Less and less people are watching TVs nowadays when they can have freedom to watch whatever exciting programs or videos they like to watch online.
Saipul Jamil is one of the answers the TV stations are seeking.
Even before his release from prison, TV stations have been building up Saipul’s image as Bang Ipul, a funny, entertaining and devoted Muslims, a characterization sitting well with many Indonesian housewives. Even when proven he was molesting children, TV stations seems to portray him as loveable person, and thanks to this TV’s entertainment news many housewives seem to consider him a victim of slender rather than a perpetrator of molestation.
So, his release has been conditioned, waited and anticipated by TV stations as a big attraction, capable of boosting their rating.
So, why these TV stations are so desperate and badly in need of Saipul Jamil despite all the risks? Why don’t they make quality shows and programs capable of increasing their rating?
The answers are creativity and money, or to be precise, they lack both of them.
Ever since big businesses enter the media industry and acquired TV stations, the ownership of the TV stations began to concentrate on the hands of few tycoons. As such, the quality of the shows and TV started to drop gradually although previously TV stations were not famous for their programs also, but a number of programs were still watchable.
These tycoons see their investment in the media as average business, just like their businesses in any other industry. They have spent a lot of money to acquire the TV stations, and they have been very tight in making more spending, while pushing for profits and return of their investment as quickly as possible.
Creating quality programs could cost a lot, with no guarantee of high rating. One episode of Sinetron or variety show will cost between Rp 250 million (US$17,000) to Rp 750 million. So, a 10-episode TV series will cost at least Rp 2.5 billion.
However, money alone is not enough. Indonesia urgently needs talents who can come up with fresh and creative ideas. Judging from the TV programs so far, the country has few of it, if any.
While TV or any other mass media are owned privately, they serve the public. Their contents immensely influence millions of people. Different from other business, media owner must have some responsibility to the public even though their outputs are not news.
As most of the tycoons, if not all of them, consider media business similar to any of their other business, they care less of what content their TV stations produce as long as they are high-rating programs, which will attract advertisement.
These factors probably explain why directors and producers of the TV stations disregard the risks of presenting Saipul Jamil as a hero in their shows.
Another factor that complicates the problems is that the TV stations are getting politicized as their owners enter the politics directly by running for public office, or are appointed for public office, or indirectly supporting politicians running for office.
In many occasions, this politicization paralyzes the capability of TV station to create quality programs as their resources and time are tied to the political interests of the owners. There are cases as examples of how the TV stations are doing political activities that they forget their responsibilities to the public.
If these are the explanations, then TV stations could only be getting better and avoid brouhaha, such as Saipul’s hero characterization, if the tycoons, who own the stations, could realize the importance of their stations to Indonesian people, and demand their directors, managers and producers to create programs and shows that can both educate and entertain the public at the same time.
We can only hope that the tycoons, as an Indonesian and human being, can give more priority to the interests of the public aside from seeking profits.