Thursday, June 10, 2004

Satire is no joke to government

A new comedy film that pokes fun at Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family may have gone too far by using Down Syndrome comedian Sayan Dok Sadao to play the premier’s son, the Nation reported.

The movie, Yodchai Nai Oakark (Oakark the Great Guy), written and directed by Somjaj Sukjai, better known as Der Dok Sadao, also includes a Thaksin lookalike and characters with names similar to those of Thaksin’s family.

Khon Thai Entertainment Co Ltd, which had six actors in the movie, issued a statement banning them from appearing in the film. Some of the players were from the Joke Council comedy sketch show that Khon Thai owns and broadcasts on iTV -- a channel owned by Thaksin's family.

Pakpol Boonyoprakan, managing director of Khon Thai, said the firm was not pressured to withdraw its support for the film. He said the company realised the film might have inappropriately portrayed the son of the prime minister.

More pressure was put on the filmmakers when Special Branch police interrogated the producer and director.

National security was cited as the reason behind the heavy-handed tactics. Thailand has strict strict laws against any criticism of the Royal Family, however the prime minister and other members of the government are open to fair comment, criticism and even satire. But Premier Thaksin has proven to be notoriously thin-skinned and intolerant to such things. Journalism watchdogs say press freedoms, traditionally the most open in Southeast Asia, have declined under Thaksin.

"From what I gather the police wanted to know whether someone with a malicious intention to discredit the prime minister is behind the project," Jaroon Watthanasin, chairman of Bangkok Studio Co Ltd, was quoted as saying.

Lt Colonel Jirapong Jitthampong grilled Jaroon over the sources of his finance and demanded to see bank loan documents. The officer also demanded an urgent meeting with the director, comedian Der Dok Sadao, warning that "there could be trouble" if the funnyman could not show up immediately.

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