Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 23 January 2006 1025 hrs
Indonesian Playboy triggers furore among conservative Muslims
JAKARTA, Jan 22, 2006 : Conservative Indonesians are furious about the planned debut of a local edition of raunchy magazine Playboy, fuelling a growing debate on pornography in the world's largest Islamic nation.
The local publisher has promised that it will dramatically tone down the magazine's erotic photographs, but Islamic leaders charge that the famed title will corrupt a culture already being inundated by Western influences.
"Indonesia is not Europe or America, whose culture and reaction towards nudity are totally different than ours," fumed Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the country's largest Muslim organisation, the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).
Playboy "simply has no place in our social norms and culture... Pornography, regardless of how it is being disguised, will only corrupt youth morals and bring catastrophes such as a rise in rape and sexual harassment," he told AFP.
Muzadi wants authorities to revoke not only the licence it has issued for Playboy but also for its Indonesian competitors.
Dozens of titillating glossy magazines have debuted since the 1998 downfall of president Suharto ushered in a new era of free speech, such as British lads' magazine FHM and sex tip-packed Cosmopolitan, as well as local titles.
"Legalising Playboy to circulate in Indonesia is tantamount to legalising pornography, which is already pretty much uncontrollable due to the circulation of pirated DVDs and VCDs and the Internet," he said.
Such porn discs are readily, if discreetly, available across the capital Jakarta for as little as 6,000 rupiah (60 cents), while tabloid newspapers flaunt flesh-flashing models and erotic movies are beamed on late-night TV.
Still, it is world-renowned Playboy, which will sell for between 40,000 and 50,000 rupiah by subscription and at select high-end bookstores, that has hit a particular nerve.
"It will be disastrous for Indonesia," Irfan Awwas, chairman of the hardline Indonesian Mujahedin Council, told AFP. "The publication of Playboy as we know it will further destroy the nation's morality."
But for those in the know, illicit imported copies of the magazine are already sold by vendors such as 23-year-old Jimmy, who produced a November 2004 edition upon request at Central Jakarta's famous Kwitang used book market.
The devout Muslim has no difficulty in reconciling his trade with his religion.
"God has His own ways for everyone to earn their living. I believe there will always be customers who want to buy these magazines from me," he told AFP.
His biggest fear was being caught by undercover police officers "who want to jail me but also want to keep my magazines," he complained.
The debut of Playboy highlights an arguable shift in values across the vast archipelago nation, where most people practise a moderate form of Islam, and comes as lawmakers are soon expected to pass a wide-ranging law on pornography.
Leo Batubara, a senior member of the Indonesian Press Council, said the state body was still arguing with MPs over an "acceptable Indonesian media standard of what is deemed to be morally accepted and what is not."
The council has no legal power to revoke licences but is often consulted by the parliament to discuss media-related issues.
Lawmakers "cannot seem to make up their mind on how to categorise movies, publications and even our 'dangdut' shows, which do not show full-frontal nudity but reveal women posing and acting in semi-erotic fashion," he said.
The hugely popular dangdut features traditional Indonesian music with strong Indian and Arabic influences.
Aided by experts in communications and media policies, Batubara said the council will try to persuade lawmakers not to include two articles in the current draft law.
One stipulates jail terms of up to seven years for "acts and publication of acts deemed indecent or sexually arousing."
The other legislates a similar jail term for people caught kissing in public or dancing -- such as dangdut -- which includes "arousing movements".
"Many lawmakers involved in the making of the bill have no real understanding and knowledge of what exactly is pornography," Batubara said.
"They just want to issue a law but they do not want to give a damn about its impact on our socially and culturally complex society," he warned.
"If parliament endorses the law (as it stands), could a married couple kissing during their wedding ceremony be sent to jail for public indecency?"
On Playboy, Batubara said critics should reserve judgement until they see how it fits into "Indonesia's modern and acceptable social norms."
Fellow press council member R.H. Siregar was also in favour of its publication, saying it would be unfair for it to be banned.
He said, however, that the publisher "must consult religious groups and explain their format and intention."
Playboy Indonesia's promotion manager, Avianto Nugroho, told AFP Saturday that its publication launch planned for March "could be pushed back", though he declined to say why.
He said the publisher was due to meet this week with Playboy executives in New York to discuss the magazine's "concept, style and format".