Thailand Needs Less, Not More Censorship

This undated photo released by Netflix shows a scene of contestants vying to win the Dalgona Korean candy challenge in a scene from "Squid Game." Photo: Youngkyu Park / Netflix via AP

The Thai state always tries to not just censor what they see is unfit for public consumption and it is literally keeping the public from maturing and becoming self-reliant. That suits them very well.

The latest is a warning by police spokesman Col. Kissana Phattanacharoen on Monday that watching the popular Korean series “Squid Game” could drive viewers to commit crimes and suggests the government may attempt to censor the Netflix series.

“It may lead to imitation, cause viewers to have violent behavior, or result in viewers to imagine that they are in similar situations shown in the series,” Kissana was quoted as saying, adding that parents or “guardians” should “exercise control and monitor the use of social media and entertainment” of young people.

Note the key words: “guardian”, “control” and “monitor.” This unconsciously sums up what the Thai state has been doing to not just to “control” young populations but adults as well.

The Thai state tries to exert control through censorship and surveillance and think of themselves as the guardian of the people.

The anachronistic lese-majeste law aside, with over 140 people charged so far, many were young Thais activists, we see censorship on other domains of our daily life as well.

Those watching Thai television for a period of time would not fail to notice that any graphic display of alcoholic drinks, cigarette smoking and nudity have to be blurred. “Smoking is detrimental to one’s health,” a typical text would warn television viewers. “Drinking is detrimental to one’s health and reduces awareness.”

The same goes with gambling. There’s a warning text telling viewers that gambling is illegal. Knives and guns are also blurred and violent scenes come with a warning that it’s illegal should not to be imitated.

Even arts is no exception. On Friday, 40 fine arts students at Chiang Mai University, a public university, petition the University President after its art works were denied from being displayed at the university’s art center as the faculty of fine arts deemed some of the works “political and against good morals.” The students hang a banner in Thai saying, “What’s Art Without Freedom?” Some of these students support anti-government and monarchy-reform movement.

Is the state trying too hard to protect us from these “vices” and “wrong information” about the monarchy or they are just trying to protect themselves by controlling us and our access to news, information and even entertainment? The latter is more likely.

Censorship is a slippery road. The next thing you know, too much has been censored and those making the decision are not accountable. This is an asymmetrical power relationship. Censorship will not make society more mature but less. By allowing, or calling for higher power to censor what we can read, watch, or hear – we are abandoning our right to decide for ourselves what’s true or false, good or evil, differentiate fact from fiction, real from fake news.

Abandoning your individual right and agency to examine and differentiate good from evil, real news from fake news by yourself, is tantamount to abandoning your right to be your own master – to let others decide what you can or cannot read or watch. You abdicate your responsibility as an active citizen and passively wait for the state or the mainstream mass media to decide on your behalf. That’s why social media, on online contents including some Netflix contents are deemed as a threat by the state.

The state (and to certain extent the mainstream press) feel they’re losing control if they do not continue to exert a power to control what content we can, or should, read or watch. Yes, social media is like a double-edge sword, like the dark side of “greedy” Facebook now fiercely debated abroad.

Collectively, we need to learn to be more savvy in the use of social media and in watching contents like Squid Game competently. Violent content, hate speech, alternative content about the monarchy – all these cannot unduly influence us if we are media literate and mindful.

We should be our own gate keeper and not let the state or the mainstream press decide for us what’s fit to be read or watched. In the 21th century, in the era of social media, Netflix, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and Facebook Live, all of us should learn to be our own gatekeeper. It may be demanding but this is for the best of our society. Citizens will become more mature, less dependent and less under control of the state and the mainstream press. This is what we all should strive for if we want a more mature Thai society.

As for police spokesman Kissana, please kindly tell him to mind his own business.