Jakarta may ban phone chat lines

‘We have to shield our young from these disguised phone-sex services’

THE Indonesian government is set to ban telephone “chat lines” amid concerns here that they are nothing more than disguised phone-sex services.

Officials said that this was part of a move by the government to clamp down on unscrupulous telephone operators who were abusing the country’s telecommunications infrastructure to tap into a growing market of affluent young Indonesians.

“We need to protect the public, particularly impressionable children, from such services which we consider to be telephone-sex advertisements,” said Mr Slamet Wibowo, a senior official from the Post and Telecommunications Ministry.

“The operators are cashing in on a huge market here.”

He told The Straits Times yesterday that the ministry had received numerous complaints from parents complaining of big telephone bills as a result of their children using the phone excessively. The local media was also questioning the moral impact of such services in the country.

“There is pressure to do something about the problem, and one solution is to ban the chat lines altogether,” he said. He did not indicate when a decision would be made on the matter.

The ministry’s Director-General, Mr Djakaria Purawidjaja, however, indicated that his office was ready and technically able to block off the chat lines now, but was awaiting directions from those supervising broadcasting and telecommunications contents.

He said the ministry was working closely with the Justice Ministry, Supreme Court, the Attorney-General’s Office and police on the matter.

Last month, Post and Telecommunications Minister Joop Ave lambasted operators of such services, and said that the government would do its best to to protect the public from any exploitation.

But he noted that it would be hard for the government to ban such services, since they operated within legal limits.

“The government has built telephone, television and satellite for the progress of the nation, but unfortunately, bandits have used it for destructive purposes,” he said.

Government sources noted that there were now more than 10 chat lines services offered by various operators, most of them located abroad in Hongkong, Sweden, Malaysia and Hawaii.

Chat lines, also known as “party lines” or “global friendship lines”, allow Indonesians above 18 years old – according to advertisements – “to have fun and meet friends from all over the world” by dialing a specified international number.

An international call to Malaysia, for example, costs 2,900 rupiah (S$1.50) per six-second block.

Chat line service agents in Indonesia have promoted their products aggressively through electronic and print media, claiming that the state-owned PT Indosat and private-owned PT Satelindo, both international telecommunications providers, also supported the services.

The two firms have denied this and have called on local media to drop advertisements promoting such services – but to no avail.

Observers here point out that the chat lines are nothing new in Indonesia. The last few years, however, have seen a boom because of telecommunications improvements and growing affluence.

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