Popular video-sharing Web site YouTube and the Thai government are discussing ways to end an impasse that arose after clips mocking the country's revered king appeared online, a Thai official said yesterday.
Thai Minister of Information and Technology Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom said the government would only remove its ban on the site once it has the technical capacity to block individual offensive pages.
"I am waiting to hear from [YouTube] about what can be done," Sitthichai told reporters. "If YouTube can't suggest a solution that we can effectively implement, then we have no choice but to keep the ban."
Thailand blocked YouTube on Wednesday after its owner, Google Inc, refused to remove a slideshow of King Bhumibol Adulyadej juxtaposed with imagery deemed to be offensive.
Insulting the monarchy in Thailand is a criminal offense known as lese majeste.
Last week, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for vandalizing portraits of the king.
After the site was blocked, several more videos mocking the king appeared on YouTube. Some of the new postings explicitly criticized the censorship of the first video.
YouTube said that one of its representatives had spoken with Sitthichai directly and he had said the ministry's technical team was having difficulty understanding how to block individual videos.
"While we will not take down videos that do not violate our policies, and will not assist in implementing censorship, we have offered to educate the Thai ministry about YouTube and how it works," said Julie Supan, head of global communications for YouTube.
"It's up to the Thailand government to decide whether to block specific videos, but we would rather that than have them block the entire site," she said.
Sitthichai said that the site would remain blocked until all the contentious clips are blocked or removed.
"I am a proponent of free speech, but this is just culturally insensitive and offensive," he said, adding that he would not block access to materials that are anti-government. "But we will not tolerate materials that offend the monarchy."
The initial video, which was withdrawn on Thursday, showed pictures of feet over the king's head -- a major cultural taboo in Thailand, where feet are considered dirty and offensive -- and graffiti scrawled over the 79-year-old monarch's face. At least one still frame from the video remained on the site.
A variation of the withdrawn video reappeared on Friday, along with another one that showed a picture of the king superimposed with a monkey's face. It also carried messages with profanities and said Thailand's "leaders are evil and hate free speech."
The YouTube ban has drawn sharp reactions in Thailand.
Some have criticized the ban as a violation of freedom of expression and another sign of censorship by the military-installed government that took power after a coup ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Many viewers, however, have reacted with outrage, hurling abuse at the clip's creator. Some newspaper columnists have praised the ban, saying YouTube should respect cultural sensitivities and not allow videos that would be considered illegal in Thailand.
The government has also blocked a number of other Web sites deemed insulting to the king.
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