Indonesia’s Draft Law to Regulate Music

The past several days have seen an explosion of criticism of Indonesia’s new draft law regulating music. This bill, which was introduced some time ago but which appears to suddenly be a legislative priority, includes several passages that would constrain the content, production, and promotion of contemporary music.

Source: CNNIndonesia

  1. Passage 5 forbids music that criticizes religions, provokes intergroup violence, or contains what is only vaguely termed “negative influences from foreign cultures.”
  2. Passages 18 and 32 introduce license requirements for promoters and competence tests (!) for musicians.
  3. Passage 19 requires foreign musicians to be accompanied by local musicians.
  4. Passage 42 requires hotels and restaurants to play traditional music.

Now, as happy as one might be to rid Indonesian music of certain negative foreign cultural influences, or to not hear things like this in hotel elevators, this is plainly an attempt to regulate expression in ways that comport with a fairly conservative interpretation of Indonesian national culture. The parallels with the authoritarian New Order‘s regulation of expression are obvious.

That said, the very notion that one might regulate musicians in this way reflects something deeper than just the lineages of authoritarianism and conservative moralizing. It is a manifestation of the ordered organicism that lies at the very heart of the Indonesian politics, most notably in Sukarno’s formation of Golkar (“functional groups”), a mass organization that set out to represent the interests of each of the social groups within Indonesia. In this political imaginary, a social group like “musician” occupies a distinct niche within society that warrants representation but also may be regulated as such, to keep the whole of the body politic healthy.

Viewed this way, we might conclude that the authors of this draft law actually believe that they are representing musicians’ actual interests just as much as they are regulating them. That such laws are also useful for protectionism and nationalist moralizing is a convenient byproduct.

It is true that this focus on order and grouping represents one possible response—an anti-liberal one—to the challenges of governing a sprawling and diverse archipelagic nation. But I also suspect that the colonial encounter with the Dutch provided some inspiration for this way of ordering society and politics. There is a dissertation to be written about the conceptual links between pillarization and the ordered organicism of Indonesian politics, past and present. Andreas Ufen has compared aliran to the pillars, and John Sidel has argued that this model was transplanted to Indonesia in terms of religious regulation, but my hunch is that there is deeper story to tell—not just about religious groups, but about social groups in general as legal subjects.