Opinion: Censorship and Loyalty to the Thai Monarchy

A censor notice on True Visions cable TV. Photo: Thanyarat Doksone / Twitter
A censor notice on True Visions cable TV. Photo: Thanyarat Doksone / Twitter

While one junta-appointed senator after another takes turn to publicly announce they would not vote for Move Forward Party PM candidate Pita Limjaroenrat as the next PM due to the party’s pledge to reform the lese majeste law, two troubling issues related to the law itself surfaced over the past week.

On Tuesday morning True Vision, Thailand’s premier cable TV operator, censored a special interview in Pita conducted by the BCC. The issue of the monarchy was among the questions asked by BBC chief Southeast Asia correspondent Jonathan Head, a long-time journalist based in Bangkok who knows full well about the sensitivity of the monarchy issue and the law. Yet his carefully-scripted interview did not escape the wrath of True Vision’s “censor staff” who took turns monitoring foreign news agencies’ reports on Thailand and censored anything related to the lese majeste law or mildly critical to the monarchy.

“And we have to ask … would True censor us if we were interviewing Prayut?” Head asked on Twitter Tuesday.

The BBC is not alone, CNN, ABC Australia, France 24, and Al Jazeera were among those routinely censored by True Vision when it comes to mildly critical news about the Thai monarchy. This is privatized censorship as the “censor staff” were openly hired and paid by True Vision, which is part of Thailand’s largest conglomerate, the CP Group. Their hiring advertisement from April 2020 was posted by critics online after the BBC fiasco and it partly stated that censor staff must possess good command of English and “good attitude,” whatever the latter means. His or her task is to censor anything taboo, against the lese majeste law from not just news reports about Thailand but also talk shows (yes, at least one foreign talk show mocked the Thai king).

“Report to on-air staff to cut the signal immediately,” was a specific part of the job description as advertised although sources say they delay any news broadcast by around five minutes to make sure nothing critical got out. When censorship happens, the True Vision TV screen turns almost blank except for a large text with the message “Program will resume shortly.”

Applicants must be no older than 33. A foreign follower on social media asked me what happened at the age of 34? Hmm… that is intriguing. Do people become insubordinate and inquisitive when he or she turns 34 or too morally troubled by the fact that this is a job that graphically undermines rights of access to critical information about the Thai monarchy?

Yes, people can access YouTube and the news agencies’ own websites and watch it themselves, thus bypass the routine censorship by True Vision so this is less about efficacy but more about True Vision, and the CP Group, demonstrating their utmost loyalty to the throne or at least thwart any possibly allegation by others that they are allowing their own TV to become a launching pad of an attack or critical portrayal of the monarchy. Thus this is possibly more about True Vision, and the CP Group, saving its own skin and its businesses – disregarding whether they are true loyalists or not.

In exhibition 2, a letter announcing a disciplinary probe against a deputy governor of Lampang province for alleged “liking and sharing” of anti-monarchy Facebook content of French anti-Thai-monarchist Yan Marchal was leaked. Marchal, formerly a long-time resident of Thailand, was declared a persona non grata two years ago for his social media videos mocking the Thai monarchy.

In the leaked letter, posted by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a six-person investigating committee was set up by the Interior Ministry against Deputy Lampang governor Chamlak Kanpetch. The letter signed by Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary Suthipong Chulcharoen, dated April 3, stated that Chamlak was accused of behaving “inappropriately for a senior government official.”

I rang Chamlak on Thursday and he said the leaked letter was authentic. He was still a deputy Lampang governor as well. The deputy governor told me he told the committee was framed by a nemesis, a local elected politician, whom he busted for possession of an illegal land deed and swear he is a most loyal subject of His Majesty the King.

Chamlak said he merely clicked to “follow” Marchal’s Facebook page in order to monitor what is happening so preventive measures against anti-monarchy elements could be formulated. To prove his loyalty, Chamlak added that he had ordained three times as a monk to accrue merit for the late King Rama IX when the latter was ailing.

“My loyalty is above my life … I can die on behalf of His Majesty if required,” Chamlak stressed to this writer on the phone. The fact that an investigation was launched reminded me of the Inquisition during Medieval Europe, however. If you are a senior official, who have to believe, be faithful to the monarchy, or at least appear to be so.

Was Chamlak telling me the truth or was he just trying to save his own skin as he could not possibly admit he is a big fan or Marchal?

I would probably never know.