Patriotic film? Not now
The Thai Media Fund's plan to provide a 180-million-baht grant to support a film project that boosts patriotism has generated a big buzz.
However, sentiment towards the plan is mostly negative.
The fund, set up in 2015 to support "safe and creative" media with money allocated from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), unveiled its many grants worth a total of 300 million baht last week.
These include 90 million baht of open grants for the youth, senior citizens, people with disabilities, those who come from underprivileged backgrounds and the general public; a 180-million-baht strategic grant for a patriotic film and a 30-million-baht collaborative grant for an established media outlet aimed to meet similar objectives with the fund. The spotlight immediately fell on the film project.
Why must the government spend 180 million baht supporting a film that seeks to promote "nationalism"?
The term has always been contentious, even more so after the country found itself in the midst of political conflicts that have lasted more than a decade.
What does "patriotism" mean? Broadly speaking, the idea can be applied to a wide range of projects that could stimulate the country's artistic and cultural profile, while grooming new talents as well.
Success is possible. Look no further than South Korea and how the country has invested in the film-making and entertainment industry that gave birth to K-pop and fostered its soft-power, cultural economy.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha himself once touted South Korea's popular drama series Descendants of the Sun as an example of a quality show.
He said although the TV series portrayed a love story between a Special Forces captain and medical doctor in an imaginary war-torn country, it was also imbued with a sense of sacrifice and love for the country.
Should Thai people have the chance to enjoy something like Descendants of the Sun, that is produced by local talent? Definitely.
Should the government also provide funds to build a Thai cultural wave, grooming local talent to shine on the global stage and inspire the next generation to follow suit? Of course, it should.
Then why is this 180-million-baht grant to support a patriotic flick not a good idea?
Because it takes more than funding a film -- to build an entire cultural economy and groom generations of artistic talent -- to push an industry forward.
That is why the patriotic film plan has been bombarded by people questioning if the 180 million baht would be better spent securing Covid-19 vaccines, providing help for people affected by the outbreak or solving the PM2.5 crisis.
If the government really wishes to promote the film industry and local talent, it has to start with the right mindset. Artists need freedom to produce creative work. And creativity must not be so narrowly defined or bound by official mores and traditions. The government's tendency to interpret "patriotism" as expressions that only go along with its pro-elite, ultraconservative agenda does not inspire trust.
The Thai Media Fund's objective of supporting "safe and creative" media lends itself to doubt as well. Creativity is often unleashed when people push the boundaries and experiment with new ideas. "Safe" works are rarely creative. This is why public worries are valid. The government-sponsored film project seems like nothing more than propaganda.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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