INDONESIA: Gossip-hungry fans turn deaf ear to critics

Gossip news fans claim these TV shows 'fulfill a need in their lives'

Jakarta Post
Tuesday, August 8, 2006

By Indra Harsaputra

Surabaya --- Ulfa used to tune in diligently to infotainment shows revealing the latest developments on the celebrity gossip mill.

Not anymore: The Nahdlatul Ulama member from Lamongan, East Java, is switching channels when the shows come on. It is in compliance with the edict of the country's largest Muslim organization that declared the exposing of others' failings to public scrutiny was prohibited in Islam.

"Even before the edict was issued, a number of Islamic teachers and local Muslim figures had told us that, as Muslims, it was forbidden for us to watch such shows because they uncover people's shame," the 27-year-old said.

But other fans, despite stating they were religious, said the programs fulfilled a need in their lives and had educational value. They continue to watch them alone or in groups, where they can each give their opinion about the goings-on.

"I'd rather watch the infotainment programs than engage in gossiping with my neighbors. Neighbors usually gossip about the other neighbors whenever they get together," housewife Dwi Ekayanti told The Jakarta Post in Sidoarjo.

The housewife has her favorites from the 40 infotainment programs, and enjoys watching the developing careers of the stars and their tales of failed marriages, which she said were "lessons" for her own relationship.

An employee at a soft drink manufacturer in Surabaya, Peni, said she could make her own choices about TV programs.

"It's my right to watch. We know the good or bad things that we should or shouldn't do," said Peni.

While there are many people like Ulfa who have accepted the NU's demand, there also are some family members who are delighted the shows have been banished from their households.

"I hope that my wife no longer watches the programs, so that I can switch channels to watch the actual news on TV," said a Surabaya resident, Tedja.

He said his wife changed for the worse when she watched the shows, becoming more materialistic, less concerned about her children's well-being and impulsive in pursuing her own wishes.

The guardian of the Lirboyo Islamic boarding school in Kediri, KH Idris Marzuki, said the school categorized gossip shows with pornographic materials for the potential harm to students.

"Besides pornography, we banned the students from watching the gossip programs long before the edict was issued. Watching such programs is clearly prohibited and sinful because they uncover a person's shame."

A media analyst from Surabaya's Airlangga University, Henry Subyanto, believed it would have been better for the NU to encourage a public boycott of the products advertised during the shows.

"A number of social activists in Europe have also resorted to boycotts of products advertised on TV during gossip programs. I'm afraid that NU's edict could, however, increase their ratings."

'Don't limit people's private lives'

Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) has called on people to boycott television programs showing "negative content" -- gossip shows running so-called "investigative reports" into actors and singers' private lives. The Jakarta Post spoke to some people about the issue.

Chita, 21, is a communications student at the London School of Public Relations in Jakarta. She lives on Jl. Brawijaya in South Jakarta:

I think the edict to ban broadcasting, producing and watching infotainment programs will certainly have a bad effect on several areas.

From the perspective of the producers of infotainment, banning such shows will mean people in the industry will lose their jobs.

As a journalism student, I also disagree with the edict because it places limitations on media consumption. What's wrong with just watching those shows to kill some free time? Although I admit there are people who make sure they never miss a show.

What is the difference between the printed and online version of infotainment if the point is just to reveal someone's private matters?

Hussein, 27, works for a foreign company in Jakarta. He lives in South Jakarta:

Human beings have the right to enjoy their lives and watch infotainment, as long as they don't violate other people's rights.

If I choose not to go to weekly prayers or to worship, then nobody and no organization can tell me that I have sinned because only God can decide on that.

Basically, infotainment is still entertainment at its core. Are such matters the most crucial things NU has to deal with?

I suggest that a big organization like NU release a fatwa that encourages people to be more constructive, such as by doing social work and donating to educational institutions, rather than limiting people's private lives.

The organization should lead by example and show that they benefit society as a whole.