03 February 2023

Peaceful Art Protest


Peaceful Art Protest

Russian police have seized nineteen posters from an art exhibition in St Petersburg. The anti-war artworks, by Yelena Osipova, were painted in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and her Peaceful Art Protest («МИРный арт-протест») exhibition opened on 31st January. The show had been scheduled to run until 24th February, though on the day after the opening, police closed the exhibition and confiscated all of the posters on display. Criticising the invasion of Ukraine is illegal in Russia: local newspapers that did so were banned last year.

The exhibition was held at the St Petersburg office of the opposition Yabloko party. (Their name is the Russian word for ‘apple’, though it might remind non-Russians of the Nadsat word ‘yarblockos’ from the novel and film A Clockwork Orange.) This was not the first time that police have raided art exhibitions in Russia: galleries were charged with blasphemy in 2006 and 2012, and an exhibition of satirical portraits was closed down in 2013. Paintings mocking President Vladimir Putin were censored in 2009 and 2010.

Tongpan


Tongpan Tongpan

Next week, on 7th February, there will be a screening of the classic independent film Tongpan (ทองปาน) at Noir Row Art Space in Udon Thani. (Tongpan has previously been shown at Cinema Oasis in 2018, at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in 2017, and at the Thai Film Archive in 2016.)

Tongpan is a realistic dramatisation of a seminar that took place in 1975, which was organised to debate the construction of the Pa Mong dam on the Mekong river. The eponymous central character is a farmer who lost his land due to a previous dam. In the film, Sulak Sivaraksa makes an impassioned speech against the proposed dam: “Development only serves a few people in Bangkok... And what about the destruction of our country? The whole province of Loei will be flooded by this Pa Mong Dam.” Ultimately, the Pa Mong project was abandoned, though this was a Pyrrhic victory for environmental campaigners, as dozens of hydroelectric dams are currently under construction.

Tongpan was a product of the brief period of political freedom following the collapse of Thanom Kittikachorn’s dictatorship in 1973, though by the time filming had been completed in 1977, the military had seized power again, and the film was banned. Its prologue captures the optimism of 1973 (“A military junta fled into exile, and the students from the city went into the countryside to tell the farmers”), though this is contrasted by an epilogue that describes the return of military rule (“shortly after the shooting of this film, a violent coup d’etat of a magnitude never before seen in Thailand brought an end to Thailand’s three-year experiment with democracy”).

02 February 2023

“Exploitation of audio of President Trump…”


The Trump Tapes The Trump Tapes

Donald Trump is suing journalist Bob Woodward and the publisher Simon and Schuster for $50 million, alleging that Woodward’s audiobook The Trump Tapes was released without prior authorisation. Woodward interviewed Trump nineteen times as research for his book Rage, and the audiobook features complete recordings of those interviews. Trump’s lawsuit, filed on 30th January, accuses Woodward of “systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio of President Trump”, and claims that the publication of the tapes violated Trump’s copyright.

In many of the interviews, Woodward tells Trump: “I’m turning on my tape recorder”, a reminder that these are on-the-record conversations being recorded with consent. While he didn’t discuss the prospect of an audiobook with Trump, Woodward is legally entitled to release the tapes, because he—not Trump—recorded them. Just as the person who presses the camera shutter automatically assumes copyright of the resulting photograph (unless they waive that right), the person who presses ‘record’ owns the copyright of a sound recording (if the recording is made with permission).

31 January 2023

Red Poetry


Red Poetry

Supamok Silarak’s documentary Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will have its premiere next month. The film documents the activities (or, in art terms, happenings) of student performance artists Vitthaya Klangnil and Yotsunthon Ruttapradit, who formed the group Artn’t. Vitthaya is shown carving “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges they faced after they exhibited a modified version of the Thai flag.

A shorter version of Supamok’s film, Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้), was shown last year at Wildtype 2022. The full-length version will have an open-air screening at Suan Anya in Chiang Mai on 8th February. (The Power of Doc, a programme of political documentaries, was shown at the same venue last year.)

30 January 2023

India:
The Modi Question


India: The Modi Question
India: The Modi Question

Screenings of a new BBC documentary that includes serious allegations against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been prevented at several Indian universities, and students have been arrested at one campus. The programme reveals that Rob Young, the UK’s High Commissioner to India in 2002, wrote a confidential report concluding that “Narendra Modi is directly responsible” for the deaths of more than 1,000 people at a mass riot in Gujarat earlier that year.

India: The Modi Question, directed by Richard Cookson and Sadhana Subramaniam, was broadcast in the UK on BBC2 in two parts, on 17th and 24th January. It quotes from Young’s report, which alleged that Modi met senior police officers and “ordered them not to intervene in the rioting.” Students at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi were detained by police to prevent an outdoor screening of the documentary on 25th January.

The situation recalls that of another BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, which was also censored in India. In that case, however, the Indian government banned the programme from being broadcast on television, whereas India: The Modi Question was never scheduled for transmission in India. Modi has been PM since 2014, and was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the riot. A cartoonist was arrested for caricaturing him in 2011, during his time as Chief Minister.

06 January 2023

Thai Cinema Uncensored


International Examiner

Thai Cinema Uncensored has been reviewed in the International Examiner, a fortnightly newspaper published in Seattle, Washington. A headline in the 21st September 2022 issue (vol. 49, no. 18) describes the book as “an illuminating work of resistance to censorship” (p. 6).

In her review, Elinor Serumgard says: “Matthew Hunt writes with a sense of urgency to legitimize these films and work towards a future where Thai filmmakers make the films they want without having to worry if people will be able to watch them. Readers will come away with a deeper understanding of Thai films and the history that has shaped them.”

The book has also been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, the academic journal Sojourn, and the magazines Art Review and The Big Chilli. An online review was published by the 101 World website.

29 November 2022

Patani Colonial Territory


Patani Colonial Territory Patani Colonial Territory

Thai police yesterday raided a coffee shop in Yala province and seized sets of a new card game, Patani Colonial Territory. The officers arrived at the cafe, in Bannang Sata market, at 5pm. The owner initially refused to cooperate with them, as a search warrant had not been obtained, though after several hours of questioning at the local police station, the game was confiscated pending an investigation.

The game was designed as an educational tool, to provoke discussion about the contested history of the Patani region. (‘Patani’ refers to a formerly independent Malay Muslim sultanate that is now part of Thailand. Therefore, beyond the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat—which comprise the Patani region—‘Patani’ is regarded as a controversial, politicised term with separatist connotations.)

Patani Colonial Territory was produced by the game company Chachiluk in collaboration with the book publisher KOPI, funded by the Progressive Movement’s Common School project. Fifty sets of the game (each of which is a pack of fifty-two cards) have been distributed as part of a soft launch, with plans for a more widespread release in a few months’ time. The game has been criticised by the royalist Thai Pakdee Party whose leader, Warong Dechgitvigrom, lodged a complaint against it at the Ministry of Interior yesterday.

The Patani region was represented by a major exhibition in 2017, Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย), though the organisers considered it too sensitive to release an exhibition catalogue at the time. (It was eventually published in Malaysia when the exhibition transferred there in 2019.) Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh’s art also deals with Patani politics and society, and a monograph of his work, The Patani Art of Struggle (ศิลปะปาตานี วิถีแห่งการดิ้นรน), was published in 2020.

22 November 2022

“What can’t be fixed is the mental illness of the prime minister...”


Ehud Olmert

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and winner of the country’s 1st November election, has won his defamation case against another former PM, Ehud Olmert. Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court yesterday awarded Netanyahu 62,000 shekels ($17,850) in compensation, though this was less than 10% of the 837,000 shekels he had sued for.

In an interview with Gadi Sukenik on the show המהדורה המרכזית (‘the main edition’), Olmert said that Netanyahu was mentally ill: “What can’t be fixed is the mental illness of the prime minister and his wife and son.” The interview was broadcast by Democrat TV on 12th April last year. In a second interview nine days later, on Keshet 12’s Ofira and Berkovich (אופירה וברקוביץ') show, he refused to retract the claim and scoffed at the prospect of being sued by Netanyahu.

19 November 2022

Democracy after Death:
The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan


The Power of Doc

There will be a rare screening of Neti Wichiansaen’s film Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) tomorrow in Chiang Mai. The documentary covers almost a decade of divisive Thai politics, a period bookended by the coups of 2006 and 2014. It describes the 2010 military crackdown as “the most brutal political massacre in Thai history” and—like Thunska Pansittivorakul’s The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย)—it blames former prime minister Abhisit personally for the incident: “Directly responsible, Abhisit Vejjajiva holds Thailand’s new record of the number of people shot by the military.”

The film is significant for its inclusion of sensitive political events excluded from Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). It also serves as a counterpoint to Ing Kanjanavanit’s Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์): whereas Bangkok Joyride is pro-PDRC, Democracy after Death is equally biased in favour of deposed PM Thaksin Shinawatra, noting sympathetically that he “was forced to leave and has had to remain outside Thailand” though ignoring his corruption conviction. These events are all narrated in a voiceover addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan’s short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ) and Rap Against Dictatorship’s recent music video 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’).

Democracy after Death’s director is living in exile, due to an outstanding lèse-majesté prosecution. As in Narayana’s Arrow Spaceship (ยานศรนารายณ์), the film’s credits have been self-censored to avoid potentially incriminating any of the cast or crew. It will be shown in an open-air screening at Suan Anya tomorrow evening, as part of The Power of Doc, a weekend of political documentaries showing at various venues around Chiang Mai University.

07 November 2022

King Protection Group


Amarat Chokepamitkul

A royalist pressure group has filed lèse-majesté charges against Move Forward MP Amarat Chokepamitkul. She spoke in parliament on 2nd November about the Criminal Court’s reluctance to issue summonses for royal travel and financial documents, thus preventing them from being admitted as exculpatory evidence in lèse-majesté trials. Her statement was cut short by Chuan Leekpai, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Amarat shared an online video of her speech from Matichon, which the King Protection Group submitted to police the next day. (Their complaint seemingly disregards an MP’s right of parliamentary privilege.) Last month, the same pressure group filed charges against the rapper P9D, alleging that his song Kuay Rai A (ควยไรอะ) violated the lèse-majesté law.

31 October 2022

TrumpNation:
The Art of Being the Donald


TrumpNation

Timothy L. O’Brien’s book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald was first published in 2005, when Donald Trump’s self-cultivated public image was that of a billionaire real-estate developer. Citing three anonymous sources, O’Brien claimed that Trump was worth, at most, a quarter of a billion dollars, writing (on p. 154): “Three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances... told me that they thought his net worth was somewhere between $150 million and $250 million. By anyone’s standards this still qualified Donald as comfortably wealthy, but none of these people thought he was remotely close to being a billionaire.”

Trump sued O’Brien and the publisher, Warner Books, for defamation, seeking an astronomical and absurdly unrealistic $5 billion in damages. In his deposition, he made the audacious claim that his net worth “goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings,” a remark that has since been widely quoted. The case was dismissed not because Trump proved his billionaire status—he didn’t—but because O’Brien proved that his estimate of Trump’s net worth had not been malicious. (The book is written in a tabloid style—with spoof trivia quizzes, for example—though it’s based on interviews with Trump and access to Trump Organization records.)

Trump later sued Michael Wolff to prevent the publication of Fire and Fury and his brother sued their niece, Mary Trump, to block the release of Too Much and Never Enough. In both cases, the lawsuits backfired, as the publication dates were brought forward. He withdrew a lawsuit against comedian Bill Maher, who had joked that he was the son of an orangutan, and his new $475 million lawsuit against CNN is equally unrealistic. On the other hand, Trump’s wife, Melania, has had more success as a libel litigant, winning $3 million from the Daily Mail and undisclosed “substantial damages” from The Daily Telegraph.

TrumpNation was reprinted with a new introduction in 2016, when Trump won the Republican presidential nomination. It’s the sixteenth Trump book reviewed on Dateline Bangkok, the others being Fire and Fury, Too Much and Never Enough, Fear, Rage, Peril, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost

20 October 2022

“ประเทศเรากำลังจะพัง...”


I Will Survive

Charges against five musicians were filed with Thai police on the same day, 27th September. Sonthiya Sawasdee, a former MP from the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party, accused four singers of violating the Computer Crime Act after videos of their concert were uploaded online. And the royalist King Protection Group filed a lèse-majesté charge against rapper P9D in relation to one of his songs.

Pramote Prathan (known as Oat), Pongkool Suebsung (Pop), Pongsak Rattanaphong (Aof), and Thanakrit Panitchwit (Wan) performed together at the I Will Survive (4 แยกปากหวาน ตอน) concert on 17th September at Royal Paragon Hall in Bangkok. Coincidentally, this was the same venue at which comedian Udom Taephanich held his Deaw 13 (เดี่ยว 13) show, which was also the subject of a recent police complaint.

Sonthiya accused the four singers of publishing inaccurate or misleading information online, which would be a violation of the Computer Crime Act. He cited lyrics such as “ประเทศเรากำลังจะพัง” (‘our country is about to collapse’), “แปดปี ไม่มีความหมาย” (‘eight pointless years’, describing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s time in office), and “นาฬิกายังไม่คืน” (‘the watches have not been returned’, a reference to deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan’s claim that his luxury watches were merely borrowed from a friend).

On the same day, the King Protection Group filed a police complaint against P9D, alleging that his song Kuay Rai A (ควยไรอะ) violated the lèse-majesté law. The pressure group intentionally avoided naming the track, hoping to prevent the ‘Streisand effect’ whereby censorship paradoxically draws more attention to the forbidden material. This was unnecessary, though, as the rapper—mindful of the severity of lèse-majesté sentences—has since deleted it from all social media and online music sites.

18 October 2022

Deaw 13


Deaw 13

Udom Taephanich, the popular stand-up comedian, is under investigation today after a pro-government campaigner filed criminal charges against him. Udom ended his Netflix comedy special Deaw 13 (เดี่ยว 13), released on 11th October, with a mildly satirical routine about PM Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Srisuwan Janya, head of the ultra-conservative Constitution Protection Association pressure group, accused Udom of endangering national security by encouraging his audience to join the recent anti-government protests. When he filed the charges at the Central Investigation Bureau in Bangkok today, he was kicked and punched by a red-shirt supporter.

Srisuwan has been called “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief”, and Udom began his show with a comment on the campaigner’s love of the media spotlight. The live show was filmed while some coronavirus restrictions were still in place, and Udom joked that he was happy to be back on stage: “I’ve been craving this. Now I understand how Srisuwan Janya feels.”

Srisuwan Janya

After comparing Prayut and his deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, to unqualified pilots, Udom suggested that they should resign: “both of you, the pilot and copilot, please eject yourselves from the plane.” Noticing that one man in the audience was not clapping, Udom asked him if he was a soldier, and—ironically, given today’s events—told him: “Don’t report me, okay?”

Udom is not especially known for political satire, and Thai comedy generally tends to be more slapstick than satirical, perhaps to avoid charges of defamation, which is a criminal offence under Thai law. But a Prayut lookalike did appear in Udom’s spoof music video Sud-Swing Ringo Eto Bump (สุดสวิงริงโก้อีโต้บั๊มพ์).

17 October 2022

Ad Carabao


Yuenyong Opakul / Natthapat Suwanprateep

Yuenyong Opakul, better known as Ad Carabao, is facing a defamation charge after insulting the governor of Suphan Buri. Yuenyong, a veteran singer/songwriter and founder member of the iconic ‘songs for life’ band Carabao, is Thailand’s most famous rock star.

While playing a concert at a birthday party in the Song Phi Nong district of Suphan Buri on 12th October, Yuengyong criticised governor Natthapat Suwanprateep, who was in the audience as a guest at the party. Calling the governor “ai sat” (a strong insult), the singer complained that he had been denied permission to perform at the annual Don Chedi Royal Monument fair earlier this year.

The governor has since issued a video statement, saying that Suphan Buri had been subject to coronavirus restrictions at the time of the fair, which prevented large public performances. Yuengyong apologised via a written statement on Carabao’s Facebook page two days ago: “จึงขอกราบขออภัยท่านผู้ว่าฯ... ส่วนเรื่องคดีความผมพร้อมอ้าแขนรับความ” (‘I apologise to the governor... regarding a lawsuit, I am ready to face the charges’). Natthapat yesterday filed a criminal defamation charge against the singer, and police are currently investigating.

07 October 2022

“What’s being alleged is that Dyson is guilty of wrongdoing...”



James Dyson is suing Channel 4 and ITN for libel over their coverage of labour abuses at a Malaysian factory. In a report broadcast on 10th February, Channel 4 News claimed that “behind the professional image Dyson likes to portray, there’s a dark side to its supply chain, with claims of exploitation, intimidation, and even torture.”

Dyson’s defamation lawsuit does not dispute the allegations made by the factory workers. Instead, the case concerns the programme’s focus on Dyson’s company rather than the factory owner, ATA. At a court hearing in London yesterday, Dyson’s lawyer highlighted the news report’s conflation of ATA and Dyson: “Nobody disputes that this was taking place at ATA... What’s being alleged is that Dyson is guilty of wrongdoing.”

04 October 2022

“The big lie...”


State of the Union

Donald Trump has launched a defamation lawsuit against CNN, accusing them of maliciously comparing him to Hitler. CNN has used the phrase ‘the big lie’ as an umbrella term to describe Trump’s false statements about the 2020 presidential election result, to distinguish these immensely consequential falsehoods from the 30,000 other misleading claims he made during his presidency (as catalogued by The Washington Post). Trump’s lawsuit alleges, however, that ‘the big lie’ “is a direct reference to a tactic employed by Adolf Hitler and appearing in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”

Hitler did indeed use the term ‘the big lie’ in his autobiography Mein Kampf (‘my struggle’), though he regarded it as a Jewish propaganda tactic, not as a strategy that he himself endorsed. (Specifically, he argued that General Erich Ludendorff was made a scapegoat for Germany’s defeat in World War I, and that this ‘big lie’ was paradoxically more believable.) Thus, ‘the big lie’ has no fascistic implications, as the term was used only pejoratively by Hitler. On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly described the mainstream media as “the enemy of the people”, a phrase associated with Communist dictators such as Stalin.

Trump’s lawsuit, issued yesterday, cites several CNN blog posts by Chris Cillizza, and also singles out an episode of State of the Union as defamatory. In the episode, broadcast on 16th Janaury, host Jake Tapper referred to Trump’s “deranged election lies.” Trump is seeking $475 million in damages, though the ubiquity of the phrase ‘the big lie’—it has been used by many writers and news organisations, not only CNN—makes it highly likely that the case will be dismissed.

21 September 2022

“Shamefully presents a negative image of Thai society...”


Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture

As incredible as it may seem, thirty years ago a dictionary was burnt in the streets of Bangkok and banned by Thai police. The Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture was published in 1992, and soon attracted controversy in Thailand, as its entry for Bangkok described the city as “a place where there are a lot of PROSTITUTES”. (The capitalisation indicated a cross-reference; it was not for emphasis.)

This mention of the city’s somewhat seedy reputation (on p. 79 of the hardback edition) infuriated some Bangkokians, who burnt the dictionary in protest, and it was officially banned on 4th July 1993. The publishers quickly removed the offending text, in time for the paperback edition.

Censorship in Thailand is frequently a face-saving measure, a form of reputation management to ensure that negative images are whitewashed from cultural representations of the country. As discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, this results in media, literature, and films “that present a rose-tinted view, rather than holding a mirror up to society.”

This has been the case for almost a century, as the silent film Suvarna of Siam (นางสาวสุวรรณ) was censored in 1923 to prevent the portrayal of capital punishment in the country. Similarly, one of the reasons given for the censorship of Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was that it “shamefully presents a negative image of Thai society for foreign audiences.”

Bangkok Inside Out was banned here for the same reason, after the Ministry of Culture objected to its photo of a go-go bar. More than fifty years ago, the travelogue Bangkok After Dark (written by Fred Poole under the pen name Andrew Harris) was also banned for its focus on the city’s red-light districts.

11 September 2022

“I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep...”


Sheep Village

Five publishers of children’s picture books were each given nineteen-month prison sentences in Hong Kong yesterday. They had been held in custody since their arrest more than a year ago, and were all convicted of sedition after a two-month trial. The defendants were members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which has since been disbanded. They had published three books about a ‘sheep village’ (羊村) facing attack by wolves, a metaphor for China’s dominance over Hong Kong.

One of the titles, 羊村守衛者 (‘guardians of sheep village’), is an allegory of Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. Another, 羊村十二勇士 (‘twelve warriors of sheep village’), refers to a dozen Hong Kongers who were arrested in 2020 when they attempted to escape into exile by speedboat. The last book in the series, 羊村清道夫 (‘the cleaners of sheep village’), is a reference to medical workers who went on strike in an attempt to force Hong Kong to close its border with China at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

District Court Judge Kwok Wai Kin condemned the publishers for what he described as “a brain-washing exercise with a view to guiding the very young children to accept their views and values”. The defendants—Man-ling Lai, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan, Tsz-ho Fong, and Melody Yeung—had all pleaded not guilty, and Yeung said in court: “My only regret is I couldn’t publish more picture books before getting arrested.” Referring to the political analogy in the books, she added: “I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep.”

03 September 2022

Nevermind


Nevermind

A lawsuit against grunge rock band Nirvana was dismissed by a Central District of California judge yesterday. Spencer Elden, who was photographed as a baby for the cover of the classic album Nevermind in 1991, had filed three legal actions against the band, seeking compensation for alleged sexual exploitation. Judge Fernando Olguin ruled that the ten-year statute of limitations had expired, and therefore “it would be futile to afford plaintiff a fourth opportunity to file an amended complaint.”

Although Elden was clearly unable to consent to the use of his image at the time, he has since publicly endorsed the album cover, somewhat negating the accusations in his lawsuit. Nevermind is one of the most acclaimed albums of the 1990s, and its lead single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, is one of the most iconic songs of the decade.

26 August 2022

“He went to an Imam Hatip school, that’s why he’s perverted...”


Lolipop

Gülşen, one of Turkey’s most popular singers, has been arrested after joking about the country’s religious school system. At a concert on 30th April, she teased a member of her band, saying: “İmam hatipte okumuş daha önce kendisi, sapıklığı oradan geliyor” (‘he went to an Imam Hatip school, that’s why he’s perverted’).

A video clip of the on-stage comment, filmed at the JJ Arena in Istanbul, was posted online by an audience-member. The singer has been charged with inciting hatred and division. She was detained in custody yesterday, after bail was denied. Ironically, she also appeared behind prison bars in the music video for her most recent single, Lolipop, released earlier this year.