Political satire tests Indonesian media freedom

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JAKARTA, Nov 14 (Reuters) Poking fun at Indonesian politicians would have been unimaginable a decade ago, but a local television show in which actors play government leaders is breaking taboos in the young democracy and winning audiences.

Media freedom in Indonesia has come a long way since mass protests in 1998 ended the iron-fisted rule of former president Suharto, whose government severely shackled the press.

''We are free but now it is up to us to use this freedom,'' said Effendi Gazali, a media professor at the University of Indonesia who helped devise the twice weekly shows -- ''Republik Mimpi'' (Republic of Dreams) -- and who also appears on them.

Gazali, who said he had received death threats over the show, was inspired by learning that many Americans got their political information from Jon Stewart's political parody ''The Daily Show''.

The series -- originally called ''Republik Benar Benar Mabuk'' (Drunken Republic) -- was launched two years ago and has a format consisting of a panel of look-alike politicians in front of a live audience lampooning the nation's leaders past and present.

So, one character is based on former president B J Habibie, an engineer who was famously obsessed with turning Indonesia into a technological powerhouse. Another portrays former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who in real life was often seen nodding off in meetings and who spends much of the show dozing.

''Republik Mimpi'' also mirrors elements of the British TV series ''Spitting Image'' launched in the 1980s that used puppets to mock establishment figures from royalty to Margaret Thatcher.

REUTERS SV SSC1401

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