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Indonesian Musicians Rally Against Music Bill

Punk community members dance during a punk music festival in Bandung, Indonesia West Java province, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017.
Punk community members dance during a punk music festival in Bandung, Indonesia West Java province, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017.

More than 200 Indonesian musicians have started a movement against a draft bill on music law (RUU Permusikan) being considered in the legislature that they say could limit freedom of expression.

Mondo Gascaro, a composer and music producer, and one of the people who initiated the National Coalition against the Draft Bill on Music, says most of the articles in the bill are problematic.

“These articles don’t address the problem about the welfare of people in the music industry. The government’s regulations should ensure a good ecosystem for music (industry), and instead the articles in the bill can potentially limit musicians’ freedom of expression,” he said at a press conference in Jakarta on February 6.

Gascaro believes the bill is also problematic because it is unclear what are the issues that the government wants to regulate because the bill only focuses on the musicians.

“They said this is about governance of the music industry, but there are terminologies that are missing from the bill when you talk about the industry, there’s production, creation, distribution, artists,” he continued.

The coalition is calling for the bill to be discarded. Arian Arifin, a vocalist of the Indonesian heavy metal band Seringai, said it is pointless to revise the bill because he said more than 80 percent of the articles are disorganized.

Bill not yet finalized

Although the draft bill on music law has been included in the 2019 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas), which means it is one of the priority bills that can be passed this year, Representative Inosentius Samsul, a backer of the measure, said it is not final.

“It can still be revised and reviewed,” the lawmaker said at a press conference on February 4.

“We make the framework and the main stakeholders (musicians) only need to fill it. If there are things that need improvement, we will be open to discuss it and revise the script,” he explained.

The coalition is not convinced, however, because the bill is already in the Prolegnas, and revising a script with articles can be problematic.

“Why bother revising, you might as well create a new one. Start from the beginning with transparency and credible sources,” Arifin said.

One of the sources cited in the draft bill is a Blogspot page that was written by a student from a high school in Central Kalimantan. Rara Sekar Larasati, a singer and a researcher on Cultural Anthropology, questioned the sources that were used as a basis of the bill’s script.

“The sources for the articles are irrelevant. How can you cite a Blogspot that was made by a high school student?” she told VOA.

Potential criminalization

Larasati said a major concern for artists is the possibility for musicians to be prosecuted and jailed under the draft bill.

“We see there’s Article 5 that can potentially be a ‘rubber law,’ ” she said, referring to the term used in Indonesia for a law with ambiguous wording that is open for broad interpretation. “This is like a pattern for the state to censor and control its citizens.”

The article states that musicians are not allowed to encourage the public to commit violence, make pornographic content, provoke dispute, commit blasphemy, bring the negative influence of a foreign culture, and demean people’s dignity.

Asfinawati, director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), said Article 50, at the end of the script, states anyone who violates Article 5 can be punished with imprisonment or fines.

“But the wordings are problematic, must not encourage the public to commit acts against the law. In law, the word encourage is ambiguous. For example, a musician can sing on stage, but in one corner there are people gambling. The authority can say the performance encourage gambling, or be connected to a violent act in the same place,” she explained.

In addition, the bill mentions the negative influence of foreign culture. Asfinawati is unsure whether it refers only to the negative things that may be adopted from another culture or deems all foreign cultures negative.

“When we talk about foreign (culture), the problem is there is not a single country in the world that is authentic. We have been influenced by other cultures. Should we muzzle all of it? And musicians must not demean one’s dignity? What if they wrote a song about rape or domestic abuse. They may need to portray the act of demeaning another person to highlight the social issue,” she said.

Moreover, Article 32 states that to be acknowledged in the profession, musicians must take a competency test.

Gede Robi, a member of an Indie band Navicula, believes this can be used to silence independent musicians who are critical of the government.

“They may not find negative elements in the songs, but it’s possible we can simply be dismissed from the profession, and no longer acknowledged as a musician,” he added.

Robi said that a poorly drafted bill will hurt the music industry in Indonesia, especially the smaller independent bands. “We want the state to make our lives easier by not diminishing our efforts,” he said.