Thais soften Internet crackdown

Government to lessen regulations

Thailand’s military-appointed government Tuesday announced measures to soften its stance on regulation of the Internet, but it is not clear that these will end protests from freedom of speech activists or supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

A ban against video-sharing site YouTube remains in place for the moment (Daily Variety, April 10, 2007.)

“After the National Legislative Assembly revokes the law, a court order will instead be needed to shut down a Web site,” Communications Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom said.

Last year the cabinet gave itself rights to censor political or controversial Internet sites based solely on the Minister of Communication’s discretion. A new Internet bill is set to be put before the Assembly.

Meanwhile, cries of resentment erupted from Thai filmmakers and media activists last week after the cabinet approved the Film Act and submitted it for parliamentary consideration.

The movie bill, which will institute a film rating system but still allow the state a legitimate right to cut or ban films, is believed by some observers to be worse for artistic freedom than the existing law, which dates back to 1930.

“There are three main points that we object to,” Pimpaka Towira, spokesman for the Free Thai Cinema Movement, said. “The first is that government representatives on the proposed rating committee will outnumber those from the filmmaking community.

“Second is the vague concept of age classification, which was conceived arbitrarily without any proper study. Third, and most important, is that the new law still allows cutting and banning (by the authorities), which is totally against the spirit of a good rating system.”

  “Ong Bak” and “The Protector” helmer Prachya Pinakaew, president of the Thai Directors Assn. who leads the Free Thai Cinema movement, says the new law is intended to control rather than to support the industry.

“The combination of ratings plus the right to ban is not going to do us any good,” he said. “The law also doesn’t mention anything about state support for young or upcoming filmmakers.”

The Film Act was drafted under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, which has a strongly conservative leaning.

 A senior officer at the ministry insists that the Film Act is not intended to curb artistic freedom. “The idea is to let everybody participate in the rating committee,” she said. “But maybe Thai audiences are still not ready for everything.”

The Free Thai Cinema Movement submitted a petition to the cabinet, but received no response. “Now that the bill is in the Legislative Assembly, it’s harder for us to do anything,” Towira said. “But we will keep fighting one way or the other.”

YouTube was banned in April after it carried a clip that was disrespectful of King Bhumibol. The Ministry initially tried to block access to the video, but found it difficult to isolate and instead chose to ban the whole website.

 Since last September’s bloodless coup some 13,000 Internet sites have been blocked, according to protest org Freedom Against Censorship in Thailand. Pookaiyaudom said the figure was much lower than that. “Under my term, I have closed down about 200 sites, most of which were pornographic,” he said Tuesday.

He added that he had ordered the closure of sites run by only two groups of supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Shinawatra, but the groups had multiple “mirror sites,” which he had to close, too.

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