Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NGOs to new government: Don't approve film censorship law

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.


  1. I think the idea of film ratings is basically a good one - as long as a film receiving an adult rating is not censored.

    Although films are being blurred etc. in cinemas, the same is not happening on DVD. The Departed, for example: when it was shown in Thai cinemas on its theatrical release, the dildo Jack Nicholson wears was blurred, but on the Thai DVD it's clear. Also, the very recent Thai DVD release of Lie With Me is uncut/unblurred, including erections and explicit simulated sex.

  2. I think ratings are good in theory. It's just that the censorship and ratings law has a lot of problems - with the censorship and ban provisions.

    Also, I don't trust the Thai authorities to administer a ratings system fairly and consistently, with transparency. I fear they will take a page from the MPAA's book and make it a mysterious, closed system that treats independent films more harshly than big studio ones. And yeah, they'll probably still be doing foggy blurring on the films, even if they are rated Under 18.

    If the law is enacted, it will be many years before the problems and corruption with the ratings system become apparent. With the new law, there's a chance to avoid that, but I don't think that things have been thought through.

    With regard to DVDs, some Thai releases are censored, mainly those by Rose, so stay away from those. The big studio DVD releases like The Departed and such are generally safe because they were made outside of Thailand, and are intended for more than just the Thai market.

    For films like No Country for Old Men, I want to see them on the big screen in a cinema, but not if they are censored. Still, I hate waiting for the DVD.

  3. Just heard that No Country and There Will Be Blood, both opening in Bangkok this week, will NOT be censored. Thank goodness.


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