Times Online April 07, 2006


A Jakarta newspaper hawker with the Indonesian edition of Playboy (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Playboy's Indonesia edition enrages - and disappoints

Islamic extremists in Jakarta gave the publishers of Playboy a seven-day ultimatum to withdraw a new Indonesian edition of the magazine when it was launched today in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

But the threat of violence was just part of the cacophany, as radio call-in shows, newspapers and websites in the Indonesian capital hummed with the excitement and moral opprobrium that have accompanied the publication of the magazine's 18th international edition.

Like the other regional versions, Indonesia's form of the iconic, soft-porn, hard-interview magazine is tailored to local tastes.

Today's edition ó featuring a bright red cover, a study of East Timor since independence and an interview with Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the bestselling Indonesian author ó did not feature full nudity and paled next to the garish locally-made pornography available from hawkers and video-sellers in Jakarta.

But that did not stop a delegation of around two dozen members of the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline faction known for offering violent solutions to moral problems, protesting at the offices of Playboy's Indonesian publishers.

"If within a week they are still active and sell the magazine, we will take physical action," said Muhammad Alawi Usman, a spokesman for the group. "Playboy is not suitable for reading because its contents degrade women."

Another leader, Tubagus Muhamad Sidik, told Reuters the word Playboy, with its connotations of debauchery, was insult enough. "Even if it had no pictures of women in it, we would still protest it because of the name," he said. "If they donít withdraw it then we will act in our own way, the forceful way. Our crew will clearly hound the editors."

Condemnation of Playboy's plan to launch in Indonesia, an archipelago of 13,000 islands with nearly 200 million Muslim citizens, has been widespread since it was announced earlier this year. In February, Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, questioned whether a local edition would benefit the nation. Muslim leaders have called Playboy "moral terrorism".

But banning the magazine has proved problematic because Indonesia has a free press, and only vague laws governing pornography. Today, the country's Youth and Sports Minister, Adhyaksa Dault, a member of one of Indonesia's Islamic parties, said he was in talks to try and control what he called the "explosive" issue.

"I have coordinated with the Minister of Information," he said. "We would like to see the contents first. We must find a way to cool down the situation."

And then there is the demand. Although some newsstand owners in Jakarta said they were afraid to sell the magazine because they feared reprisals, others said it could compete well alongside the city's tabloid newspapers and other western men's magazines, like FHM, that have already landed in the country.

"This magazine is going to be popular," said one vendor, who gave his name as Herbert. "People are only hearing the name and allowing their blood to boil."

In fact there were reports today of entirely unexpected complaints: that after all the fuss, Playboy was a let-down. On sale at 39,000 rupiah (about £2.50), the magazine costs twice the average daily wage in Indonesia, and disappointed buyers called Jakartaís 68H radio station to say they had expected more.

"Itís sinful to read Playboy if thereís no nudity!" said one caller.

"Itís a scandal! Thereís no nude women in the magazine. I think we have been deceived," said another.

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