Batam TV boom 'not meeting viewers needs'

Critics say Indonesia's local TV stations have a long way to go before achieving competence equal to that of national stations

Jakarta Post
Tuesday, August 8, 2006

By Fadli

Batam --- For nearly four hours, Semenanjung TV, one of Batam's three television stations, has shown nothing but video clips.

Semenanjung TV (STV) started broadcasting a year ago, Batam TV -- which is owned by the Jawa Pos media group -- began three years ago and Urban TV will soon begin broadcasting on a pilot basis.

But while the stations are local, critics say program quality and choice are not satisfying local audiences.

Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPID) director for the Riau Islands Hendriyanto told The Jakarta Post that local TV stations covered an area of 715 square kilometers -- including Rempang and Galang islands -- reaching an estimated 700,000 residents.

Although it processes broadcasting licenses, the KPID does not have the authority to restrict the number of TV stations operating.

"We have issued licenses to three local TV stations, all of which met our standards and the approval of the general public," Hendriyanto said.

To obtain a license, TV stations must commit to airing quality programs considered suitable for general audiences.

The process is then handed over to the Information and Communications Ministry, which issues broadcasting licenses.

"We have not yet scrutinized their program selections. We also know that most of the TV stations are still in the learning stage," Hendriyanto said.

He said the introduction of local TV stations had benefited the information sector, as indicated by the positive response to interactive programs.

Moreover, at election time, local stations worked together with the local elections commission to make the event a success.

A Batam resident, Gigantara, 31, said the two stations that were fully operational had some obvious flaws, such as poor reception, monotonous programming and programs that were not packaged professionally.

"I'm less interested in watching local stations because my eyes sometimes hurt. The editing of news programs is really choppy, compared to bigger stations," he said.

STV spokesman Rifai Rasake said the station would slowly work its way up from showing video clips from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m to airing top-rating programs.

Batam TV chief editor Depan Maju Sihite said the people could judge for themselves whether local stations radically differentiated from their "more commercial" counterparts.

"Ask the people of Batam. Don't ask me," said Depan Maju, who was previously a journalist at a daily published by the same media group.

The two declined to elaborate on the total investment needed to establish a TV station.

Hendriyanto said the highest cost was procuring broadcasting transmitters and other equipment, which could be more than Rp 2 billion.

Information gathered by the Post showed that commercial fees were much lower than those set by national TV stations -- about the same price as advertising in the local newspaper. It is even cheaper to get longer spots. Program-long infomercials cost between Rp 500,000 and Rp 1 million.

Base on KPI data, of the three local TV stations, only STV has fixed its transmitters on state-owned TVRI transmission towers. TV viewers in Batam use limited-range antennas to receive broadcast transmissions from local as well as national TV stations.

"We hope that everything will run smoothly, according to their respective market segments, because they are up against some stiff competition from national TV stations. We also hope they increase local content to attract viewers since that is their only strength," Hendriyanto said.

A former news contributor for STV, Agus Siagian, said he had been on a monthly salary of Rp 600,000, plus Rp 20,000 for each news item he delivered.

The TV station required him to buy his own video camera. Cameras that shoot "broadcast-quality" footage cost between Rp 4 million and Rp 7 million each, depending on the model, he said.

"They terminated my contract, despite the money I'd forked out for equipment. I no longer want to work for a local station," said Agus, who has resumed working for a national TV station.

Unlike Agus, Usvim Varadillah, a producer at Batam TV, said she had received many job offers.

"However, I'm happy to remain at Batam TV, despite the offers from the other new local TV stations. I'm afraid they might fold. Working for a media group like this is more secure. If anything happened, I'd probably get a job in one of the group's other companies," Usvim said.