The Indonesian government is considering legislation that will prohibit LGBT content on its domestic television networks by the end of this year. Any broadcasts or ads that show “lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior” will be banned.
Although senior politicians described gay and transgender activity on television as “destructive”, the bill does not actually specify what constitutes LGBT content. Many of the country’s historical TV shows and theater performances involve effeminate characters and men dressed in women’s clothing.
Last week, producers of a long-running TV comedy show received a complaint from the Indonesian Broadcast Commission alleging a man in the broadcast was “dressed and behaving like a woman”, according to the Bangkok Post.
Reuters reported that the restricted content may include television dramas with gay characters, cross-dressing, or effeminate men, as well as documentaries about anyone gay. The bill will also ban broadcasting or advertising that promotes gay or transgender rights.
It would also require the “screening” of every TV show, movie and advertisement by an authorized external censorship group before broadcast, to make sure it complies with the new anti LGBT legislation.
The proposed ban was appended to a broadcasting bill, currently under consideration by the Indonesian House of Representatives, by the so-called Commission of Information. A plenary session of parliament will decide on its outcome later this year.
According to Bobby Rizaldi, a member of parliament who helped draft the new law, “LGBT is not criminal, but if it enters the public sphere, if it’s broadcast to the public, then of course it must be regulated.”
A second Muslim MP, Hanafi Rais, described LGBT as an “abnormality”. “It is destructive for our younger generations. If the content has no educational qualities, and is only for commercial or advertising purposes, then we must reject it,” he said. He also added that content aimed at “fixing the abnormality” would still be allowed, according to Reuters.
State Legislator Supiadin Aries Saputra of the NasDem party also defended the bill. “We can’t allow LGBT behavior on TV. It’s against our culture. We have to ban it early before it becomes a lifestyle. It’s dangerous and can ruin the morality of the younger generation,” he said.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population and is also the world’s third largest democracy. A 2011 Pew Research Center report revealed that approximately 205 million people practice Islam, which is around 88 percent of the country’s total population.
The government recently launched a sweeping crackdown on LGBT rights, allegedly driven by hardline Islamist politicians. Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, but not in the traditional Islamic province of Aceh where Sharia law is enforced.
Last week, Indonesian police arrested 51 people, including 8 foreigners at a “gay spa” in Jakarta. This was one of several recent raids targeting the LGBT community. In May, 141 men were arrested at an allegedly “gay sauna”, strip-searched by police and then marched semi-naked into police vehicles. Photos circulated on social media caused uproar among activist groups and the story made international news. Similar anti LGBT policies are making their was through other Southeast Asian Muslim countries as well, like Islamist hardliners in Malaysia.
When former U.S. President, Barack Obama, attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 2014, he described Indonesia as “a model for other Muslim nations”. He also said that Indonesia was “a thriving democracy and a model for the kind of tolerance and pluralism that we want to see all around the world”.