Indonesian TV washes those ads right out of its air

Television's first impact on peasant villages, Indonesian officials note, is that young women want to buy hair shampoo. It is one reason that all advertising was banned on Indonesian television in April. This action, the government hopes, "will avoid unnecessarily arousing the material desires of the rural audiences."

Like many developing nations, Indonesian leaders are concerned that Western-style television will raise people's aspirations far beyond what the government can help them attain -- perhaps leading to political instability.

The ban on commercials comes after recent government studies that show daily village routines being altered upon the arrival of gambarhidup,m which means "live picture in a small radio box."

Girls no longer wash their hair with a local plant potion, researchers report. Farmers stay up late at night watching programs, making them tired when they go to the fields. A new advertised seasoning called "Adnomodot" has altered food patterns. Teachers complain of students dozing off in class, and Islamic leaders worry that prayer time is disrupted.

Television also brings boys and girls together more often, says Alfian of the National Research Institute for Cultural Studies. For the world's largest Muslim nation, he adds, "This will speed up social change."

In 1976, the government began a six-year project to study the cultural impact of television. But when researchers looked for a village withoutm television to use as a control group, they failed to find one. TV had spread faster than expected, even though average yearly income is below $300 a year in Indonesia, which is 80 percent rural.

"All we can measure is the degree of contamination," says Alfian.

The number of television sets in the world's fifth most populated nation has grown from an estimated 10,000 in 1962 to over 2 million today, most of them around the capital of Jakarta on the main island of Java. Television did not reach all 13,677 islands of this archipelago nation until 1976.

The country's only television station, owned by the government, can do without advertising revenues, which accounted for only one-third of its budget. Indonesia, a member of OPEC, is rolling in more oil export money than it knows how to spend.

Indonesians almost immediately felt the loss of the sometimes-entertaining commercials. Ads for Coca-Cola, the most recognized product on television, were missed by children, said one government official. Lux soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, and Raid roach killer were also heavy favorites.

In the government's eyes, television is a tool for "national integration" and economic progress, helping to close the gap of wealth between rural and urban areas.

One program, known as "Fragments of Development," shows such projects as nickel mining, family planning, tree planting techniques, or the benefits of moving off crowded Java to an outer island. Educational shows will start up next year for children, most of whom fail to go beyond primary grades in school. Television, in other words, will substitute for the classroom.

TV news emphasizes development over political events. Last summer, for instance, Indonesian television was not permitted to cover anti-Chinese rioting in central Java.

The most popular shows are two American cop programs, "Mannix" and "Kojak." Imported shows, however, have been reduced from over half of all programming to below 25 percent.

Indonesia-made shows, such as the popular soap opera "Sandiwara," do not include "dangerous" scenes, such as obscenity or violence. Divorce is shown only as a just reprimand for wrongdoing by a spouse. The American shows, however, still "show girls walking about in bikinis," Alfian points out.

More money is going into home-grown shows, although this Southeast Asian country lacks producers and screen writers. In 1978, the government offered a large cash sum to any Indonesian willing to produce a one-hour musical. It got no takers.

Even though the advertising ban is meant to reduce "unreal expectations," Alfian says, "Most programs still show urban lifestyles."

"This is always the dilemma: What the people want to see is not w hat the government wants them to see," he adds.

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