It was only a small item on the bottom line of a graphic at the bottom of Page 2 of the Sunday Nation, but it caught my attention. Among the three "don'ts" issued for the new government by the Non-governmental Organization Coordinating Committee on Development: Don't approve the new film censorship law.
The call to reverse the film censorship measure is lumped into the NGOs' "don'ts" on human rights. Don't enact the national security bill (which increases electronic surveillance); don't enact the film censorship (and ratings) law; don't enact the broad computer crimes law; don't enact the law on broadcasting wavelength.
Other's "don'ts" for the government: no nuclear power project and no free-trade talks until a relevant law is approved.
Passed as a rubber-stamp item by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly, just before the December 23 election, the film censorship and ratings law would replace the 1930 Film Act, under which all films shown in Thailand are subject to scrutiny and cuts by the Board of Censors. To get the new film act enacted, it will need another law or perhaps a ministerial regulation, which would stipulate how the ratings would be assigned and observed by the cinemas. The new act also retains censorship powers, and gives the censorship and ratings board the power to ban films.
Until a new law is enacted, the 1930 censorship law is still in effect. It is open to broad interpretation, and has never been consistently applied. Most often, depictions of sex and nudity were dealt with harshly, with cuts or some method of blurring.
Recently, though, violence has come under scrutiny of the censors. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street went in for cuts, and when they were done, "foggy blurring" pixellation covered up Johnny Depp's razor cutting the throats of his customers, though the blood could still be seen spurting.
American Gangster was also given the blurry treatment, with guns and drugs being pixellated out. Charlie Wilson's War removed the nipples from the naked breasts of a stripper in a hot tub.
There's fear that the upcoming releases of the Oscar-nominated No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood will also be censored.
The censors, right now, are operating without a mandate, basically doing as they please and serving no interests but their own sense of superior morality. They are out of control. There is no end in sight, as the current government has yet to find its footing and turn its attention on such things as the film act.
But, money talks. And if Thailand's 22nd-richest man, Major Cineplex owner Vicha Poolvaraluck sees a threat to his bottom line, because moviegoers aren't flocking to see the butchered films, well, I think the Ministry of Culture's pixellation squad might have to close up shop. But that will take time, and will require a major effort to inform moviegoers of the censorship beforehand to make them stop going to Thailand's cinemas to see Hollywood films.