[KAJIAN ONLINE] What We Should Talk About When We Talk About Censoring Music


“Musisi dilarang mendorong khalayak melakukan kekerasan serta melawan hukum, membuat konten pornografi, memprovokasi pertentangan
antarkelompok, menodai agama, membawa pengaruh negatif budaya asing dan merendahkan harkat serta martabat manusia”

So says the fifth article of the Indonesian Music Bill Draft, which recently stirred considerable controversy after musicians across Indonesia united in protest [1]. At least 262 musicians and music industry stakeholders came out with a statement shortly after, firmly stating to be against the bill [2]. While various articles of the draft were deemed faulty, it is arguably this fifth article which boosted it into widespread public attention. The basis of rejecting this fifth article by the National Coalition to Reject the Music Bill Draft (KNTLRUUP) is simple and intuitive: it threatens to restrict musicians’ freedom of expression, and can act as a tool for the government to criminalize certain musicians considered “inappropriate” or “threatening” [3].

Musicians band together to reject the Music Bill Draft (RUU Permusikan)

Proponents of personal liberty and freedom of speech vehemently advocate that there should be no limitation whatsoever on what artists produce [4]. Meanwhile, on the other side of the camp, those who support limiting freedom of expression for a “greater good” can be represented by the argument presented in the official academic script for the bill: that freedom in the creative process should be overseen so that it does not go overboard, and that values of pluralism, nationalism, decency, and societal harmony is maintained [5]. These two views are mutually exclusive; you must be wholly for one side, and against the other. The reason for this is that the philosophical foundation underlying each argument is vastly different. Without acknowledging this point, any debate between the two sides is doomed to yield no meaningful results. In order to find a useful meeting point for the two arguments, we must start by breaking them down to their core values.

The role of music taken for granted
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss proposed a reasonable and comprehensive list of purposes for which art is utilized [6]. These can be roughly divided into two categories: purposes of art for the artist, and purposes of art for the audience. Personal motivations for creating art include expressing the imagination and psychological healing – creating art allows for the artist to channel their internal tribulations and manifest them into something concrete. Censorship of music would arguably do little to bother this aspect of art – it would be nigh impossible to enforce restrictions on private creation of music. Instead, it is the social function of music that censorship threatens to shackle. Levi-Strauss points out several social purposes of art that becomes relevant: entertainment, political change and social causes. In essence, art, and music in particular, acts as a powerful medium of communication.

History teaches us much regarding the role of music in impacting social movements. Incidentally, many of these movements were highly critical of their respective governments. With politically-charged music, artists are able to channel diagnoses of problems with the status quo and propose solutions for these problems [7]. Furthermore, the replay value and memetic effect inherent within music arguably allows for far greater exposure and social impact than any other form of art. Music has contributed to countless social movements, such as protests against the Vietnam War in the United States [8] as well as against apartheid in South Africa [9].

In Indonesia, West Papuan musician Arnold Ap heavily criticized the residing government with music before he was murdered on 24 April 1984 by the Indonesian special force Kopassus [9]. “The only thing I am waiting for”, he sang, “is nothing else but freedom”. Along with other musicians, Ap was imprisoned and tortured for suspicions of sympathizing with the Papuan Independence Movement (OPM), which has been fighting a long and bitter war to have West Papua secede from Indonesia. By promoting West Papuan culture in his music, Arnold Ap and his fellow musicians gave a voice to the anxiety felt by West Papuans from Indonesian occupation. Evidently, the Indonesian government saw his message as subversive, and so he was eventually murdered. When the government kills musicians for political motives, the power of music to mobilize people, oftentimes against the government, becomes crystal clear.

Arnold Ap, West Papuan activist and musician.

The role of government as moral gatekeepers
On the other hand, those who support government regulation tell another compelling argument; namely, that the government carries the obligation to maintain the stability and harmony of its nation. These proponents view conflict and restlessness as a hazard – thus, the public must be protected from certain forms of art which threatens to cause restlessness. Another supporting argument relates to the protection of children; namely that some art, particularly music, could inhibit the healthy growth of adolescents. This notion is supported by plenty of research which suggests that exposure to music containing sexual and violent lyrics correlates with undesirable effects to child behavior [10][11]. It could be argued that the government, as leaders of the country, has the responsibility to guide and conduct its citizens to adhere to the central values and philosophy of the nation.

Before outright rejecting the notion that the government should act as an enforces of norms, those who condemn censorship should consider the justification underlying this argument, which has been argued by various prominent thinkers throughout history. In Leviathan, philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ seminal work on political theory, he argues that the necessity of installing a government lies is derived from the truth about the “natural state of man”, as he puts it, which inherently promotes conflict. Human desires differ from person to person, and clashes between different interests will be inevitable [12]. Thus, there could never be a government which succeeds in providing the greatest good to all of its constituents. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of the government to maintain peace and harmony at all costs, so as to ensure its citizens can live without the constant threat of disunity and civil war. In this view, movements where people gather and march on the streets against the government, provoked in part by musicians egging them on to do so, is seen as subversive and counterproductive.

However, the legitimacy of this appeal to the role of government as moral police can be questioned according to the foundational principles adhered by the ruling government. In centralized authoritarian states such as Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, or North Korea, it would be easier to accept such a notion, as the rulers are constitutionally given free rein to dictate the norms to be enforced. Indonesia, meanwhile, whose government takes the form of a republic where the rulers obtain their mandate to rule from the people, who demand they legislate laws according to the interests of the people, it becomes harder to argue for a government which arbitrarily sets moral standards according to their independent judgment.

The crux of the debate
We can now see that the discussion finally centers around whether or not the government should use repressive measures to enforce certain values which it deems important. If you consider personal liberty to be of tantamount importance, any form of censorship becomes inherently immoral. On the other hand, if you deem regulation as a necessary form of social control inherent to the role of government, the idea of censorship becomes more reasonable. This is where the discussion regarding any censorship of art should start; without an agreement on this point, no real progress could be accomplished. One should always note, however, in the case where the people demand the government act in the people’s interest, excessive repression and limitation of the people’s freedom will only cause more anxiety, as the people find themselves without a medium to relate with and to communicate their objections towards the government, so that the harmony and peace sought after by the rulers will only become more difficult to achieve.

1. Ehrenreich, B. (2019). Rap Music Should Not Be Censored. [online] Ncjrs.gov. Available at: http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/abstract.aspx?ID=160267 [Accessed 16 Feb. 2019].
2. Instagram. (2019). Efek Rumah Kaca on Instagram: “Efek Rumah Kaca beserta ratusan pelaku musik dari beberapa kota di Indonesia, secara tegas #TolakRUUPermusikan karena berpotensi merepresi…”. [online] Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/BtbH38UBwXL/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2019].
3. Persada, S. (2019). 262 Orang Pegiat Musik Tolak RUU Permusikan. [online] Tempo. Available at: https://nasional.tempo.co/read/1171913/262-orang-pegiat-musik-tolak-ruu-permusikan/full&view=ok [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
4. Prabowo, H. (2019). Penyusun RUU Permusikan Bantah Pasal 5 Bisa Kriminalisasi Musisi – Tirto.ID. [online] tirto.id. Available at: https://tirto.id/penyusun-ruu-permusikan-bantah-pasal-5-bisa-kriminalisasi-musisi-dfFj [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
5. Samsul, I., Susiana, S., Umam, C., Sari, N., Trimaya, A., Hidayat, R., Nasution, I., Saragih, J. and Winurini, S. (2019). Naskah Akademik RUU Permusikan. [online] Learninghub.icjr.or.id. Available at: http://learninghub.icjr.or.id/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/NA-RUU-PERMUSIKAN-15-Agustus-2018.pdf [Accessed 16 Feb. 2019].
6. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1967). The Savage Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
7. Lewis, George H. (1985). The Role of Music in Popular Social Movements: A Theory and Case Study of the State of Hawaii, USA. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Vol. 16, No. 2
8. Schifferes, S. (2019). BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Vietnam: The music of protest. [online] News.bbc.co.uk. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4498011.stm [Accessed 18 Feb. 2019].
9. Drewett, Michael (2003). “Music in the Struggle to End Apartheid: South Africa”. In Cloonan, Martin; Garofalo, Reebee. Policing Pop. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: Temple University Press. pp. 153–165.
10. Georgieva, E. (2017). Effect of music on children’s nature and behaviour. How music can educate, but also destroy. Trakia Journal of Science, 15(4), pp.325-327.
11. Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth. (2009). PEDIATRICS, 124(5), pp.1488-1494.
12. Hobbes, T. (1651). “Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Contributor: Miftah Rasheed Amir
Editor: Ginanjar M. Panggalih, Fadhil Ramadhan
Design: Yosia Kenneth

Kajian Online adalah program kerja rutin Divisi Kajian B.O. Economica berupa tulisan argumentatif berlandaskan keilmuan yang mengangkat dan menanggapi fenomena sosial, politik, ekonomi, budaya dan teknologi dengan tajam, komprehensif dari sebuah sudut pandang.