A magazine executive discuss freedom of expression & defamation as related to PM Yingluck case

I called up my friend, a top executive, in the magazine advertising business yesterday, to go out an have a drink. Thai Intel Blog just got 3 million hits and I was in a cheerful mood. We met at an Irish Pub and had a few drinks and some conversation.

The talk turned to journalism, as a few journalist, Chai Ratchawat and Chermsak Pinthong, have been slapped with libel suits, for sexually offensive comments about the Thai PM, Yingluck Shinawatra and Thaksin, relating to Chai saying Yingluck is worse than a whore and Chermsak’s comment Thaksin likes to f-ck young girls. The the latest is a Democrat Party MP, who also got slap with a libel suit, relating to Yingluck.

Chai was charged by Yingluck while, Chermsak and the democrat Party MP, were charged by women used in their attack on Yingluck and Thaksin.

And now the ICT Ministry said it will block website that defames the Thai PM. Then the government have asked the Thai telecom unit, to look at TV stations, that is deemed offensive and engage in “Defamation.”

All of that have caused a great debate in Thailand, of what is freedom of expression, what is defamation and what is censorship.

And of course, there is the political angle, meaning former Thai PM Abhisit, closed downs 10s of thousands of website, and shutting down also 100s of radio and cable TV stations, but saw very few, like the Bangkok Post, Nation or Reuters, yelling and screaming at him, as many are yelling and screaming at Yingluck now.

Many now, like Bangkok Post, of course say Yingluck is a dictator, for her OK to a libel case on the media and her government’s follow up actions. These critic of Yingluck, again, such as the Bangkok Post and Nation, again, of course said nothing about Abhisit and his massive use of censorship.

So this issue is not as pure and straight as it seems, but is also being “Twisted for Political Gain.”

But the issue is being debated, more purely and straight, by the academic world.

Many academic, says, if the Thai people sees lese majeste or offending the Royalty, a crime that is not justifiable, they should also see offending Yingluck as OK, as freedom of expression should be allowed in both, the discussion about Royalty and discussion about Yingluck. These academics say that, even with some arguing it is different, like just saying the Thai King composed music sounds bad, can result in 20 years in jail for lese majeste, but the typical defamation libel crime in Thailand, on ordinary people against each other, most time sees a small fine and mostly suspended sentence.

So what is going on? What is right and what is wrong?

My advertising friend, shares his point of view (I compiled the conversation into an easy to read flow):

“The advertising world is highly sensitive to people’s perception, and we do a great deal of market research on what the people think. The debate about freedom of expression, defamation and censorship in Thailand right now, is getting to be about philosophy, extremism and political in nature. The argument is not really real anymore. In the advertising business, if you go to some countries, there is a great deal of negative advertisement, of advertisement attacking competing products, then saying ours is better. In Thailand, that is in politics, but has not taken off in the business world, as most are concerned about libel suit. Even recently, a condominium project, said it was the best project in the area and better than the rest, and the result was that the project was taken to court, by another project nearby, for libel. At my real estate magazine, we always have to be careful what we say, if we hype it up too much and can not back up the information, we open our-self up for a great deal of legal problem. The same thing is with what is going on about Yingluck. People should have enough common sense with what is too much, like crossing the line, between freedom of expression and hurting’s other people’s right. Where is the line? It is unfortunate the Thai justice system, rely on the judges and not the jury. But I suggest anyone who is concern about this Yingluch situation, to imaging themselves at the corner of the street, and start saying things about the people they come across. If they say something, and 80% of the time, they get a punched in the mouth or taken to the police station, that is libel. Can you go stand at the street and start saying people’s mother is worse that a whore? I suggest the argument be settled, by going to the Thai people.”

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