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Playboy tests tolerance in Indonesia DENPASAR - When Erwin Arnada, editor in chief of Playboy magazine in Indonesia, answered a summons at the police headquarters in the Indonesian 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 to the model who appeared in the first centerfold of the Indonesian edition wearing a modest blue negligée that made lingerie advertisements in Western newspapers seem decidedly lewd. "How can you not remember?" one police officer asked, according to the editor's account of the good-natured encounter recently. "Because I meet many beautiful people every day," Arnada said he replied.

The questioners chuckled enviously, he said. They charged him, and Gunawan, with violating the indecency provisions of the criminal code, and then let them go. Playboy arrived in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, three months ago with an edition specially created for local customs, meaning no photographs of nude women.

The magazine is published under license in 20 countries, mostly in Europe. Indonesia is the first Muslim country the magazine has published in since a Turkish edition folded in the mid-1990s. Fairly predictably, an Indonesian extremist Islamic 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, Arnada said, that it was impossible for the staff to continue publication there.

The magazine then decamped to Bali, a predominantly Hindu island that is part of Indonesia and is unquestionably its most relaxed corner, where foreign tourists parade in skimpy swimsuits and frolic in alcohol-serving nightclubs. The second and third editions were produced from the magazine's new headquarters, a floor of a house belonging to a Hindu spiritual leader who is a friend of Arnada, who is Muslim. The most recent layouts of the magazine are fashioned among Balinese wall hangings and religious offerings to the Hindu gods.

While the reaction of the extremist groups in the capital was not surprising, the magazine has also been caught up in a parliamentary debate that has clumped together a variety of issues - how women should dress, whether Shariah law can be enforced by local governments - under the rubric of an anti-pornography bill that is testing the heart of Indonesian tolerance.

The Indonesian Society against Piracy and Pornography, a group backing the anti-pornography bill, filed a lawsuit against Playboy, and that, in turn, prompted the police investigation. But Arnada and his editors have fashioned a publication that is so tame it was "absurd" to try to ban it, said Goenawan Mohamed, the founder of the newsweekly Tempo and a distinguished columnist.

Although he supports the right of Playboy to publish, Mohamed said that 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. What's the fuss? Anyway, it's publishing." In an effort to make the Indonesian edition palatable to local sensibilities, the first issue featured the nation's most famous author and dissident novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, as the month's Playboy Interview. Pramoedya died at the age of 81, soon after the edition appeared.

Most of the articles in the first three issues were run-of-the-mill fare for any general-interest magazine in Asia: an account of amputees from the Cambodian civil wars; the stories of Indonesian mail-order brides; a photo essay about domestic violence against children, a piece on East Timor.

The photographs of the centerfold Playmate, in sparse though hardly salacious clothing, and a lonely-hearts column geared to men were about the strongest suggestions that the Indonesian Playboy was actually aimed at male readers. The cover on the third issue was certainly fleshier, though still a touch demure in comparison to 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 the suggestion, of her navel.

For Arnada, 41, who has a background in publishing entertainment tabloids and producing horror movies, all the fuss represents fears about the intrusion of Western culture. "Why else do they keep shouting about Playboy?" he asked. A widely distributed publication in Indonesia, Lampu Merah, or Red Light, which is owned by one of the biggest Indonesian media conglomerates, Jawa Pos, is far more provocative, Arnada said.

Printed on crude newsprint and sold on the street by hawkers for the equivalent of 20 cents, Lampu Merah carries advertisements and the phone numbers of prostitutes, features naked men and women, and is festooned with provocative sexual headlines. The Indonesian Press Council, a government body, has supported Playboy, saying freedom of the press was now the rule of the day.

So for the moment, Arnada and his colleague, Ponti Carolus, who looks after the financial side of their company, Velvet Silver Media, appear to have prevailed. Velvet Silver is the publisher of Playboy in Indonesia. The first two issues of 100,000 copies each sold out briskly, even at the relatively stiff price of $3.80. Some of the major advertisers - cigarette and mobile phone companies, perfume, sunglasses and watch brands - who fled the second edition, afraid of threats from the Islamic Defenders Front, returned for the third issue.

And Arnada, a self-described party boy, said that a prominent Balinese nightclub owner had agreed to hold a Playmate event next month. But 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." His case for purveying indecency remains with the police and has not gone to the prosecutors. "I hope they drop the charges,' he said.

Posted in Culture @ 26 July 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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