Monday, July 8, 2013

National Human Rights Commission weighs in on Shakespeare Must Die

In their bid to fight the ban of Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย, Shakespeare Tong Tai), filmmakers Ing K. and Manit Sriwanichpoom, took their case to the National Human Rights Commission, an effort exhaustively recorded in their documentary Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย).

Last week, the NHRC's findings were released, with a translation provided by the filmmakers. The full document is available here and the original Thai document has been scanned on posted on the film's blog. Here's an excerpt:

The rationale behind the National Board of Film and Video’s order to ban the film, namely their order [and the filmmakers’ refusal] to cut the scene featuring the events of October 6, 1976, a historical event well-known to the general public, [that their decision to ban the whole film came] solely from objection to this one scene, is insignificant and without substance. Therefore, the National Board of Film and Video used its power to issue a banning order on Shakespeare Must Die without being able to offer supportive justification for such restriction of freedom.  They could not cite scenes and dialogues to explain the necessity to limit freedom of opinion and expression to protect the rights and reputation of others, or for the preservation of national security and the protection of public peace and order and good morality. Instead, their order to ban the entire film outright is an act of infringement of freedom of opinion and expression by the producers of the film Shakespeare Must Die.

So the ban stems from the filmmaker's refusal to cut a scene depicting an iconic image from the October 1976 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

Further, the NHRC pointed out problems with the Film and Video Act of 2008, "a law that restricts freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom, 2007".

Kong Rithdee covers the matter further in his Saturday column in the Bangkok Post.

The NHRC's opinion is not legally binding, though I believe the filmmakers can use it to back up their court case, since they have filed a lawsuit against the censorship committee. But through its official findings, the human rights agency has confirmed what a lot of media scholars have already emphasised: at present, the "pre-crime" paranoia rooted in the Cold War years (or sci-fi delusion) that authorises the censoring of media prior to its broadcast or publication is only applied to film. Newspapers, radio stations, TV channels and even websites do not have to submit their content to state inspection before going to print or on air, but movies have to. That's unjust at best and primordial at worst, given the democratisation of media on the airwaves, cable TV and the internet. The view that movies are the are the most dangerous media is baffling. Isn't what's being said every day on colour-coded TV, for instance, far more inflammatory?

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