As soon as I learned about the cancellation of the last episode of the programme Tob Jote on the constitutional monarchy by Thai PBS, I thought about one incident.
I was baffled at first because the self-censorship of Tob Jote's final installment of a series of controversial programmes seemed unrelated to the incident that came to mind.
The incident I thought of following the cancellation of Tob Jote was a conversation I had with a former colleague here at the Bangkok Post a long time ago.
At the time, both of us were responsible for the newspaper's book page. We were discussing some theories _ post-modernism, Jurgen Habermas's theories of communication and other ideas along those arcane lines.
We were not showing off. We had to discuss these theories not just because we had to review many difficult books but also because both of us were sitting in on a women studies class with required readings that pertained to philosophy.
As we talked, a Western colleague who understands Thai very well, approached us and remarked in wonder: "I have never seen Thai people discuss philosophy. I have never seen Thais discussing anything with any rationality at all actually."
I didn't think much about the observation at that time. My friend and I probably laughed it off.
But it's this remark _ that Thai people can't use reason in their arguments _ that flashed right back to me after I learned about the Thai PBS's pulling of the last episode of the five-part series on the role of the monarchy in our democracy.
If Thais can't discuss anything with a measure of rationality, can't reconcile freedom of expression with respect for traditional institutions, or draw the line between constructive criticism and defamation, where will the country go?
If we think the red-yellow political conflict runs deep and has spawned incurable wide-ranging belligerence in society, then we have no idea what lies in store if the debate over the role of the monarchy in our democracy emerges and results in clashes.
The colour-coded politics may have bogged down the country and caused it to underperform, but the conflict about the role of the monarchy against ideals of democracy _ if kept suppressed and simmering _ could cause a ruinous and passionate confrontation.
That is why an open space where honest discussions about the issue can take place in a polite and civilised manner is necessary as it will help take some pressure off and a sharp edge out of this explosive topic.
That is why a programme like Tob Jote that dares to pull the heavy lid off what is presumed to be a "taboo" subject regarded as too sensitive to be discussed (especially on TV) deserves to be seen.
Tob Jote should be judged and discussed on its own merits.
There is no doubt that emotions will run high and accusations both fair and biased will cloud the banning of this controversial programme in the days to come.
Already, the same, old claim of the programme being "anti-monarchy", aimed at toppling the institution has surfaced. That's far from the truth. Those who watched the four episodes that had been aired would realise that it was an earnest attempt to discuss the royal institution from many perspectives, not to offend it. Even the last one, arguably the most controversial, which featured a debate between Sulak Sivaraksa and Somsak Jeamteerasakul, focused on whether it's fair for people to accuse one another of being "anti-monarchy", considering the heavy penalties associated with Section 112, or lese majeste law.
A lese majeste complaint can be filed by anybody against anyone and carries a prison term of three to 15 years.
Thai PBS chief Somchai Suwanban said the reason he decided to pull the programme at the last minute was because he didn't want to provoke anger from people who disagreed with its content, about 20 of whom gathered to protest at the station.
He said no news is worth more than the safety of the people who cover it.
The question now is whether the self-censorship will do more harm than good to Thai PBS and Thai society in general.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Atiya Achakulwisut
Position: Deputy Editor (Day)