Censure the censors for too much vaseline
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Censure the censors for too much vaseline

Patrons at a restaurant watch a Thai soap on television. Censor boards hired by broadcast stations put 'morality stamps' on TV programming as they see fit. CORY WRIGHT
Patrons at a restaurant watch a Thai soap on television. Censor boards hired by broadcast stations put 'morality stamps' on TV programming as they see fit. CORY WRIGHT

Back when I was at school, we had classes called "Morality". They taught us how to behave and how to be a good person.

Basically, just follow the five Buddhist precepts, written rules and laws, and do what older people tell us, and we'd be fine. No debate. No need to analyse. No need to think.

But even after we have grown up, we are still being taught the rules of morality in various ways. We are told not to drink and drive; not to lie on social media; not to sell or receive sex services.

Censorship plays a big part in morality teaching. Media professionals learn to self-censor when we have to deal with certain sensitive social issues. The boundaries for expression, as you know, are more restrictive in Thailand than in many other countries.

Where rules exist, some of them make sense, some don't, and some are plainly illogical and silly.

Officials' warning that people posting photos with alcoholic drinks on social media could be given heavy fines falls into the latter category. Unwary citizens are being treated as though they are celebrities plugging alcoholic beverages for a fee.

The incessant pounding of morality lessons over the years has unfortunately succeeded to a certain extent to affect how people think and behave and to limit their creativity and imagination.

In recent years, though, it seems thought-control exercises have been elevated to another level, often with the consent and assistance of media companies themselves.

This is especially true with entertainment media where profits count more than professional integrity.

Once in a while, we see bold moves by programme producers to present something that stirs people to think and debate.

Series such as Hormones broke new ground by exposing the more seedy side of teenagers. Its producers had not escaped the censors' attempt to tone it down but managed to keep much of its content intact only through the strength of its popularity. But otherwise censor boards hired by broadcast stations are left to happily put their morality stamps on programming as they see fit.

In the past, a centralised, official censor board was responsible for overseeing all broadcast media content. But over a decade ago, this board was disbanded and each television station has been tasked with censoring its own content.

You would have thought that the privatised censor boards would go lightly on mind-control techniques. But no. If anything, the situation has become worse.

Thai TV dramas (the immensely popular soap operas) have been a focus of public debate over the years, but movies tend to draw less attention.

Watching movies on free TV is an exercise in self-control. To begin with, the screen is normally plastered with two or three graphic elements, such as station logos, limiting the viewing area. Then, viewers' patience is tried by scenes that censors blur out.

Movies dealing with violent or sexual content are the obvious target. Watching these movies, you have to try to put yourself into a meditative mode so as not to get too excited, not by the action scenes but by all the scenes blurred out in spots by the censors.

We call these blurring actions "vaseline". A gun or a knife pointing at any part of the body, vaseline. A bottle of beer or whisky, vaseline. A glass of beer or wine in hand, vaseline. A cigarette wherever it is, lit or not, vaseline. Ditto any drugs.

A bare buttock, male or female, vaseline. A clothed outline of male genitals, vaseline. Blood splashes, vaseline. Severe wounds, vaseline. A needle on a syringe being inserted into a vein, vaseline.

A female naked body, forget it. Even a female actor singing on stage in the movie Chicago I saw recently -- fully clothed -- was vaselined around her ample bosom.

Can it get more ridiculous than this? Yes, it can.

To tell you why they did it, the censors also put in text over a lot of blurred scenes, such as:

Gambling is illegal.

Hurting others is illegal.

Addictive drugs are illegal.

Inflicting violence on and being abusive or coercive against others are criminal offences.

Drinking alcohol is hazardous to health and adversely affects consciousness.

Consuming drugs is hazardous to your body.

There are more, but you get the picture. Pretty soon, the censors will tell us how to brush our teeth and tie our shoes.

There is a rating system in place to categorise TV broadcasts according to viewers' age groups. So why do we need more censoring?

Censors often argue that scenes have to be censored to prevent copy-cat behaviour by children and to promote "good morals among people".

Implicit in these rationales is the authorities' distrust of citizens to behave appropriately as adults. In other words, citizens are kids who require constant supervision and reprimands for stepping out of line. They are not mature enough to think for themselves.

In the same vein, they are not mature enough to behave responsibly in a democracy, and therefore their democratic rights must be curtailed until an appropriate time.

Wasant Techawongtham is a former news editor, Bangkok Post.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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