Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Thailand's YouTube ban hurts political dissent, critics say

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thailand's decision to ban video-sharing Web site YouTube highlights a growing crackdown by the junta against political comment online, media rights groups said yesterday.

Thailand's army-backed government accused online video-sharing Web site YouTube on Thursday of being heartless and culturally insensitive for refusing to remove a clip mocking the country's revered king.

The 44-second clip shows images of the king, crudely altered with a graphics program, which flash on the screen to the tune of the Thai national anthem.

One image shows the monarch under a photograph of feet, which are considered the lowest part of the body in Buddhism. The image is hugely offensive in Thailand, a mainly Buddhist country.

Thailand's army-backed government accused online video-sharing Web site yesterday of being heartless and culturally insensitive for refusing to remove the clip.

YouTube, which has dominated the user-generated online video market since it was founded in February last year, said it was disappointed by Bangkok's move and was "looking into the matter."

"YouTube reaches a wide global audience and strives to provide a community where people from around the world can express themselves by sharing videos in a safe and lawful manner," the company said in an e-mail response.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance said that while commentary about the king is culturally sensitive in Thailand, blocking the entire site raised serious concerns.

"Thais are now deprived of a popular and accessible medium that can accommodate alternative and independent voices," it said in a statement.

"There is a growing spectre of intolerance toward Web-based media as a whole. The Internet is vulnerable in Thailand, and not just when it comes to material pertaining to the king," it said.

Since the military seized power in a September coup, it has also blocked political Web sites linked to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra as well as a university discussion board.

Police are also investigating a Web site calling on the king to sack his top adviser, Prem Tinsulanonda, over his alleged role in masterminding the coup.

Thailand's government has blocked a total of 45,000 Web sites, according to the group Freedom Against Censorship Thailand. About 85 percent of them are believed to be pornographic, and many were banned under Thaksin.

But the group's coordinator, CJ Hinke, said the government also uses its campaign against pornography to conceal its efforts to ban political Web sites, including discussions of the insurgency in Thailand's south.

"They're using pornography to conceal a hidden political agenda, because all of the sites, all of the discussions about the south are being blocked, as well as of course all of the Thaksin sites," he said.

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