Porn law will not work

November 3rd, 2008 § 0

Here below is the definition of pornography according to the latest version of the notoriously divisive anti-pornography bill that was recently made into a law (the so-called UU Pornografi):

Pornografi adalah gambar, sketsa, ilustrasi, foto, tulisan, suara, bunyi, gambar bergerak, animasi, kartun, percakapan, gerak tubuh, atau bentuk pesan lainnya melalui berbagai bentuk media komunikasi dan/atau pertunjukan di muka umum, yang memuat kecabulan atau eksploitasi seksual yang melanggar norma kesusilaan dalam masyarakat.

Pornography comprises any drawing, sketching, illustration, photography, writing, sound, audio, motion picture, animation, cartoon, conversation, gesture, or any other form of message delivered through any communication medium and/or public demonstration that contains obscenity or sexual exploitation that violates the society’s moral standards.

Whether or not you believe that there is actually dire urgency for banning porn in the country (I don’t), there are obviously legitimate reasons to doubt that this legislation would actually help to solve the problem it portends to attack. One just needs to see the appalling lack of clarity in the way the law defines pornography above.

I’m serious. “Obscenity,” for example, occurs only once throughout the text, and no definition is offered to clarify what it means for the purpose of this law. To those robe-wearing, beard-taunting urban islamists, I don’t doubt, the sight of a woman walking around topless would be obscene. But believe it or not, that’s actually how many rural women in Papua dress even to this day. Those godmongering types probably never even heard that the Korowai tribe women there would often nurse their babies along with their pigs.

This is porn, believe it or not

Sure, there is the so-called exception to allow cultural, artistic and traditional forms of expression, which due to its lack of comprehensiveness is actually problematic, but what do you make of a national law that basically says that whole cultures lie at the fringe of accepted morality?

Obviously I’m against this moral posturing of the so-called majority against the minority for the simple reason that the law dehumanizes peoples outside the dominant majority, but there are also more practical reasons to be against it.

For one, it is superfluous, and the whole public attention to the issue unnecessarily diverts scarce resources away from really important problems plaguing the country. Take corruption, for example, one of the country’s most significant obstacles toward good governance, and quite possibly toward lasting economic prosperity. Yes, there are good signs that progress has been made with the KPK cracking down on high-profile corruption cases—though news from the Senayan building has it that some parliamentarians are agitated enough to be flirting with the idea of cutting down some of the KPK’s prosecutorial powers (wiretaps anyone?). But with the deadline given by the Constitutional Court nearing, this is hardly the time for house members to be hastening the porn bill while procrastinate with the unarguably more important anti-corruption bill.

Pornography has never been legal in the country anyway. The fact that you could go to any of the places that sell pirated CDs to get porn doesn’t mean that it is legal—nor does it mean that pirated CDs are legal by the way. It’s not. And so all this nonsense, with the bill’s proponents and opponents endlessly rallying back and forth, as it were, was actually about putting stuff out that should never have been there in the first place.

To be realistic, enacting this law—or any law in this country for that matter—will not necessarily change anything much. Much was said about the impact of the intellectual property law, for example, when the government said they were ready to implement it in 2003. Four years afterward, software piracy is still rampant, with up to 84% pirated PC software sold in the country.

But that brings another issue, which legislators should be a lot more concerned about, and that is the problem of enforcing the law. Rule of law in Indonesia looks a lot like the Jakarta traffic: lawlessness is the norm, and when the law is obeyed, it is most likely on the rare occasion where a policeman in full gear is present.

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