Test case for tolerance

Test case for tolerance

A new set of children's books, titled Waad Wang, which provides information on the other side of the anti-institution movement, has drawn mixed reactions and become another test case for tolerance towards different opinions in our society.

Most of the books in the eight-piece set are written by well-known children's book author Srisamorn Soffer under the pen name of Song-ka, which means two legs. Two guest writers, political activist Sombat Boonngamanong and actress Intira Charoenpura, who are known for their anti-dictatorship stance, add the controversy to the work.

There's also the use of some political symbols, employed by young political activists like yellow ducks, and the three-finger sign in promoting their ideology. The nudging of the 112 section, by suggesting the set is designed for those in the five to 112 age range, is a challenge. One illustration-only book, titled 10 Ratsadorn, is dedicated to the leaders of the pro-democracy movement, like Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and Parit Chiwarak who have faced prosecution for promoting their political causes. Another book focuses on political thinker Jit Poumisak who was slain in 1966.

Altogether 3,000 of the sets were published, with 500 being distributed free of charge to state health stations and civic networks.

The Ministry of Education raised some concerns about the appropriateness of the content for young students. Several right-wingers were agitated, wasting no time in accusing the publisher of "brainwashing," "distorting," and "instigating trouble". Some even went so far as to ask the authorities to slap Section 112 charges against the publisher for promoting sedition. The publisher has denied the accusations.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha himself has been irked and he has instructed authorities to examine the content that he believes is inappropriate. It also appears that state mechanisms are being put into use to ban or censor the set. A committee comprising security officers, police, educators and experts has already been formed to scrutinise the books and see if the publishers breach any laws. Even the state consumer protection panel has jumped on the bandwagon, summoning the publisher to declare its business, perhaps out of the hope to withdraw the products from the market. Meanwhile, other agencies still cannot establish the publisher is at fault.

On the other hand, a number of human rights activists and academics see no harm in the product. A renowned expert in child psychology reviewed two books out of eight in the collection, and praised them for being technically appropriate as children's literature, given that there's space for interpretation which is thought-provoking, not thought-controlling like most children books in this country.

Song-ka, the main author, insisted there is no ulterior motive. She argues that one book, Only Body Without Head, which aims to make children understand and accept people with differences through the Thai alphabet, is an award-winning item. Accepting other people's differences is a basic element for a harmonious and peaceful society, a high goal of the government. The author said the Waad Wang project is to encourage children to see the value of freedom.

The committee tasked with examining the books must do its job carefully. It must be fair, open and unbiased. It should limit its duty to ensuring the book set has no dangerous distortions, leaving the rest to parents to decide what is good or not for their kids.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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