Christian Science Monitor: 5 banned books

9 04 2012

The Christian Science Monitor lists five banned books from around the world, stating:

Censorship of the arts has a long history, from ancient Greece to present-day Thailand. US schools regularly add new, and often surprising, books to their lists of banned literature.

Guess what comes up first? The King Never Smiles by Paul Handley! More grist to the mill that shows Thailand’s censors, and especially the royalists amongst them, are a bunch of dolts and that lese majeste is remarkably damaging for the country and the monarchy.

FACT on Chiranuch Trial, Day 2

8 02 2011

PPT reproduces C.J. Hinke’s report on Day 2 of the trial (with some links and emphasis added by us):

Thailand’s chief censor continues in Prachatai trial

The second day in the lèse majesté trial against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of Thai independent news portal, Prachatai, using the Computer Crimes Act began Tuesday.

Chiranuch, nicknamed Jiew, was charged over ten comments to Prachatai’s public webboard which Thai government says she was not prompt enough to delete.

Each charge carries a potential sentence of five years. Chiranuch is facing 50 years in prison for being a journalist.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court was once again filled with local and international supporters, media and foreign diplomats.

The defence cross-examination of Aree Jivorarak, chief of Thailand’s ICT ministry and Thai government’s chief censor, continued from Friday.

At today’s hearing, Chiranuch’s defence sought to examine each of the alleged comments insulting Thailand’s monarchy. The defence questioned the indirect phraseology used by the commenters.

Some examples were, does it insult His Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Queen to suggest that they supported the Thai military’s coup d’etat in 2006? Can the use of the pronouns he and she definitively be taken to mean the King, Queen or Heir Apparent? Is any discussion of Thailand’s monarchy, its meaning and duties, demeaning the institution?

One poster asked Prachatai readers to “understand” the King’s own words. Aree repeatedly applied the word “inappropriate”. Of course, inappropriate does not mean illegal!

A posting to Prachatai’s web forum included a hotlink to a audio file of of a speech made from a Redshirt stage by Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, nicknamed Da Torpedo. Darunee was torpedoed with an 18-year sentence for this instance of lèse majesté in which she called for abolition of the Royals.

The audio file was not enough for our MICT. The file was transcribed and added to the police charges against Chiranuch. However, Mediafile was not blocked and no prosecution was initiated against the file’s uploader.

This raises a crucial legal question as yet untested. Does the Computer Crimes Act criminalise hotlinks?

The MICT chief censor stated that his ministry could not pursue prosecutions but merely recommend their investigation to the Royal Thai Police. The police also are charged with tracing IP addresses suspected of illegality. In Thailand, ISPs always connect to Internet users via a telephone line which, of course, has an owner and a fixed address.

When asked if the ICT ministry was pursuing a vendetta against Prachatai, the witness stated he did not want to answer, even when directed by the judge. In fact, Aree continued to be evasive of defence questioning. This writer counted at least 34 instances in which he answered, “I’m not sure”, “I don’t remember”, and “I’d have to check”.

He also stated that the law does not have any notice-and-takedown provision. However, Aree said Chiranuch uniformly cooperated in every instance with MICT when they requested deletion of her.

Thailand’s chief censor also explained that his ministry only censors using Google Search and does not filter web fora. When asked if such filtering is done in other countries, Aree stated, “Only in China.”!

On redirect examination by the public prosecutor, the MICT censor admitted to participation in the draft of the draconian computer law promulgated by the military coup legislature. Again today, the prosecutor asked questions of this prosecution witness which contained the right answers.

On defence redirect questioning, Thailand’s censor chief also stated that he had seen banned books on sale from Prachatai. However, he could recall no specific titles and was unsure whether or not banning had taken place. He had not only not tried to buy any of these so-called banned books but wrote no report as to their sale on the website.

Although Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act requires application of a court order to block web pages, often pages were blocked months before. At least 425,296 web pages are blocked in Thailand under martial law until December 22, rising at a rate of around 690 per day.

The principles of freedom of expression as a basic human right also constitutionally protect what Thai government calls lèse majesté. What is at issue is the intent to defame. Another crucial consideration in defamation is whether the statements written are true or not.

It is clearly impossible for someone who did not write the posting to be guilty of any illegality. If government wants to censor our Internet, then it must also police the Internet. It is not the responsibility of webmasters to do government’s dirty work of censorship for them.

Chiranuch’s trial resumes Wednesday, February 9, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), on Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 9-11 and 14-17 and probably longer.

Alleged NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, is also facing lèse majesté charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Redshirts. Tantawut’s trial will enter its second day Wednesday, February 9 in Courtroom 906.


Media bias

23 03 2010

A debate on media bias has now been going on for some time, and as regular readers will well know, PPT has made several comments on this in the recent past (for an example, see here). There have been some comments in the international press about this also. Now Simon Montlake in the Christian Science Monitor (22 March 2010) has a story on it that has also been taken up by Bangkok Pundit.

Montlake rightly observes that thousands of red shirts – interestingly, he accepts an official figure of 65,000 – paraded around Bangkok on Saturday and points out that “viewers of Thailand’s TV stations, the most popular source of news, were told that 25,000 attended. As usual, pictures of protesters were bracketed by statements from government officials. No airtime was given to ordinary protesters. And last week when protesters dumped blood at the prime minister’s office and home, pro-government media hyped up the health risks and the ethics of wasting human blood, while antigovernment media focused on the symbolism of Thais willing to shed blood for the cause.”

It is also accurate for Montlake to observe that “Thailand’s mainstream media faces fresh questions over its neutrality, which has already been tested by four years of political turmoil and polarization. Critics say bias is acute on free-to-air TV channels, which are all under government or military control.”

Supinya Klangnarong, “a free-media campaigner,” is quoted by Montlake as arguing that “the spread of new media is providing a check on the government’s control of the message, … [adding] mainstream TV channels no longer have the power to distort the facts as blatantly as they did in 1992 as they must compete with other sources of information, including images and texts spread via mobile phone and the Internet.” Supinya believes that the government “realizes that if they push too much control or manipulation, people will not believe it anymore…”.

PPT believes this is a premature judgment. For one reason, the government television stations have become little more than mouthpieces for items of propaganda that is now remarkably similar to that seen on ASTV. As one of Montlake’s informants, a “TV news editor, who declines to be named for fear of reprisals” says, the “government meddling in news coverage, which was also a hallmark of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s five-year rule, remains pervasive.” That editor adds: “It’s worse now…”.

A second reason for doubting Supinya is because while mobile phones are everywhere, they are limited sources of news, and while the internet is better, penetration rates in Thailand remain low. A third problem is that internet censorship has expanded exponentially under this government and the government also has officials working the blogs to post pro-government and anti-red shirt material. Even the English-language blogs see a suspicious rise in mole-like posting by particular commentators, often adopting multiple identities, who only appear in times of conflict..

While we usually agree and admire Bangkok Pundit, PPT has to say that we think BP’s account of media bias is trite. One of the major differences we have with Pundit is that we do not think that watching and reading is enough. In fact, early on in the current red shirt rally, PPT was also getting adjusted to the media’s coverage. Hence, when PPT went to the protest site expecting to see a dwindling crowd and a lack of interest, we were staggered by how different it was. The media was simply not reporting factually or wasn’t be permitted to do so. Worse, it often seemed like reporters were waiting for the sensational or hoping for violence.

Indeed, PPT has been to three red shirt events of late and none of them had any noticeable media interest. At Rajadamnoen, the media huddles around the red shirt leaders (is that because they get to sit in a cool tent?). PPT saw no attempts by the media to get around the very large area of the rally or any attempt to interview the protester in the street, apart from a BBC reporter. We know there have been some interviews, but all of these spots are stuck into hugely biased contexts. Context matters a heck of a lot. And, in a context of extreme bias, so does getting out and seeing what’s going on.

Worse, the talk shows on most of the mainstream television stations don’t even make a pretense of being fair, and government stations that Bangkok Pundit says was the best of the bunch last week is, in PPT’s perspective, now irretrievably biased if one takes any notice of the talk shows, which occupy far more airtime than the news broadcasts. And it was only a year or so ago that the Democrat Party-led government’s Sathit Wongnongtoey, said that he was going to create a true public broadcaster. That now seems like a nightmare rather than a dream.

The past couple of days has been a travesty for Thai journalism, which was once considered one of the best in Asia. Thaksin can be blamed for some of this, but the military-backed governments led by Surayud Chulanont and Abhisit Vejjajiva have ground journalism into the dust.

That said, PPT continues to appreciate those few journalists who hold out against a tide of repression, censorship and bias. In addition, we feel somewhat heartened by some of the expression of dissent that we see in some reports, often with the pictures not matching the words, as was clear on TNN reporting of Saturday’s red shirt caravan.

Christian Science Monitor on lese majeste

30 07 2009

Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for spotting a new article by Simon Montlake in the CSM (26 July 2009: “Thailand cracks down on Web users for royal ‘slurs'”).It is important that the international press continue to report on lese majeste as the Thai press self censors.

The article begins: “Using a combination of high-tech online sleuthing and a century-old royal defamation law, Thai authorities are tightening the screws on free speech here during a sensitive time for its influential monarchy.”

As a footnote, it is remarkable that Montlake quotes one Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher on Southeast Asia for Amnesty International, when Amnesty International has essentially refused to take a stand on lese majeste in Thailand. AI’s record on this issue is lamentable.

Montlake states: “As in China, the Internet offers far more freedom than Thailand’s mainstream media for discussing taboo topics. But that started to change in 2006, after the military ousted popular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” That’s true, although most international blogs are blocked in China, including PPT.

In a remarkably interesting comment,  senior official at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Aree Jiworarak,is cited as saying that  “90 percent of the sites the ministry blocks are outside Thailand, complicating investigations of lèse-majesté.”

Aree then says that the “royal family is informed about his investigations, as well as similar work by other government agencies.” While he then denies that this means that the royal family “push for prosecutions,” he adds. “We don’t want people to think that the royal family are behind these arrests.”

But they are well-informed about all of this and complicit in reducing freedom and the political use of lese majeste.

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