Why is Indonesia censoring SpongeBob

Winnie Whoo?

Child and youth media protection as a pretext for censorship


Did you notice it too? The world power China can actually be unsettled by a little cartoon bear. Strictly speaking, the President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping. In the opinion of the online community, it should have a certain resemblance to the chubby bear Winnie the Pooh. Instead of amusing himself with this finding, Jinping took advantage of his power over the information landscape in China and had the cartoon bear and everything related to it banned completely. So it happened with the cynical episode of South Park, in which precisely this comparison is used to point out the abuses of Chinese censorship and the approval of internationally linked markets such as the US film industry. Now the entire series has been banned from the Chinese network. And this is just one of the many examples of media censorship that has been making the news lately.


Censorship in and by China

It should be well known by now that the Chinese government has a particularly strict approach to media control. By closely monitoring media output, the government is putting pressure on companies that follow unethical guidelines in order not to be disadvantaged. You set up entire censorship departments or outsource the business area to companies specializing in censorship. This economic security even extends beyond China's borders.
Like in the South Park-Episode Band in china described, China’s international partners play it safe when it comes to expressing political opinions. One example is the popular US shoe brand Vans. In a competition was a Pro Hong Kong ”-Design published, which was removed from the site shortly after publication. When asked, the brand justified itself with its apolitical stance since then, but it is also conceivable that the place of manufacture could have had an impact on this decision.
The brand giant Apple has repeatedly deleted various apps related to the protests from its range under pressure from Chinese authorities, including a map app that enables demonstrators to transmit the location of police units, which is also said to have been used for criminal purposes by individuals. On the other hand, there are also news apps that report on the protests, among other things.


"Social Scoring System"

Private individuals also participate more or less voluntarily in the government's surveillance strategies. The so-called Social Scoring System, for example, was officially developed to reward the righteousness of citizens and to motivate them to behave well. In the system, which is initially voluntary, but later compulsory, each member is assigned a point account that fills up with good behavior and empties with bad.
The problem is that comments critical of the government should lead to a reduction in points and that this could result in serious economic and social disadvantages for the individual. Critical statements should be able to lead to the fact that one is treated of secondary importance during medical treatment, for example.

Over time, what is known as the “external network” (Orig .: Waiwang) was formed. The word was coined by people who are aware of the extensive censorship and the existence of a Chinese network isolated from the outside world. In order not to be left economically behind, the Chinese government should allow its companies, scientists and party members to use so-called tunnel software. Everyone else has to be content with what the government allows them to see.

That currently includes children's and youth series like Winnie Pooh and South Park completely off. It is not uncommon for arguments from the protection of minors to be used to disguise political motivations.


Beyond China's borders ...

Turkey also recently provided a prime example of the censorship of children's media that are allegedly harmful to minors. The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (in German: 100 extraordinary women"), Which tells the stories of various women who are considered pioneers of their time and convey a message of emancipation. It has been classified as obscene by the Turkish authorities and is therefore treated like pornography, so it may not be advertised or sold to minors. The book had previously struggled with the censorship of a chapter on a transgender girl on the Russian market.

In Iran, too, the government should be able to block websites at will or reduce the speed of internet connections, for example to make communication more difficult during elections. Similar in Egypt, where local news sites are said to be completely blocked.



But where there are bans - there are rebels who do not want to submit to the system, for example the protests in Hong Kong, which are much discussed in the news and which grew out of a disapproval of the increasing influence of the Chinese Communist Party. Here you can also find examples of peaceful demonstrations against media censorship, e.g. with a public screening of the prohibited South ParkFollow the streets of Hong Kong or take photos of critical posts in order to distribute them after the state-decreed deletion process.

However, the Chinese censorship algorithms are now so efficient that they can even filter images with certain information from the data volumes. It's an ongoing game of cat and mouse.


Differentiation between youth media protection and censorship

Some comparisons of international censorship can be made, although these are based on different problems.

In the cases of Turkey and Russia, the censorship seems to be based on preserving conservative gender roles and relationship concepts. Diversity in the media is seen as a danger and, in a further step, also threatens the political order.

The example of China is about an alleged undermining of political power, respect or awe of the government. The control system that works for the regime should not be critically questioned. Now she has South Park-Episode Band in china Knowingly provoked by its nature as a satirical cartoon series and “welcomed” China's reaction and public interest in the topic. As it turned out, however, there are also cases in which “innocent” children's media suffer from censorship because governments see them as a danger.

In the case of Indonesia, it almost seems to be about a misadaptation of guiding criteria for evaluating (among other things) depictions of violence. Because even before the censorship of children's series and films such as SpongeBob SquarePants did not stop. Allegedly they contain "violence, demonic possession, horror and sensual (...) movements" that were rated as harmful to young people. There is hardly any other way of explaining the critical overvaluation of a cake fight in an animated film for children. However, given the unbroken strict rules for media content in Indonesia, it is not really surprising. Other distributors such as Tumblr and Netflix have already fallen victim to the “anti-porn law” passed in 2008. Spongebob was already censored because the squirrel "Sandy Cheeks" could be seen in a bikini.

Whether an outdated rating system, insecurity or poorly adapted (violence rating) criteria for fictional, animated comedy series are decisive, the protection of minors is used here as an example of legitimation. The fact that, for example, sexual identity is a key criterion in the protection of minors in the media that is discussed around the world unfortunately repeatedly conceals when it is a question of censorship and thus an unethical interference with freedom of art, freedom of expression and media diversity. Often enough, youth media protection institutions have to justify themselves, not least because the reasons for censorship are often based on the protection of minors.



The current examples of censorship show, on the one hand, the direct influence on the formation and communication of political opinions and, on the other hand, the desire for controlled media socialization in general. Both interact and are based on the knowledge of how strongly the media can influence the development of the individual personality and the tendencies of a population.

Ultimately, this is also the basis for our youth media protection, but with one crucial difference: in youth media protection it must be a matter of making a clear distinction between the need for protection of adolescents, but also the right to media diversity, opinion-forming and freedom of art and the press. Ultimately, the "development of children or adolescents into independent and socially responsible personality" (Section 5 (1) JMStV) should be protected, and the ability for individual discussion and opinion-forming should be encouraged instead of - as in the examples mentioned - being restricted or to steer consciously.


Sources and Articles:

  • Censorship in Indonesia, netzpolitik.org from February 19, 2016: Censorship in Indonesia: Tumblr too pornographic, Netflix too revealing and LGBT content too dangerous
  • Censorship in China, zeit.de from March 6, 2019: Winnie the Pooh, the dangerous bear
  • Restriction of social networks in Indonesia, spiegel.de from May 22, 2019: After voter protests - Indonesia blocks social networks
  • National and international censorship of digital media in Turkey, heise.de from 02.08.2019: Turkey:New regulation enables censorship of online content, also zeit.de from 02.08.2019: Turkish government enables censorship of online content
  • Control of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, noizz.de from 09/24/2019: Indonesia bans Spongebob - supposedly too sexual and violent
  • Evaluation of a children's book in Turkey, spiegel.de from October 4th, 2019: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Turkey treats children's books like obscene writing
  • Delete the South Park-Episode Band in china, chinadigitaltimes.net from October 8th, 2019: Minitrue:Delete"South Park" episodeBand in China ”
  • Chinese government deletes content that is critical of the regime, dasding.de from 10.10.2019: Hong Kong - China's powerful censorship offensive
  • Apple gives in to pressure from Chinese authorities, heise.de from 10.10.2019: App for Hong Kong protesters: Apple deletes when Beijing is pressured
  • Civil disobedience, Jetzt.de from 11.10.2019: Prohibited "South Park" episode shown on Hong Kong Street
  • China's social scoring system and the effects on society, heise.de from October 12, 2019: Conference on super scoring: The human being as a numerical value
  • Control of the network by the state, travelnews.ch from October 31, 2019: On the go on the Internet: Where the state likes to read along

To the controversial South Park- episode, southpark.de from October 2nd, 2019: Band in china

All articles were last accessed on December 10, 2019.

Tags: China, JMStV, children's series, South Park, Spongebob, Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, Xi Jinping, censorship

About Janina Pickel

Janina Pickel is a master's student in film studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. In February 2018 she became a volunteer examiner for the FSK and since June 2019 she has also been working as a projectionist for the F.W. Murnau film theater in Wiesbaden. In her bachelor thesis on the topic The horror film for children This reflects her special interest in media cross-border commuters and topics relating to the protection of minors in the media. Among other things, this motivated her to do an internship at the FSF. In the meantime she has also been named the FSF's examiner.