Friday, May 30, 2008

New film-censorship law takes effect on Monday

Here's a story from today's Daily Xpress, which for some reason I cannot find on the paper's website:

Film censorship

New law out soon

Under-13s to be banned from violent movies; producers of ‘national security threats’ jailed for a year

By Pakamard Jaichalard
Daily Xpress

As of next month the new Film and Video Act metes out jail time and Bt1-million fines for unlicensed screening, distribution and cinemas. It also prevents kids under 13 from watching violent scenes.

When the new law takes effect, the Culture Ministry will take over from the current censor board, which is controlled by the police. The ministry will bring in doctors, psychologists and religious leaders to advise censors.

Culture Ministry permanent secretary Weera Rojphojjanarat says it’s considering new regulations to enhance the new act, which is a two-part statute.

The first grants permission for films to be produced in Thailand. The Tourism and Sports Ministry will supervise this. The second part deals with distribution and screening of films. This is within the remit of the Culture Ministry and its National Committee for Film and Video, encompassing the censors’ board and the National Culture Commission.

In the time it takes to transfer censorship powers to the ministry, this will remain the task of the current board.

The new regulations will see films rated by age, and will eventually end the unnecessary cutting of scenes, though this is some time off.

Film and Video Office director Amornrat Thepkampanart says that from June 2 until the new law takes effect, all films will have to be submitted to the censors.

Cinemas will also require a licence and those who fail to comply will be fined Bt20,000 for every day of the infringement.

Those running unlicensed cinemas or renting movies without permission face fines of between Bt200,000 and Bt1 million. Films considered a threat to national security could see producers jailed for a year and/or fined Bt100,000.

Just to recap, here is the proposed ratings system.

  • P - Film should be promoted for all audiences.
  • G - Approved for general audiences.
  • 13+ - Restricted to viewers aged 13 and above.
  • 15+ - Restricted to viewers aged 15 and above.
  • 18+ - Restricted to viewers aged 18 and above.
  • 20+ - Restricted to viewers aged 20 and above.

From the story, I gather that any film showing violence will be rated 13+, meaning people under 13 will not be allowed to see films with fighting, gunplay, war or gore. The attention to violence is a new development. Traditionally, violence has been allowed to unspool unfettered, while the censors were more worried about covering up nude bodies and pixellating sex scenes.

And what if the film is in the troublesome, mysterious "P" category? Conceivably, this "P" (for propaganda) classification could contain any kind of film, such as the Naresuan movies, which were actually quite violent, and even had some nudity.

Seems there will be some fine-tuning going on before the ratings comes fully into effect, as the story says. And, I would not be surprised if the ratings are never enacted - they would require too much accountability and loss of control on the part of the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Culture. They are more comfortable cutting and banning films than they are with giving permission for people, or even certain segments of people, to see them.

As far as the transfer of censorship power from the Royal Thai Police to the Ministry of Culture, that is also in transition, so I don't expect to see much immediate effect from this. It is alarming that the people making the films and taking all the risks aren't being given a voice in the process, while various special interest groups like doctors and clergymen will have a major say on whether a film can be shown.

The cinema licenses, "renting movies without permission", fines, etc., aren't going to impact the cinemas or average moviegoers either. But I do wonder about other venues that show films, like art galleries, as well as the film festivals. It'll be an interesting experience to see an international film festival or art gallery raided for showing an unlicensed film.

And the threat of jail for film producers is pretty alarming, especially for the fact that "national security" and not pornography is invoked. Makes me think the Culture Police will be gunning for independent filmmakers.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

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