June 24, 2012
Bangkok Post: June 9, 2012
Amidst the ballyhoo of black-screen TV, broadcast-rights rivalry, football fracas, reconciliation war and constitution horror, we return to visit the most beloved media agency of all: the Cultural Surveillance Office, aka the Rottweiler, the guardian of Thainess, or the Department of Propriety.
Last month, the Culture Ministry made a surprising move: they transferred (“promoted”) Ladda Tangsupachai, the controversial head of the surveillance office whose past record inspires shudders among artists, singers, actors, and anyone who dares test the limits of official appropriateness. Ms Ladda’s new post is analyst and supervisor of the southern cultural policy, an appointment that has sparked an impromptu joke about the South bearing the brunt, once again, of Central prejudices and conservatism.
Whether or not there’s a political angle to this move is a moot point, one can never judge the depths of such a labyrinth. Ms Ladda’s latest involvement was to push for the new bill to drum up the funding for “safe and creative media” – a name that evokes either easy optimism or necessary caution, for “safe”, in linguistic cartwheeling can be a euphemism for censorship. The details of the law, which has been proposed to parliament, are not available, but the earlier draft contains a clause that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission should inject money into the fund which will be distributed to “producers of safe content”, whatever that means. It was widely expected that Ms Ladda, a senior officer, would supervise the funding once the law had been passed. But now, no more.
While parliament, which has recently adopted the lively bar-room brawl and thuggish tournament style, is embroiled in the reconciliation mess, the “safe media” bill is likely to wait. But let’s make sure we keep an eye on it. Not that we don’t want safe TV, but we shouldn’t confuse precaution with prohibition, and protection with moral paranoia.
That last term is what we often attribute to a surveillance agency. Ms Ladda’s transfer ended her long tenure at the cultural watchdog marred by resentment, scandals, and even T-shirts bearing her infamous quote. To be honest, there have been sighs of relief at the news of her move. But to be fair, Ms Ladda, to whom I talked personally on a few occasions, is a steadfast believer in her cause: to protect the nobility of Thai culture and weed out unpleasant surprises, from short skirts to TV bitchfests. She’s a crusader on the eternal horseback to Jerusalem – her war cry is authentic, and her dogmatism is transparent. Her run-ins with the more liberal sections of society illustrate the wider contest to own, or define, the meaning of Thai culture in the 21st century.
It’d take hours to revisit her high-profile outcries at media “indecency’, but here are the two most infamous cases: in 2008, Ms Ladda gave an interview to Time magazine [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1670261,00.html] and described Thai film audiences as “uneducated” and thus needing parenting from the ministry (somebody made T-shirts featuring the quote); then last year, she angered many by speaking out against a hit soap series and the portrayal of its men-lusting female lead, which led to an episode of national hysteria.
Symptomatic though not necessarily emblematic, Ms Ladda is easily villainised, sometimes unfairly. The problem is not her; the problem is the fact that the government blithely believes that something called the Cultural Surveillance Office is even necessary. As if we were a mansion so susceptible to cultural vandalism, or a terminal patient in need of 24-hour vigilance, or an ungodly girl under perpetual threat of demonic possession. The fact that we still need to spend tax money on this agency is an issue worthy of public hearing. And that the government still relies on the watchdog’s (dis) service betrays the feudal mindset that it believes the people are so weak they can’t think for themselves.
Society should be trusted to be its own watchdog. Top-down control isn’t working any more in the new environment of great flux, of rapid advances in technology, and of heady, global interconnectedness that keeps redefining “culture”. Civic bodies, consumers organisations, industry associations – say, TV producers or filmmakers – and the audiences themselves should be encouraged to have the power to control the media’s performance and to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not in an organic way. Governmental parenting is as dated as last week’s football results, and the Culture Ministry is too valuable to spend its time, like East German thought police, carrying out surveillance on the people. It’s a shame that they still don’t realise this at this hour.
Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post
June 12, 2012
Media freedom in South Africa has been receiving bad press recently, although most of the attention has focussed on threats to print and broadcasting freedom. Little attention has been paid to creeping censorship of the supposedly most democratic medium of all, namely the internet.
Over the past ten years, the government has developed a complex web of controls that has made internet censorship much more possible. Many legislative measures lie dormant, only to emerge when they are needed to curb controversial content.
In developing these controls, the government has relied on two of the three most popular reasons for curtailing internet freedom, namely protection of children, national security and protection of intellectual property. Unfortunately, governments often abuse these reasons to legitimise an internet control agenda.
Internet freedom is a hot topic globally. In the wake of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables saga and the North African uprisings, governments are recognising the power of online media and moving rapidly to control it. While portraying itself as a champion of internet freedom, the Barack Obama administration has been leading an assault on Internet freedom at the behest of an entertainment industry that wants express guarantees for its intellectual property.
Private companies are also enclosing the internet, erecting ‘walled gardens’ where users cannot access non-approved content. Social media users’ data is being mined to ‘sell’ them to advertisers, and procedures to opt out are often not user-friendly. These trends are all eroding the free and open nature of the internet. As a result, the internet of today is no longer the democratising, transformative medium that it promised to be ten years ago, in its pre-market formation phase.
Internet freedom has become topical in South Africa too, after the Film and Publications Board – a portfolio organisation of the Department of Home Affairs – used a section in the Film and Publication Act to classify disturbing or harmful or age-inappropriate material for children, to ban ‘The Spear’ painting for children under sixteen year of age. As the Goodman Gallery has taken the painting down, this classification now applies to online versions of the painting.
According to the Board’s judgement on applications for classification of the painting, ‘younger people and sensitive people may find the themes [in the exhibition] complex and troubling’. In announcing the decision to classify the painting, the Board’s Chief Executive Officer, Yoliswa Makhasi, argued that the painting was not being classified simply because of the exposure of genitals, but because the artwork ‘…has forced society to revisit its painful past’.
The painting and exhibition as a whole are not without their problems. The exhibition is an important critique of the growing culture of self-enrichment in the ruling party. But it is also at times didactic, simplistic and flirts dangerously with racial stereotypes. However, even problematic art should have its place in the sun, but the controversies around the painting have worked perfectly to the advantage of South Africa’s internet control proponents.
The Board’s attempt to prevent children from accessing the painting to shield them from South Africa’s social divisions, past and present, is deeply misguided and in fact dangerous. If these divisions are hidden away, then children will be denied important opportunities to understand the true nature of the society in which they live. They will not develop the coping skills necessary to deal with these less savoury aspects of South African society when they experience them in everyday life.
There are also inherent dangers in a government agency deciding what children can and cannot see, as this can easily lead to publications that are critical of the government being censored. The Board reasons for classifying the painting strongly suggest a ‘nanny state’ mentality and an underlying moral conservatism, rather than a legitimate concern with protecting children from harm.
Creeping censorship of the internet should be of as much concern as legacy media censorship, as the internet is likely to become ubiquitous in the future. The government’s decision to ensure internet-enabled set top boxes for digital terrestrial television will extend access, as will its plans to ensure universal access to the internet by 2019 via a national broadband network. Mobile internet coverage has also greatly increased internet access, and the licensing of Long Term Evolution networks will continue this trend.
With the passing of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, the government developed the capability to spy on Internet users. In the case of content originating outside the country, they can do so without an interception direction, which create space for wide scale abuses of the government’s extensive monitoring and surveillance capacity. Government appointed cyber-inspectors enjoy overbroad powers to inspect any website for evidence of cyber-crime, although this provision has not been enacted yet.
But the most significant setback to internet freedom occurred when the Film and Publications Board was given jurisdiction over internet content. This is in spite of the fact that internet service providers also self-police internet content through a notice and take-down procedure run by the Internet Service Providers Association of South Africa.
A controversial amendment was introduced to the Film and Publications Act requiring any publication, with the exception of a newspaper publisher recognised by the Press Ombudsman’s office, to be submitted for classification if it contains the following material: sexual violence which violates or shows disrespect for the right to human dignity of any person, degrades a person or constitutes incitement to cause harm; advocates propaganda for war; incites violence; or advocates hatred based on any identifiable group characteristic and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
In the case of hate speech and sexual violence, the provisions are broader than the Constitutional limitations on freedom of expression, which makes them unjustifiably censorious.
The published materials falling within these categories would either be age restricted or banned entirely. Materials that would ordinarily be banned under this section would be age restricted if they were found to contain public interest content, or had artistic or scientific merit. This was a significant departure from the initial Act, which maintained that public interest or artistic content should not be restricted at all.
The main problem with these provisions is that they give the government the power to exercise prior restraint over published material, and even censor material critical of its own performance.
There is disagreement over whether these provisions apply to the internet. What adds to the confusion is that the Board has failed to set out classification guidelines for internet content, which implies that they do not consider these provisions to apply to the internet. However, the definition of ‘publication’ in the Act explicitly refers to the internet, which suggests that these provisions do apply.
If they do, then online publishers have a mess of massive proportions on their hands. These provisions are un-implementable in the online environment, yet failure to implement them is a criminal offence.
For one thing, the provisions would discriminate against online publishers, as the Act would subject them to a pre-publication classification procedure that other media are not subjected to. Broadcasters and newspapers publishers are not required to submit controversial material for classification, mainly because they resisted attempts to make the Act apply to them. If they publish unethical or unlawful material, then they are subjected to post-publication judgements and sanction. This means that the government has the power to censor the internet much more easily than other media.
A further problem is that there is no practical way for online publishers to restrict access to age restricted material, especially material hosted by sites outside the country. Attempts to do so are a fool’s errand, given the distributed and global nature of the internet. Unlike traditional publishers, online publishers cannot wrap their publications in plastic wrappers.
If age-restriction measures cannot be applied easily to the internet, then arguably the Act requires the material to be prohibited outright; even it is of a public interest nature or has artistic or scientific merit. This cannot be allowed to stand in a democracy.
Thankfully, the constitutionality of this section of the Act is being challenged in the Constitutional Court. Public interest law clinic Section 16 has intervened on an amicus curiae basis to make the Internet freedom arguments. Hopefully, they will succeed.
What is the alternative to government control of the internet? An analysis of the take-down procedures and acceptable use policies of major internet service providers reveals that self-regulation is often as, if not more, censorious than government regulation because private companies tend to be risk-averse, implementing terms of service that serve them rather than internet users.
As media theorists James Curran, Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman have argued recently, ‘… if we are to realise the dreams of the internet pioneers, then we need to challenge the context and demand a fresh set of proposals to empower public oversight of and participation in online networks…[This], then, is a critical moment in the internet’s history … the internet is at a turning point’.
June 10, 2012
BBG Decries Cambodian Government Cancellation of VOA, RFA Coverage During National Election
Voice of America: June 5, 2012
“These attempts to silence RFA and VOA are counterproductive to the goals of building a democratic society in Cambodia.”
The Broadcasting Board of Governors yesterday condemned the Cambodian Ministry of Information’s decision to force FM stations to stop airing election programming from Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America.
The ministry prohibited five affiliate stations in Cambodia from running Khmer-language RFA and VOA programs on Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3 — the day of national commune elections. The shows were all taken off the air without notice.
“This action runs contrary to the principles of free and fair elections,” said BBG Presiding Governor Michael Lynton. “News and information programs help shape a well-educated citizenry and should be encouraged, not denied. These attempts to silence RFA and VOA are counterproductive to the goals of building a democratic society in Cambodia.”
RFA and VOA play a critical role in informing the Cambodian electorate on fundamental election issues, and they provide a platform for the full spectrum of political opinions in the country. Due to government-imposed restrictions on political coverage by all media to avoid undue influence on the elections’ outcome, their programs on Sunday were focused on information necessary to voting, such as when polling stations were to open and close.
Two VOA Khmer Radio programs on June 3 were broadcast as normal on an AM frequency, via short wave and online.
Court says YouTube not obligated to control content
Agence France-Presse: May 30, 2012
A Paris court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against YouTube filed by French television, saying the video-sharing website was not obligated to control content of uploaded material.
A Paris court dismissed a lawsuit against YouTube filed by French television, saying the video-sharing website was not obligated to control content of uploaded material.
YouTube is “a priori not responsible for the content of videos posted on its website” and “is under no obligation to control the content of videos posted online,” said the ruling by the Tribunal de Grande Instance, a civil court that adjudicates major cases.
The court ordered the national private TF1 channel and its affiliates, which had sued YouTube, to pay 80,000 euros ($100,000) in court costs.
TF1 had sued YouTube in 2008 after various videos were posted on the website, including television shows and interviews to which the channel said it had commercial rights.
The channel had accused YouTube of unfair competition, saying it had profitted from the videos at TF1’s expense.
The court rejected the argument, saying the channel failed to show any loss of sales.
YouTube France hailed the decision, with chief Christophe Muller saying the ruling “represents a victory for the Internet and for all those who use it to exchange ideas and information.”
“This decision defends the right of innovation on content platforms generated by users, allowing them to do even more to help French artists and creators to reach new audiences in France and abroad,” he said.
A spokesman for TF1 said the channel was surprised by the decision and was studying options to appeal the ruling.
Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion.
May 23, 2012
FACT is not a fan of the world’s biggest timewaster. We’re all about no censorship in a world which respects your privacy. In reality, Facebook begs the question in The Atlantic: “What’s the value of a billion people watching each other?” Here at FACT, we worry about Facebook’s impact on real relationships and its innate creation of surveillance. Of course, we should be aware such a “free” service is not really free; Facebook, like Google, is targeting your money.
FACT’s tech team set us up an automatic Twitter feed for postings during Thailand’s Great Youtube Blackout of 2006. The first 140 characters of each new FACT posting are sent to FACT’s current 650 subscribers along with a shortened URL to a permalink to FACT’s complete article if you wish to read further. Subscribe here: http://twitter.com/facthai.
Shortly thereafter, FACT made email subscriptions for every posting available to FACT readers. Freedom in your Inbox!
This week brought news that there are more Facebook users in Bangkok—9,294,140–than anywhere else on the planet. All Thailand has 14,035,780 Facebookers, 16th in the world. 21.14% of Thais use Facebook, however, that number includes the 80.27% who are connected to the Internet. That number doubled since 2011. Incidentally, these figures must be drastically underrated as they are only for Facebook users over 18. Do you know a teenager who’s not on Facebook.
Today, thanks to intrepid journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, FACT is available to readers on Facebook, spreading Freedom far and wide.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is still the only hard-hitting, comprehensive news aggregator for censorship issues in Thailand and globally in English and Thai.
Freedom on Facebook: http://facebook.com/facthai. Do you “like” Freedom? Wanna be FACT’s friend?
NO CENSORSHIP! NO COMPROMISE!
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)
Freedom’s just another word
Bangkok Post: May 7, 2012
The constitution supposedly guarantees that every Thai “shall enjoy the liberty to express his or her opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicise and make expression by other means”. It also says that writers and broadcasters employed by the mass media “shall enjoy their liberties to present news and express their opinions”.
Unfortunately, neither of these articles of the supreme law is actually true. Thailand is still a country where even professional journalists are killed for trying to present news and opinions. And the rest of the world has very little respect for the country when it comes to press freedom.
Last Thursday was World Press Freedom Day. There was no acknowledgement of this by agencies and ministries charged with defending constitutional rights. The media itself saw no reason to celebrate. But the head of the United Nations and journalism groups in other countries did take note of the day. And most reports on World Press Freedom Day noted the low international regard for Thailand on the issue.
Reporters are increasingly at risk, for a number of reasons. Thailand is one of the few countries with the ignominious reputation of witnessing journalists being killed regularly without any ongoing war or violent conflict. There are only five such countries around the world _ the others being Brazil, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
On Jan 12, a gunman in Phuket shot and killed the freelance reporter Wisut Tangwittayaporn, a familiar figure known as “Ae Inside” because he was a tenacious newsman. To their credit, Phuket police not only pursued the case, but actually indicted three suspects including the alleged killer and his motorcycle driver, both of whom are still at large.
The third suspect has been charged as the mastermind. He is Assadakorn “Pod” Seedokbuab, 48, who is not simply another influential Phuket figure, but one of the most influential. Mr Assadakorn, who is on bail for 3.4 million baht despite the serious charges, is vice-president of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce. He is the owner of a Phuket TV station, KPP Cable.
Police have not said why they think Mr Assadakorn arranged to kill Wisut. It is no secret in Phuket, however, that Wisut was about to release more stories about the very troubled housing market in Phuket. The real estate industry in the province has seen violence before, including other murders. We may never know exactly what Wisut was onto, but no one doubts it was his reporting that caused his violent death.
Two entirely separate surveys this year have rated Thailand’s press freedom. Reporters Without Borders says the country ranks 137th in the world, with 61.5 out of a possible 100 freedom points. The US-based Freedom House gives Thailand 62 out of 100, good enough to tie the country with Libya, Liberia and Zambia in 132nd place in the world. Both drolly comment that Thailand’s press freedom actually improved because of the end of the 2010 emergency decree invoked during the Bangkok violence.
This is a terrible performance by a country striving for real democracy. Successive governments have not only failed to protect press freedom, but have actually encouraged censorship with actions such as appointing the ICT ministry as official internet censor [FACT: 878,196 web pages blocked as of TODAY!]. A democratic government does not make such choices. Our authorities must support the constitution on freedom of information, or be branded as opponents of a free press.
May 14, 2012
[FACT comments: It’s a Sisyphean task to keep 1.34 billion people happy, particularly when you want to control every aspect of their lives, from birth to death. However, in this case, we think “Communism” is just a label, a bogeyman who no longer has any power. A Constitution, including protections for human rights and civil liberties, and ending govt censorship, is a fine first step.]
Beijing Leaders Considering End of Communist Rule
By Li Heming
Epoch Times: May 1, 2012
|Chinese delegates applaud the result of a vote during the Chinese Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People on October 21, 2007, in Beijing. (Andrew Wong/Getty Images)||
According to a high-level source in Beijing, key leaders in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo have reached four points of consensus that will be announced on or around the 18th Party Congress. The tenor of the decision is that China will take the path of democracy. The news has been circulated hurriedly in Beijing.
According to the source, the four points of consensus are:
1. People from all walks of life, political parties, and social organizations should send representatives to form a preparatory committee for a new constitution. They will draft a new constitution that protects the rights of citizens to freely form associations and political parties.
2. It will be announced that the Chinese Communist Party has finished its historical mission as the ruling party. Party membership will need to be re-registered, with the free choice to re-enter the Party or leave it.
3. “June 4,” Falun Gong, and all groups who have been wrongly persecuted in the process of devoting themselves to China’s realization of democracy will be redressed and receive compensation.
4. The military will be nationalized.
The claim from the source cannot be verified, but it is said to be a matter of discussion among high-level leaders. The source also said that a democratic party has already been formed in the Beijing Academy of Sciences, and that over 30 scholars in the Academy have gotten involved in the movement, forming a “Chinese Scientists’ Liberal Democratic Party.”
The four points of consensus are supposed to be announced on or around the 18th Party Congress, according to the source. The congress is supposed to be held this fall, in October or November, though there have been rumors that it will be postponed amidst the current political uncertainty associated with Bo Xilai’s downfall.
Shi Cangshan, an independent China analyst in Washington responded to the news: “The domino effect set off by the Wang Lijun incident is still going on, and the Party’s behind-the-scenes operations are being exposed.”
Shi said that the reason Party leaders would want to announce four consensuses such as the above is to take the initiative on its inevitable decline. “The group that has engaged in these massive persecutions of the Chinese people, including the persecution of Falun Gong, is being exposed, and this is deeply implicated with the demise of the CCP. Better that they take the initiative, which will benefit themselves and the world.”
Read original Chinese article.
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