Tired of seeing the media got censored in Thai media currently? Feels that people need more access to the information that should not be censored? We need to discuss these questions and understand more about what should or should not be censored. What is the reason behind it, and what the authors and audiences play a part in this event?
Can we believe it?
Nowadays, when we are watching TV or listening to the radio, or even read a newspaper. How can we know if that is a reality or just a simulacrum of that media trying to show and make an audience believe as a new reality?
In this era, which we believe is postmodernism, we can barely recognize what the media show us is authentic or created to be accurate for the audience to believe it that way because humans do believe media from what they are being told no matter how wrong it is.
When someone asks about where one got this information, they would say, “I saw it on a TV” or “I listened from this radio station,” but how much can you believe that information?
We are trying to say that Thai media is not independent but controlled by capitalists or some higher-ups for their benefits. It happened for a long time, and Thai people received information from the media, which most of them got limited by the government, and people received but not acknowledge the truth because the government masks its profound reality and recreate it to shape the belief of their people into the way they want.
The outcome is that the artificial reality that the government created became the new reality that people believe. Based on Jean Baudrillard’s theory, this is called “Simulacra,” which can be defined that it becomes a reality and ignoring the profound reality which it is NOT replacing an old reality but standout on its own and became ordinary.
The example that we can think of is back when Taksin is The Prime Minister. His government was blamed on using Populism policy to intervene in media, which the policy itself became a media and create their reality to cover the truth. However, with the current government team, we cannot say that it is the same as Taksin’s because it is beyond simulacra taking over the media with section 44, where no one can intercept their process.
What comes after is the conflict we are having right now because of the simulacra they created a long time ago. Censoring the truth make people doubt. People start dividing into factions because they believed in different agendas. All of this because they want us to face against them, against the dome of simulacra, and this conflict will never end because we already followed them.
Censor Censor Censor
The first wave of the Thai media revolution was set in 1992. After the “bloody May” event, the government got public pressure about the freedom of speech recognized. That time, National Radio and Television Commission is assigned to check media subjects after being aired (post-censor).
It is done by a process called “random monitor” so, it was a random selection and no direct punishment. By the way, that does not mean “no punishment.” There must be a specific act to enforce censorship first. It gives absolute power to the enforcer.
According to the institution code of 1997 and 2007, It granted freedom of citizen and press expression by prohibiting any concealing of information in any case, except for in a case that the country’s status is not stable; in other words, in a war affair or any situation that involving violence. Alternatively, when there is a specific law that allows censoring.
Even Thai has laws that are created for censorship, there are still some cases that different from a regular censorship basis. For example, the government asks for a corporation from other authorities. In some cases, unique acts can be established like National Council for Peace and Order(NCPO) acts.
That creates a high tension among media authorities because the punishment is very harsh due to the advance of the NCPO codes. That causes self panic and self-censorship, which commonly see on online media. NCPO, ruled by the Junta, also does its calling journalists and the press to readjust their attitude.
When there is an environment that “just thinking is risky” becomes a standard in Thai society. There is no need for such an institution to protect the freedom of expression because people just set a “censorship” mindset already.
One of the most severe scenarios that media censorship has taken place in Thai society was back then when Military Junta took over the government in 2014. At that time, people were basically cannot take any action against, complaint, or even discuss the Thai coup because by doing so, people will be punished with the unfair enforcement of laws which considered a tyrant.
Another case of censorship in Thailand was the enforcement of the law section 112. This use of Thai law aims to stop people from criticizing the work or anything about the Thai royal family. This law enforcement creates many disappointments and dissatisfaction among Thai citizens, and many people are against this law as it takes away people’s freedom of expression and no longer what this law exists in Thai society. Unfortunately, the use of this section still exists and affects many people nowadays. Many of us have been sentenced and arrested unfairly by this use of such law.
In terms of audience, due to those media censorship (including real-life censorship), Thai people have been oppressed by the use of that censorship for so long. Especially back in 2014, people can barely say anything about the government and the royal family which is very stressful and unfair because it takes away people’s free speech.
However, these days it seems to get a little better compared to those given scenarios in the past. The audience can speak their minds out and criticize the work of such a government. We tend to see more about parody and caricature about the Thai royal family.
More about the audience, they seem to be very active these days especially on the internet and social media platforms. The role of the audience becomes more powerful due to the less stress of censorship nowadays. The audience can create and share information among themselves and others by using the media platform to raise awareness, educate, and so on. They can do such things with less restriction to be exact.
If we refer to political correctness and censorship, it mostly comes in the form of media self-censorship. As Slavoj Zizek explains, political correctness is just a form of self-discipline. Self-censor is typical for the media that depicts itself as progressive or leftist media, rising in popularity recently.
We can see more left-leaning media like Spectrum, The Matter, The Standard becoming more popular in the last half-decade. Under Thai law, no section forces the use of language, policies, or measures intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. In other words, political correctness is not implemented by the law.
Most media are still trying to be politically correct, more or less dependent on the firm’s policies. However, the traditional media have more restrictions, whether from itself, state regulations, or self-regulation, which some of the limits might be related to the PC matter. Nevertheless, considering Thailand’s political situation, from our speculation, the act of censorship by the state and self-regulation tends to be used to protect the privileged class, opposed to the PC, which is intended to protect the group of a minority, the oppressed one.
One example of Thai media censorship for privileged class interest is the censorship of the Arbat movie. The premiere was postponed as the Film Commission under the Ministry of Culture is not approving the content due to the “inappropriate representation of the Buddhist monks”, this is the censorship intended to protect the image of Sangha.
Refer to Chit Phumisak, a Thai author, philologist, historian, poet, songwriter, and communist revolutionary; he explains in his book Chomhna Sakdina Thai (The face of Thai feudalism) that although religion had conflicts with feudalism in the early days because religion aims to preserve power that it once had over the feudal side.
However, the ability to accumulate the means of production has defeated religion and eventually became a tool of feudalism. Religions must admit that the king is an ‘assumed god,’ ‘a god whose incarnation to the human world,’ a reincarnated Buddha, ‘and’ a patron of sustaining religion.
For the censorship of the news media in Thailand, the regulation is more permissive, of course. Mostly it happens by the news media platforms themselves and sometimes the self-censorship from the user. Still, the latter is most likely to avoid going against the community standard of the social media platform, which could result in getting banned. We can see Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other mainstream social media platforms have their community standards related to political correctness matter somehow.
For example, the Facebook report category includes hate speech which can break into various types, encompassing hate speech against race or ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, social caste, sexual orientation, and many others. This reflects that Facebook is endorsing the PC culture in their policy. Even though social media is less restrictive than traditional media, the platform still has some constraints.
Nevertheless, for social media, it not only happens in Thailand but all around the world; the bizarre phenomenon is that, even though the traditional media in Thailand is more restrictive than it is in the west, the restriction of social media, for some platform, is more permissive for Thai user than for the west. For example, Twitter and Facebook focus specifically on the USA’s politics-related content to eliminate “fake news,” like the Trump account ban on Twitter and Facebook. At the same time, some argue that they just want to censor conservative content.
Moral panic is a feeling of fear that spreads among society, which is a form of arousing social concern over an issue. Mass media have an essential role in creating moral panic in the community. If we are talking about the correlation between moral panic and censorship, we could simply say that the moral panic process is usually used before the act of censorship and works to legitimize censorship.
From our speculation, the process of moral panic has to be done first to make the community have a consensus of the opinion about one thing first, as the majority of the society agrees that those specific things are evil, there is a minor to no risk of a backlash that follows the act of censorship.
We could see the media model provoking moral panic and then followed with the censorship various time in Thai society (and everywhere in the globe). One excellent example of this model is the moral panic on the Blasphemy. According to the ministry of culture, Thai society has been introduced into Buddhism’s worship since 308BCE, and 95% of the Thai population are Buddhists. Thailand is the second-largest Buddhist population in the world. The act of blaspheme has been considered seriously forbidden.
From time to time, we could see that the media plays a crucial role in reinforcing this moral panic and even increasing the tension of the issue. It is reflecting on how the media representing the act of blasphemy as dangerous and potentially damage the social fabric.
We could see many news reporting about the use of Buddha’s status and the head part for decoration, reflecting in the media depiction of blasphemy as a criminal. Anything act associated with Buddhism that different from the standard practice is considered disrespectful. The moral panic on blaspheme has constantly been cultivating throughout the media from the past until today. As reflecting on society’s agreement, religion can not be criticized, complain about, or presented negatively.
To exposed the nasty side of faith is considered as destroying the image of Buddhism. One example that reflects moral panic cultivation by the media is Karma’s banded (2015). The movie shows inappropriate scenes involving a novice using drugs and violence and having an affair with a novice taboo woman. Nevertheless, the main point of the film initially wants to remind us about karma from our actions.
Movie & Tv rating
Thailand has age restrictions for people who can watch rated R movies. For the cinema, They will check one’s identification card, whether it is more than 18 years old or not, before buying a movie ticket. Before they can censor this content, of course, it requires people to collectively agree that violent or sexual related content is dangerous and can cause imitation behavior, which reflects on how the media represented violent or sexual associated media as a cause or provoke teenagers to commit a crime or behave violently.
But the media is not only playing as an initiator, but we could also say that they are playing a crucial role in reinforcing the moral panic and keep the censorship going on.
Thailand also banned the Pornhub website because pornography is illegal, contrary to public order or good morals; this also a consequence of moral panic which centered on Buddhist believes; however, the obscene matter is not related to Buddhism but more influence the Christianity, which later these values become associated with Thai culture due to the cultural reform to westernize Thailand in the past century. For example, if we look through many pictures taken in the past, Thai people wear minor to none clothes.
Another example of censorship associated with moral panic in Thailand is creating a television content rating system since 1 December. 2006. It is the system that evaluates the content and reports the suitability of television programs. It has a limited age of viewers for each TV program. For the cinema, Thailand has an age restriction for people who can watch rated R movies.
They will check one’s identification card, whether it is more than 18 years old or not, before buying a movie ticket. Before they can censor this content, of course, it requires people to collectively agree that violent or sexual related content is dangerous and can cause imitation behavior, which reflects on how the media represented violent or sexual associated media as a cause or provoke teenagers to commit a crime or behave violently but the media is not only playing as an innovator, but we could say that they are playing a crucial role in reinforcing the moral panic and keep the censorship going on.
We can see from many cases; the media try to frame the video game and movie as a cause of violence even though some are not even close to the word violent, like the case of the seventeen-year-old boy who suicides and leaves the Sigil of Baphomet on the floor, the media try to associate this case with the Roblox games addiction which the game is nothing related to satanic worship or suicide.
Or it is that the effort from many television channels to try to fame the violent and sexual related media as an evil thing throughout many reports, documentaries, and agency of influence. From now, I think the reader already sees a clearer picture of how moral panic and censorship are related and help reinforce each other.
Ever since the dismissal of advertisement censorship in the pre-broadcast stage by the government in 1994, or in other words, when advertisement companies were no longer required to send their advertisement videos to the state committee for censorship screening, there came an establishment of a board of directors with representatives from private companies at television stations such as Channel 3, 5, 7, and 9, together with representatives from the Thai Advertising Association of Thailand, to form the “Television Advertisement Advisory Committee” which serves as an authority for screening advertisements starting that same year.
Furthermore, there is an average of 9,000-18,000 advertisements each year that pass the censorship screening process, which is continuously growing. This is because production costs in this era are now cheaper. The average starting budget of 5 million Bath is now within a five to six-figure range. This opens opportunities for SMEs to create advertisements and go through the organization’s censorship screening process.
Now, The censorship screening from this organization will only allow companies to advertise on digital and analog tv only and does not include satellite TV or online channels. For the latter two broadcast mediums, censorship is controlled through self-monitoring and social boycotts when any inappropriate advertisements are made public, naturally occurring in the online world.
You are already transcended
As we can see that there is a thin line between rightness and power enforcement; people can not know the truth when their position of perception is behind the fog. The press is the one who can mix the story and serves the public as “reality.”
In reality, the Thai media structure is still based on the old foundations, and the government has the full authority to control the traditional media like TV and radio. Especially when Thai censorship rules by the military junta, it can cause concern and pressure for the media agency even if they are not breaking the rules; unlike the new media, the internet era makes it harder for the related organization to restrict the content. In addition, the governmental regulation on the new media is relatively permissive in modern legacy. Furthermore, self-censorship happens, and the public now has a massive role in screening the content.
- Apichin Chitviriyakul
- Nirattisai Kasiwat
- Phum Nakwarangkul
- Pimchat Vanichpattanakul
- Taechin Chiewchan
- Teerarat Nungsue
- Thaninthorn sangsri