The recently passed film law shows up an irony for democracy in Indonesia, especially in the quality of the public sphere. The old law, Law No. 8/1992, was not reformed, while the press law and the broadcasting law have been adjusted to democratic principles.
The crucial point of the old film law was the existence of the Censorship Body, which, under Soeharto's regime, was the extension of authoritarianism.
People have been waiting for a revision. The Indonesian Film Community proposed a judicial review to the Supreme Court, but was rejected in April 2008. Quietly, the House of Representatives (DPR) revised the law without the full participation of all stakeholders.
They then passed it on Sept. 8, 2009. Ironically, the new law is far from the spirit of democracy and freedom of expression.
The new law still regulates the existence of the Censorship Body (Article 58). Indonesia, then, is a country where public aspiration is selected by some people. Norms, morality and ethics are then determined by 17 "special" people to "protect" society. It is true there is a slight difference compared to the old law.
Under the New Order, the Censorship Body was founded to control subversion. However, other articles show the spirit of film-controlling by the state through the process of preproduction permit and distribution limitations.
The new film law is one of the laws that promote feudalism in the public sphere. Some laws - Press Law No. 40/1999, Broadcasting Law No. 32/2002, the newly passed freedom of information law - have successfully promoted open flow of information. However, other laws - the new film law, Electronic Transaction Law No. 11/2008, the draft state secrecy bill - have shown the opposite.
A healthy public sphere requires the same positions of stakeholders. In the modern era, there are three main actors determining the quality of the public sphere: the state, the market, and society. Domination by one over the others will decrease the quality of the public sphere.
The idea of the public sphere comes from Jurgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere ( 1962 ). Habermas idealized the public sphere as a main source of public opinion needed to legitimize authority for the sake of a mature democracy.
There are five conditions to propose a democratic public sphere: unlimited access to information, absence of coercion to society, equal rights to participate, the rule of law - especially on state subordination - and absence of ideology in rational dialogue. The main cause of the failure is a situation where the public sphere merely becomes power representation. The state tries to colonize the life world.
In Indonesia now, the tendency of the revival of feudalism is taking place by the state's intervention into the public sphere.
The state operates a show of authority rather than rational dialogue, and sustains old regulations that were clearly formed to support authoritarianism.
Regulations are formed not to support a healthy public sphere, but to affirm their power over society. There is big ambivalence of law between maximizing the quality of the public sphere and controlling the public sphere as representation of interest.
The writer is an activist at the Tifa Foundation, Jakarta.