Playboy in Indonesia

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Erwin Arnada, Editor of Playboy in Indonesia

New York Times, 7/24/06 - When Erwin Arnada, editor in chief of Playboy magazine in Indonesia, answered a summons at police headquarters in the national capital, Jakarta, he turned up smiling, behaved like a good citizen and, in turn, was treated politely during nearly six hours of questioning.

The parrying, he recalled, went something like this:

"When did you first meet Kartika Oktavina Gunawan?" the police asked, referring knowledgeably to the model who appeared in the first centerfold of the Indonesian edition wearing a modest blue negligee that made lingerie advertisements in Western newspapers seem decidedly lewd.

"How can you not remember?" the policeman asked, according to the editor’s account of the recent good-natured encounter.

"Because I meet many beautiful people every day," Mr. Arnada said he replied.

The questioners chuckled enviously, he said. They charged him, and Ms. Gunawan, with violating the indecency provisions of the criminal code, then let them go.

Playboy arrived in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, three months ago with an edition specially created to take account of local customs — no photographs of nude women, no nudity at all.

Playboy is published under license in 20 countries, mostly in Europe. Indonesia is the first Muslim country for the magazine since a Turkish edition folded in the mid-1990’s.

Fairly predictably, an Indonesian group, the Islamic Defenders Front, which specializes in attacks on nightclubs and gambling dens, threw rocks at the Playboy office in Jakarta, causing so much physical — and psychological — damage, Mr. Arnada said, that it was impossible for the staff to continue publishing there.

The magazine decamped here to the capital of Bali, a Hindu island, where foreign tourists parade in skimpy swimsuits and frolic in alcohol-suffused nightclubs.

The second and third issues were produced from the magazine’s new headquarters, a floor of a house belonging to a Hindu spiritual leader, a friend of Mr. Arnada, who is a Muslim. The latest layouts of the magazine are fashioned among Balinese wall hangings and religious offerings to the Hindu gods.

While the reaction of the Islamic groups in the capital was not surprising, the magazine was also caught in a parliamentary debate over an antipornography bill that is testing the heart of Indonesia’s tolerance.

The Indonesian Society Against Piracy and Pornography, which is pushing the bill, filed suit against the magazine, prompting the police investigation.

Goenawan Mohamad, the founder of Tempo, an Indonesian newsweekly, and a distinguished columnist, says Mr. Arnada has fashioned a magazine so tame that it would be absurd to ban it.

Although he supported the right of Playboy to publish, Mr. Mohamad said he found it difficult to be really enthusiastic about the magazine’s cause. "Playboy is a well-known magazine because of women’s lack of dress,’’ he said. "What’s the fuss?’’

In an effort to make the Indonesian edition palatable to local sensibilities, the first issue’s interview of the month was with the nation’s most famous author and dissident novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He died April 30 at the age of 81, soon after the issue appeared.

Most of the articles in the first three issues were the run-of-the-mill fare of any general interest magazine in Asia, an account of amputees from Cambodia’s civil war, the stories of Indonesian mail-order brides, a photo essay about domestic violence against children and a long article on East Timor.

The photographs of the centerfold Playmate in sparse though hardly salacious clothing (the second playmate was a Bali-based Frenchwoman, Doriane Amar — the attacks had temporarily frightened off Indonesian models) and a lonely hearts column geared to men were about the strongest suggestion that Indonesia’s Playboy was actually aimed at male readers.

The cover of the third issue was certainly fleshier, though still demure compared with other men’s glossies on the newsstands here: an Indonesian model dressed in a long mohair sweater and a pair of briefs shows cleavage and the suggestion — though only a suggestion — of her navel.

For Mr. Arnada, 41, who has a background in publishing entertainment tabloids and producing horror movies, all the fuss reflects fears about the intrusion of Western culture. "Why else do they keep shouting about Playboy?" he asked.

A widely distributed publication in Indonesia, Red Light, which is owned by one of the biggest Indonesian media conglomerates, Jawa Pos, is far more provocative, Mr. Arnada said.

Printed on crude newsprint and sold on the street by hawkers for the equivalent of 20 cents, Red Light carries advertisements for prostitutes and their phone numbers, features photos of naked men and women and is festooned with sexually provocative headlines.

The Indonesian Press Council, a government body, in fact has supported publication of Playboy, saying the country now has freedom of the press. So for the moment, Mr. Arnada and Ponti Corolus, who looks after the financial side of their publishing company, Velvet Silver Media, appear to have prevailed.

Mr. Arnada’s case on a charge of purveying indecency remained with the police, but had not been sent to the prosecutors. Before that happened, he said, "I hope they drop the charges."

The first two issues of 100,000 copies each sold out briskly, even at the relatively steep price of $3.80. The third is doing nicely.

Some of the major advertisers — cigarette and cellphone companies, and brands of perfume, sunglasses and watches — who fled the second issue, afraid of threats from the Islamic Defenders Front, returned for the third issue.

Mr. Arnada, a self-described party boy, said a prominent Balinese nightclub owner had agreed to hold a Playmate event.

But ever the businessman, Mr. Arnada remains cautious. "I don’t say I win," he said. "I don’t know where the ball is going. Suddenly I’m a suspect, and other publications with nude pictures are having a good life."

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Playboy Indonesia - Second Edition

The Jakarta Post, 6/8/06 - The second edition of Indonesian Playboy, which hit the streets Wednesday, is not opposed by the nation's Press Council but hard-line Islamic groups are threatening street demonstrations until the magazine is shut down for good.

The council said Playboy had broken no laws and should not be banned. However, the militant and often-lawless vigilante group, the Islam Defender Front (FPI), said the adult magazine threatened the moral fiber of the nation.

The second edition of the magazine bearing the trademark bunny logo hit the nation's streets almost two months after the first infuriated conservative Muslims, who attacked the magazine's offices in Jakarta and forced it to relocate to the predominantly Hindu Bali.

The Press Council's Sabam Leo Batubara told The Jakarta Post that the second edition of Playboy had met all requirements for a legal publication.

"The magazine had not violated the press law, and no one should prohibit it," he said.

Sabam said the magazine featured only "soft pornography" and it should be tolerated as adult media the like other raunchy titles already on sale in the country.

"Soft porn is allowed as long as it is not sold to children. Soft porn and sex education is OK for adults," Sabam said.

After the publication of the first edition, the Press Council criticized Playboy for selling copies in the street.

FPI leader Habib Riziq Shihab said that by continuing to publish, Playboy had "challenged" the Muslim majority and said Muslim activists would "take the challenge."

"We will take to the streets soon to protest the publication," he told the Antara news wire.

Riziq said he believed the news about Playboy moving its offices to Bali was only a ploy to fool its critics.

He promised to visit the magazines former headquarters in Fatmawati, South Jakarta, to check whether it remained a distribution center.

Other hard-line groups, including the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and Betawi Brotherhood Forum also plan to take to the streets in the coming days.

Several members of the House of Representatives said they regretted the reappearance of Playboy because it would provoke public violence.

A National Mandate Party legislator Djoko Susilo told the publisher should have delayed the second edition until the heat surrounding the controversy had dissipated.

Ida Fauziah, of the Nation Awakening Party, meanwhile, feared another round of attack on the magazine and its sellers unless it changed its distribution policy.

Erwin Arnada, the publisher and chief editor of Playboy, said that starting from the third edition, the magazine would be distributed only to exclusive bookstores in the country's big cities, targeting 25- to 45-year-old readers.

"We will not allow it to be sold on the streets and we will put a 'for adults only' label on its cover," he said.

Playboy Indonesia - First Edition

Reuters, 4/7/06 - Playboy magazine may no longer rate on the sexual cutting edge in some places, but the first edition in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, caused a stir on Friday.

Although the pictures inside showed less skin than U.S. issues 50 years ago, copies were being passed from desk to desk in Jakarta offices, high demand was reported, and newspapers and broadcasters dwelt at length on the Indonesian issue.

A leader of one militant Islamic group threatened to use force, if necessary, to get the magazine withdrawn.

Like the iconic original, the Indonesian Playboy included a serious interview, in-depth articles and color pictures of women, including a fold-out. But no nipples were exposed in the photos, let alone anything approaching full nudity.

"I didn't see any surprising thing in this magazine. It depends on how people interpret it. For me, no problem," Alex, a white-collar worker who did not want to give his full name, told Reuters Television.

A 40-year-old housewife, Maya, disapproved. "Surely it is against the new anti-pornography law," she said.

Condemnation also came from Chamammah Soeratno, head of the women's wing of major Muslim moderate group Muhammadiyah.

"Everyone knows it's a pornographic magazine. The first edition may not have any nudity. That's a very clever move by the publishers," she told Reuters.

Indonesia's parliament is debating a law to significantly tighten control of media as well as public behavior in an effort to reduce what its proponents see as pornography.


Indonesia has many magazines on news stands that go further than the new Playboy in the sexual content of their articles and at least as far in their pictures.

In fact, magazine and newspaper agent Azis, 41, told Reuters Playboy was not different enough from an existing upscale Indonesian men's magazine, Matra.

But even months ago the Playboy image and its Western origin had sparked protests at the mere news of plans for the Indonesian edition, despite promises of a tame version.

Around 85 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people follow Islam. Although most are moderates, there is a growing tendency toward showing Islamic identity and conservative attitudes.

The government is officially secular and tolerant of other religions, and pressure to make laws more in line with orthodox beliefs has been a regular source of controversy in recent years.

Some militant groups have taken things into their own hands on occasion by, for example, attacking unlicensed churches and bars selling alcohol during the Muslim fasting period.

"I am afraid to sell the first edition because it has been reported that the Islamic organizations would be on alert," said newsstand owner Ronni, 30, who operates near the headquarters of a hard-line Muslim group, the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI).

Tubagus Sidiq, a senior leader of FPI, told Reuters: "FPI opposes (Playboy) in whatever form."

"According to our commitment, if they don't withdraw it then we will act in our own way, the forceful way. Our crew will clearly hound the editors ... We even oppose the name Playboy."

The government took a different view.

"The laws that we can use in this case (are) whether there is a publication that violates decency. So, we need to check the content first. Just using the name is insufficient to ban it," Information Minister Sofyan Djalil told reporters.

Bambang Kuncoko, a national police spokesman, said at a news conference that "the public should follow the law and must not take arbitrary actions. If that happens, the police will absolutely take legal actions."

Late on Friday afternoon about 20 FPI protesters, outnumbered by journalists covering them, showed up at the Playboy publishers offices, and local news radio said a representative team met with the magazine's editors.

Despite regular campaigns against pornography, many sidewalk vendors in Indonesia stock sexually explicit movies and the country has a flourishing sex industry.

Founded in 1953, Playboy has about 20 editions around the world that cater to local tastes.

Porn, Playboy, Religion and Politics in Indonesia

BBC, 2/7/06 - Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, is caught up in a growing debate about pornography.

News that the raunchy Playboy magazine has signed a deal to produce a local edition has fuelled the controversy.

Parliament is expected to pass a new anti-pornography bill by the middle of this year but the draft legislation is proving divisive.

A series of demonstrations has taken place in the capital, Jakarta, in support of the tightening of the laws.

The head of the parliamentary committee which drafted the new legislation, Balkan Kaplale, said Indonesia was in a state of moral decline. "These are Indonesian magazines," Mr Kaplale said, spreading a selection of pornographic tabloids across the table.

"It is terrible, our poor country. We are a religious people but now Indonesia is third worst in the world for porn after Scandinavia and Russia.

"It is so easily available and it is going unchecked. That is why we need this law," he said.

Booming trade

In a narrow, busy alleyway in Jakarta's Chinatown, there are stalls selling pirated DVDs.

In front of most of the stalls there is a cardboard box where the pornographic films are kept.

The DVDs are openly displayed - it is pretty graphic stuff.

Few people in Indonesia would argue against the need to control the sale of such material. And yet the proposed anti-pornography bill has come up against strong opposition.

The draft document includes articles which would make it an offence to show what it calls sensual body parts, including the navel, hips and thighs.

Those found guilty of breaking the law could face a two-year jail sentence.

Drawing the line

Husna Mulya, a women's rights activist, said the anti-pornography law had been hijacked by groups pushing a hardline conservative agenda.

"The people behind this are using religious values to make their argument, especially Muslim groups. It is not stated in the bill, but the standard being used is the standard of Sharia law.

"They say people are not dressing in line with Indonesian culture. But the fashion in Indonesia now is to wear trousers that are tight around the hips, and even traditional clothes are often designed to show off a woman's breasts," she said.

And it is not just women who are worried.

The artistic lobby is up in arms as well. The draft bill would make it illegal to record anything which portrays erotic dancing, or kissing on the lips. It would mean ground-breaking Indonesian films such as Arisan would be banned.

Arisan is a humorous take on the life of wealthy, 30-something Jakartans which addresses traditionally taboo subjects like adultery and homosexuality.

The screenplay was written by one of Indonesia's leading film critics, Joko Anwar.

He said the anti-pornography bill was a dangerous and unnecessary form of artistic censorship that would hamper filmmakers' creativity.

"We are not going to make some very graphic sexual scenes because we know that it wouldn't be accepted by an Indonesian audience.

"We already have that filter ourselves so I don't think it needs to be put into law. It's not democracy. It's not about pornography, it's your freedom to express yourself," he said.

This is the crux of the current argument. How far should such freedoms be extended?

The consensus in parliament is such that the anti-pornography bill will almost certainly be passed.

The question then becomes how it will be interpreted and enforced by a notoriously corrupt legal system.

But it is perhaps an encouraging sign of Indonesia's growing democratic maturity that a piece of draft legislation is being debated in public at all.

Muslims Upset With Playboy in Indonesia

AFP, 1/22/6 - Conservative Indonesians are furious about the planned debut of a local edition of raunchy magazine Playboy, fuelling a growing debate on pornography in the world's largest Islamic nation.

The local publisher has promised that it will dramatically tone down the magazine's erotic photographs, but Islamic leaders charge that the famed title will corrupt a culture already being inundated by Western influences.

"Indonesia is not Europe or America, whose culture and reaction towards nudity are totally different than ours," fumed Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the country's largest Muslim organisation, the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Playboy "simply has no place in our social norms and culture... Pornography, regardless of how it is being disguised, will only corrupt youth morals and bring catastrophes such as a rise in rape and sexual harassment," he told AFP.

Muzadi wants authorities to revoke not only the license it has issued for Playboy but also for its Indonesian competitors.

Dozens of titillating glossy magazines have debuted since the 1998 downfall of dictator Suharto ushered in a new era of free speech, such as British lads' magazine FHM and sex tip-packed Cosmopolitan, as well as local titles.

"Legalising Playboy to circulate in Indonesia is tantamount to legalising pornography, which is already pretty much uncontrollable due to the circulation of pirated DVDs and VCDs and the Internet," he said.

Such porn discs are readily, if discreetly, available across the capital Jakarta for as little as 6,000 rupiah (60 cents), while tabloid newspapers flaunt flesh-flashing models and erotic movies are beamed on late-night TV.

Still, it is world-renowned Playboy, which will sell for between 40,000 and 50,000 rupiah by subscription and at select high-end bookstores, that has hit a particular nerve.

"It will be disastrous for Indonesia," Irfan Awwas, chairman of the hardline Indonesian Mujahedin Council, told AFP. "The publication of Playboy as we know it will further destroy the nation's morality."

But for those in the know, illicit imported copies of the magazine are already sold by vendors such as 23-year-old Jimmy, who produced a November 2004 edition upon request at Central Jakarta's famous Kwitang used book market.

The devout Muslim has no difficulty in reconciling his trade with his religion.

"God has His own ways for everyone to earn their living. I believe there will always be customers who want to buy these magazines from me," he told AFP.

His biggest fear was being caught by undercover police officers "who want to jail me but also want to keep my magazines," he complained.

The debut of Playboy highlights an arguable shift in values across the vast archipelago nation, where most people practise a moderate form of Islam, and comes as lawmakers are soon expected to pass a wide-ranging law on pornography.

Leo Batubara, a senior member of the Indonesian Press Council, said the state body was still arguing with MPs over an "acceptable Indonesian media standard of what is deemed to be morally accepted and what is not."

The council has no legal power to revoke licences but is often consulted by the parliament to discuss media-related issues.

Lawmakers "cannot seem to make up their mind on how to categorise movies, publications and even our 'dangdut' shows, which do not show full-frontal nudity but reveal women posing and acting in semi-erotic fashion," he said.

The hugely popular dangdut features traditional Indonesian music with strong Indian and Arabic influences.

Aided by experts in communications and media policies, Batubara said the council will try to persuade lawmakers not to include two articles in the current draft law.

One stipulates jail terms of up to seven years for "acts and publication of acts deemed indecent or sexually arousing."

The other legislates a similar jail term for people caught kissing in public or dancing -- such as dangdut -- which includes "arousing movements".

"Many lawmakers involved in the making of the bill have no real understanding and knowledge of what exactly is pornography," Batubara said.

"They just want to issue a law but they do not want to give a damn about its impact on our socially and culturally complex society," he warned.

"If parliament endorses the law (as it stands), could a married couple kissing during their wedding ceremony be sent to jail for public indecency?"

On Playboy, Batubara said critics should reserve judgement until they see how it fits into "Indonesia's modern and acceptable social norms."

Fellow press council member R.H. Siregar was also in favour of its publication, saying it would be unfair for it to be banned.

He said, however, that the publisher "must consult religious groups and explain their format and intention."

Playboy Indonesia's promotion manager, Avianto Nugroho, told AFP Saturday that its publication launch planned for March "could be pushed back", though he declined to say why.

He said the publisher was due to meet this week with Playboy executives in New York to discuss the magazine's "concept, style and format".

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