Every little helps

This is a bit of an old story, but its worth highlighting. Back in March Jit Siratranont, a former Thailand MP who is now the secretary general of the Thai chamber of commerce made a speech in which he described Tescos expansion into the country as aggressive. He erroneously said that the firm made 37% of its income from the country but also urged conciliation between Tesco and small retailers to head off the prospect of riots over the stores rapid incursion into the country.

Separately, Kamol Kamoltrakul, an academic, wrote an article in Bangkokbiznews which was also critical of Tescos aggressive expansion into the country and which repeated the erroneous 37% figure.

Tesco – who dont want to be seen as being aggressive at all – immediately launched a legal claim against Siratranont demanding £16 million.

The action has sparked criticism from British campaigners accusing the giant supermarket of being heavy-handed. Claire Melamed, at poverty campaign group ActionAid, said: It is worrying that, rather then enter into a dialogue with campaigners over the effects of its expansion, it seems Tesco would sooner just slap them with a lawsuit.

It also appears that if their critics make any factual errors whatsoever, Tesco are more interested in pricing their critics out of the debate rather than seeking a simple correction.

Author sues censor

Sulak Sivaraksa, author of the banned book ‘Almost a Century of Thorn-filled Thai Democracy, has lodged (via) a court case against the Special Branch Police Commander and the Interior Minister at the Central Administrative Court.

On Oct 1, 2007, Pol Maj Gen Sombat Suphajiva acting as printing authority issued Order 5/2007 banning Sulaks book that criticizes Thailands democracy, alleging that the material ‘may cause unrest and degrade good morals in Thai society. Copies of the book have been confiscated by the police since.

Sulak appealed to Interior Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont on Oct 8, 2007, and never received a response. So he decided to ask the Administrative Court to lift the ban order and have the defendants pay him damages of 1,094,000 baht with an annual interest rate of 7.5% starting from the date of prosecution.

According to Sulak, the Special Branch Police had illegitimately and unlawfully issued the order to ban and confiscate his book - which was published in April 2007 - without providing any supporting evidence.

Sulak is also asking the Central Administrative Court to forward the case to the Constitution Court to issue a ruling on whether the authority of the Special Branch - under Article 9 of the 1941 Printing Act - to ban and seize books infringes on article 45 of the countrys 2007 Constitution.

Thai film censorship goes international

A new Film and Video Act is being railroaded through Thailands National Legislative Assembly by the Ministry of Culture, according to Wise Kwais Thai Film Journal (via).

The make-up of the proposed film-ratings board has already been decided by the NLA sub-committee, and the committee is now deciding on a proposed ratings system, which would restrict people as old as 24 from seeing certain films, or ban Thai films outright, from being exhibited anywhere in the world.

The moves by this military-installed parliament to clamp down on freedoms and stifle expression come ahead of a general election on December 23, and appear deaf to protests by the Free Thai Cinema Movement, which staged a demonstration on Wednesday, outside Parliament House in Bangkok.

Poet and writer Jiranan Pitchpreecha led the demonstration, by about 30 artists and filmmakers, including Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng, Pimpaka Towira and artist Manit Sriwanichapoom.

Jiranan submitted an open letter to Wallop Tangkananurak, a member of the NLA panel considering the act.

“The movement believes the new Film Act will impact on the freedom of expression of filmmakers as well as human rights of audiences, especially youths, who will be deprived of the opportunity to develop intellectual and analytical skills,” the letter said.

The group has asked that the provisions that empower the state to ban films and order filmmakers to cut scenes judged inappropriate, be stricken from the draft law. The filmmakers say the law is too vague and is open to broad interpretation. Furthermore, there are already laws on the books regarding national security, that could be applied to films. No need to single filmmakers out.

The Film and Video Act is intended to replace the existing Film Act of 1930, but rather than being more progressive than this 77-year-old law, the new act is even more restrictive. The Culture Ministry is also calling for an X rating, under which films would be banned outright, and their distribution outside the Kingdom would be prohibited.

Fear of flying saucers

Still from Sang Sattawat Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose Sang Sattawat (Syndromes and a Century) is facing demands from Thai censors for four scenes to be cut before it can be released, writes in The Guardian:

There will be those who wonder why this matters; why an independent film-makers movie getting shelved should be of concern to anyone. Its because what happens in the film industry shows us more than how the board of censors works. It shows us how Thailand works. And that really is important.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Bangkok, Iran

I have previously mentioned that the Iranian authorities feel that they have the right to tell other countries film festivals what films they can and cant show. Now it appears that the Bangkok International Film Festival agrees with them (via).

The festival has withdrawn the animated film Persepolis - which won the Jury Prize at this years Cannes Film Festival.

According to festival director Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya:

I was invited by the Iranian embassy to discuss the matter and we both came to mutual agreement that it would be beneficial to both countries if the film was not shown.

Its a good film, but there are other considerations.

Actually, there arent any other considerations. Either its a good film or it isnt and the opinion of a bunch of over-sensitive authoritarians has no bearing on that whatsoever.

Thai TV gets a nanny

The Thai government has announced (via) that television programmes with with content requiring parental guidance and advice cannot be aired before 8pm and must be watched by children in the presence of their parents.

Broadcasts of other programmes rated unsuitable for under-18s must also be pushed back to 10pm.

Deputy Prime Minister and Social Development and Human Security Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham said after the cabinet meeting that programmes with a Nor rating should be watched by children only in the presence of parents.

But since most parents did not get home until late in the evening, the cabinet agreed that Nor-rated programmes should not start until 8pm.

The Chor category programmes, considered inappropriate for people under 18, should be aired only after 10pm.

The cabinet last December ruled that all television programmes must be given ratings, although so far there have been no restrictions on when they should be aired.

TV programmes are to be rated by a committee comprising representatives of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, the Culture Ministry, the Education Ministry and civil society.

Thailand considers film ratings

Thailands Ministry of Culture has drafted (via) a new Thai Film Act in an effort to update the kingdoms currently archaic censorship system. The major change of the act, which is about to be submitted to the National Legislative Assembly, is that it will introduce a film-rating system.

The Thai film industry has been petitioning governments for decades to amend the current Thai Film Act that was promulgated in 1930, two years before the country opted for a democractic system under a constitutional monarchy.

Under existing legislation, Thai and foreign films are subject to appraisals by a strict censorship board, dominated by senior police officers, that have a reputation for cutting out all explicit sex scenes and anything deemed offensive to the national religion, Buddhism, or themes thought politically sensitive.

The industry has been lobbying to have the current censorship system replaced by film ratings, such as R for films restricted to adults.

But some are already worried that the amended film act may worsen the environment for artistic freedom rather than improve it.

It could be even worse, because theyll have both the rating system and, probably, the censors, film critic Suparb Rimthephhathip warned.

The censorship debate in Thailand hit the news last week when the award-winning Thai film Saeng Sattawat (Syndromes and a Century) missed its local début in Thai cinemas because of the board of censors insisted on cutting several sensitive scenes.

Campaign to free Thai cinema

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has taken his fight with the Thai censors online with a petition (scroll down for the English part) that calls on the National Legislative Assembly to recognise that films are a legitimate form of mass media and should be given the same freedoms from state intervention and restriction as other mass media such as radio, television and newspapers.

There is also a blog associated with the campaign, which confirms that the petition will be submitted to the Thai government at a later date.

Inappropriate censorship

Still from Sang Sattawat Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has cancelled the release of his much anticipated film, Sang Sattawat (Syndromes and a Century) after the censors yesterday demanded that four sensitive scenes be cut.

The film - which was nominated for a Golden Lion at last years Venice Film Festival - tells the story of doctors at a rural hospital and is based on the directors memories of growing up in the hospital environment.

The scenes the board found objectionable show a young monk playing a guitar, a group of doctors drinking whisky in a hospital basement, a doctor kissing his girlfriend in a hospital locker room, and two monks playing with a radio-controlled aeroplane.

According to Supawat Pothong, a representative of the Medical Council who attended the censorship board meeting yesterday, The scenes involving doctors are inappropriate. Drinking whisky in a hospital is not proper conduct by medical professionals.

And if doctors do drink, the best response - according to the Thai Medical Council - is to pretend they dont.

Mr Apichatpong emailed the Bangkok Post to say that he had no intention of making the cuts and will withdraw the film instead.

I, as a filmmaker, treat my works as I do my own sons or daughters, he wrote. I dont care if people are fond of them or despise them, as long as I created them with my best intentions and efforts.

If these offspring of mine cannot live in their own country for whatever reason, let them be free. There is no reason to mutilate them in fear of the system. Otherwise there is no reason for one to continue making art.

The film had been scheduled to open on April 19th on two screens in Bangkok.

No Bone in Thailand

Thai police arrested (via) British porn film director John Gilbert Bowen, aka John T. Bone, along with two associates on Friday. According to the Pattaya Daily News, the trio will be charged with various offences relating to the production and sale of pornography and could face deportation.

Pattaya Police Maj. Chaikrit Thong-in issued the warrant for Bowen’s arrest, which was served at an apartment complex he used to film adult content using local citizens. Police discovered a fully functional studio in the rented apartment, complete with lighting, flash equipment and costumes. Bowen allegedly admitted to police that he rented the apartment five months ago and used it to shoot local girls and transsexuals for his various websites and DVDs.

According to The Pattaya Daily News, Bowen will probably be deported after he wends his way through the Thai justice system.

The production and sale of pornography in Thailand is explicitly forbidden.