FACTorial: Imagine Thailand with no censorship

March 9, 2011

Imagine, if you can, Thailand without censorship. A Thailand where everyone is free to express their opinions, whether true or misguided–in demonstrations, on streetcorners, with graffiti, in pubs and restaurants, on the Internet, in books, in magazines, on TV, in film, in newspapers, on YouTube.

Suppose some of these people want to change our system of government, to a republic, to socialism, to a socialist republic. A Thailand where workers are able to voice their grievances, their anger, their frustration. A Thailand where anyone can make a joke of the King, satire where there is no need to resort to the subterfuges of codewords, metaphors, simile, allusion.

Think about it. Would this change your mind?

The people who rule us through force are unquestionably the rich and the elite backed up by military might. These people are afraid of us, all of us. And so they try to manipulate public opinion by keeping all of us from speaking out. 15 years in prison, torture, disappearance, military murders of demonstrators, news media and emergency workers are powerful strategies to keep us silent.

Lest we forget, martial law by Emergency Decree has simply been replaced by martial law under the Internal Security Act. When the emergency was lifted December 22, there were at least 425,296 web pages blocked, according to govt media releases. Furthermore, the iLaw Foundation found in December that this number was going up by 690 additional webpages each and every day.

As none of these have been unblocked, all censorship is being conducted illegally. The Computer Crimes Act 2007 requires court orders to block the Internet but the Constitution to which all Thai laws are subject specifically guarantees us freedom of expression.

FACT has always fought for an end to all censorship. However, if govt is intent on remaining a censor state, some legal guarantees need to be enacted.

Firstly, the Constitution must be amended to delete any protections to free expression. Let’s be honest, at least! What administration will have the guts to try that one!

Secondly, the Thai public must be told how much money is being spent to censor by the at least nine govt agencies currently involved in censorship and where, exactly, that budget comes from.

If govt continues to censor, it must do so in a transparent and accountable manner, as follows.

1) The govt’s blocklists, court orders and number of blocked pages must be made public as must

2) the categories and reasons for blocking each URL.

3) Each blocked URL must contain the name and position of the competent govt official seeking the block.

4) Clear procedures must be put in place for requesting review to unblock a URL and

5) legal process must be established in Thai courts should such review fail to unblock a URL.

The initial review process must form a committee composed of govt officials, academic representatives, stakeholder NGOs such as FACT, media representatives and members of the public. All these factions must be weighted equally.

If censorship is made transparent and accountable, we don’t think Thai netizens will put up with it for long! The insult to the injury is, of course, that we taxpayers make censorship possible.

In order for Thai people to accept their censorship, govt uses knee-jerk issues that no one can defend: any commentary on the monarchy (not just insult), pornography, gambling, abortion. But these knee-jerk issues conceal an insidious political agenda–to keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful.

Imagine Thailand with a sense of humour about the monarchy, Royal gossip magazines. These have certainly done no harm to the respect for the British monarchy. Why must we assume it would be different here?

The lese majeste issue is not about King Bhumibol, it’s about the succession. The rich and powerful elite want to make certain they’re cozied up to the next King of Thailand. They can already smell the money.

When one looks at the recent public revolts in the Middle East and West Africa, they are occurring for very valid reasons. The public in Iran, Tunisia, Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Yemen are tired of govts of repression, corruption and censorship, many with the collusion of monarchs. These revolts, as in Thailand, have been overwhelmingly met by the use of extreme military force, as in Thailand, and, in some countries, threaten to spiral into genuine civil wars. In Libya, govt is even bombing its own people.

We have certainly noticed, even as Thailand plans elections, that voting doesn’t change anything anywhere. There needs to be a deep, powerful, grassroots change coming directly from citizens.

It’s time to let go of our fear. It’s our fear that gives govt its power. Let’s start this change with a breath of fresh air.

Let’s start by getting rid of censorship.

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