Thursday, November 29, 2007

Harsh new film law closer to reality

The new Film and Video Act is being railroaded through Thailand's National Legislative Assembly by the Ministry of Culture.

The make-up of the proposed film-ratings board has already been decided by the NLA sub-committee, Culture Minister Khaisri Sriarun tells Nation News Service. Now the the committee is deciding on the proposed ratings system, which would restrict people as old as 24 from seeing certain films, or ban Thai films outright, from being exhibited anywhere in the world.

The moves by this military-installed parliament to clamp down on freedoms and stifle expression come ahead of a general election on December 23, and appear deaf to protests by the Free Thai Cinema Movement, which staged a demonstration on Wednesday, outside Parliament House in Bangkok.

Poet and writer Jiranan Pitchpreecha led the demonstration, by about 30 artists and filmmakers, including Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng, Pimpaka Towira and artist Manit Sriwanichapoom.

Jiranan submitted an open letter to Wallop Tangkananurak, a member of the NLA panel considering the act.

“The movement believes the new Film Act will impact on the freedom of expression of filmmakers as well as human rights of audiences, especially youths, who will be deprived of the opportunity to develop intellectual and analytical skills,” the letter said.

The group has asked that the provisions that empower the state to ban films and order filmmakers to cut scenes judged inappropriate, be stricken from the draft law. The filmmakers say the law is too vague and is open to broad interpretation. Furthermore, there are already laws on the books regarding national security, that could be applied to films. No need to single filmmakers out.

They also requested the NLA to consider increasing the number of nongovernment members on the proposed filmratings board. As the draft act stands now, mainly bureaucrats and governmentappointed representatives would sit on the ratings board. Led by prime minister, the board members would include ministers of Culture and Tourism and Sports ministries, as well as general secretaries from other ministries.

After the protest, Culture Minister Khaisri told The Nation's Thai-language news service that the composition of the film-ratings board has already been decided by the NLA committee.

The committee is now working on the structure of the ratings system, she said, and the full Film and Video Act is expected to come before the entire NLA during the second week of December.

The draft Film and Video Act has been written to replace the existing Film Act of 1930, but rather than being more progressive than this 77-year-old law, the new act is even more restrictive.

The ratings system has a PG for general audiences, PG-15, restricting people 14 and under, and a newly proposed PG-25 rating, under which people 24 years and younger would be prohibited. An earlier draft had 17 as the oldest age to restrict moviegoers. If passed, it would be the highest age-restrictive rating in the world. Notoriously controlling Singapore, for example, has a 21-and-over category for films as its most restrictive rating. The United States’ most restrictive rating is the rarely used NC-17, which bans people 17 years and under from seeing certain films.
The Culture Ministry is also calling for an X rating, under which films would be banned outright, and their distribution outside the Kingdom would be prohibited. Films falling in this category would be ones that, in the view of the proposed Film and Video Board, “impact sovereignty, religion, and the monarchy”.

But, just what constitutes "impact"?

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