Why Was The ‘Sorry Thailand’ TV Ad Banned?

Note: This article has been originally published on July 22, 2010 in a series of guest blogger posts for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent.

Earlier this week we have reported on the banned TV commercial “ขอโทษประเทศไทย” (Sorry Thailand). For those, who haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video with English subtitles:

The ban has created some considerably public uproar and the censorship board, which consists of representatives of the free-TV channels and other ‘experts’, has gotten itself into the crossfire of criticism.

The ad was made by a group called “Positive Network”, which is made up by “people from many professions such as advertising, PR, event, regional community representatives, [corporate] companies, government officials and academics from all across the country.” During the launch event on June 16, the group states that their main goal is to “terminate the divisions in society“. One of the executives of the network has mentioned the launch of an advertising campaign, even though this one was called “ต่อไปนี้ถ้าเธอพูด ฉันจะฟัง” (“From now on when you talk, I will listen”). Daily News has more about the launch of the group (article in Thai).

The founder of the “Positive Network”, Bhanu Inkawat, appeared on ThaiPBS recently to talk about the ad and his reaction on the ban.

Mr Bhanu Inkawat […] said that the purpose of the advertisement is “to let the Thai people realize what problems Thailand has right now, which are not just only the protests and the burning of buildings, but many more that have their roots. So [if] we don’t go to the bottom of the problem, we’ll only be able to solve the problem in the short term and it will come back.”

Translated from: “แจงสาเหตุแบนโฆษณา”ขอโทษประเทศไทย“, ThaiPBS, July 18, 2010

The TV programme also had Kiatisuk Wattanasak, a member of the censorship committee board, to give his point of view on the issue:

“After we have [initially] watched it, we all liked this ad. However, there are a few things that are not conform with the rules […]. [They] have not sent us any documents, nothing for us for consideration. We don’t know if they had permission for [certain] footages [in the ad], even if it’s news footage we have to ask if they have permission to re-air it in this ad. […] So [without any documents proving it] how can we possibly let this through?”

Translated from: “แจงสาเหตุแบนโฆษณา”ขอโทษประเทศไทย“, ThaiPBS, July 18, 2010

He also goes on to give other reasons for the ban that were reflected in a statement later this week after the board has met once again, subsequently defending it’s decision to withhold the ad from airing but not banning it altogether.

The censorship board has denied banning the controversial TV commercial “Thailand, We Apologise”, saying it was in the process of correcting the advert before allowing it to be aired.

Certain scenes in the commercial, lasting about 20 seconds, would be cut because they were deemed to be inappropriate and could be against the law, the board said in a statement released yesterday.The producers of the advert submitted it to the board for approval on June 21 and on June 28 they reported to the board about changes they had made to to correct some parts that the board had said were against the law.

The board said the producers were now in the process of correcting the problematic parts of the commercial and would then resubmit it for approval.

Scenes to be removed include those of protesters torching public property [on May 19], security officers holding weapons and getting ready to fire them, some pornographic images, some deemed offensive to religious institutions, images of protesters [both yellow shirts and red shirts] gathering in political rallies in a way that might trigger a state of unrest or affect national unity or internal security.

Controversial ad ‘not banned’“, Bangkok Post, July 21, 2010

Taking the objected scenes out of the ad, there wouldn’t be much left of it. Also, if you remove the footage of the red and yellow protests, that will totally miss the point. But looking at a statement from another board member, little does surprise me here:

The manager of Channel 7’s censorship division Sneh Hongsuwan, also a member of the committee, said the panel agreed to ban the commercial because it felt the images could cause rifts in society.

“Instead of giving positive messages, it will only remind viewers about the conflict. We believe that the clashes are in the past, and we should let bygones be bygones and think about positive things. If this commercial was put on air, some images would have to be cut out,” Sneh said.

Ban of ‘apology’ advert puzzles PM“, The Nation, July 20, 2010

Oh, how convenient! Let’s forget about the past and look forward without actually considering why we’re in this mess in the first place! This is a bad case of ‘mai pen rai’ (‘no big deal’) where people tend to forget about a certain issue if it is out of sight. It fits the current trend of suppressing of what happened that lead to the lastest escalation of the political crisis in some parts of society. Again, some people try to put a blanket over the ever-increasing rift and wonder in hindsight why we don’t make it over to the other side. A solution cannot take place if there’s not a confrontation of the problems and it’s effects. But, and I realize I’m going out on a limb, part of Thai culture is to avoid confrontation and uncomfortableness with everyone at all costs.

On the other hand it is to be questioned if the ad, if it gets ever aired, would have any effect in making a change? As mentioned above, the ad is just one of many campaigns the group will do in the future. Nonetheless, the controversy can be counted as a win-win situation, since it got a certain portion of people talking about it, the original uploaded YouTube video got over half a million views and also got many people asking themselves what on earth the censorship committee was thinking.

Censorship on TV in Thailand has always been a delicate matter and, as 2Bangkok.com shows with examples of censoring smoking on ‘The Simpsons’, it is also pretty inconsistent. Many measures appear to many just downright absurd and this case shows yet again how outlandish and outdated the rules are. Speaking of outlandish, have you spotted the larkorn (soap opera) scene in the ad? Yeah, that kind of nonsense of women slapping each other is the norm! Hypocrisy in Thai lakorns – that’s a whole double standard case in itself!

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