11 August 2022

“I have decided to take legal action against The Economist...”



An Iraqi soap opera actress has announced that she plans to sue The Economist over its use of her photograph. The magazine used a photo of Enas Taleb to illustrate an article about female obesity in the Middle East. Taleb told the online magazine New Lines: “I have decided to take legal action against The Economist... I am demanding compensation for the emotional, mental and social damage this incident has caused me.”

The article, headlined Weighty Matters, appears on page 34 of the current issue (vol. 444, no. 9,307) of The Economist, published on 30th July. The Economist was last successfully sued for damages in 2004, after it alleged “a whiff of nepotism” in the appointment of the Singaporean Prime Minister’s wife as head of a state investment agency.

08 August 2022

Dianagate


The Sun

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of the so-called ‘Dianagate’ scandal, the publication of a telephone conversation between Princess Diana and James Gilbey, with whom she was having an affair. A transcript of their phone call was printed in The Sun newspaper on 24th August 1992, under the banner headline “MY LIFE IS TORTURE”. The headline is a quote from the tape: Diana says that Prince Charles “makes my life real, real torture, I’ve decided.” (The tape was later sampled by the techno band House of Windsor for their novelty single Squidgy, a reference to Gilbey’s pet name for Diana.)

According to The Sun, the call was accidentally recorded by a radio ham, Cyril Reenan, on New Year’s Eve 1989. (I corresponded with Reenan after the transcript was published, and I have a unique cassette copy of the complete phone call courtesy of Sun journalist John Askill.) A second amateur radio enthusiast, Jane Norgrove, subsequently provided the paper with her own tape of the call. The clarity of the tapes, and the unlikely coincidence of two accidental recordings of such a significant conversation, led to (as yet unproven) allegations that landlines in royal residences had been tapped.

Such speculation increased when a phone call between Charles and his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, was also leaked. The transcript of this so-called ‘Camillagate’ tape—recorded a fortnight before Diana’s call, on 18th December 1989—was first published by New Idea on 23rd January 1993. At the time, the magazine was owned by Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Sun, and it’s likely that the story was planted in an Australian magazine to provide some distance from Murdoch’s UK tabloids. Camillagate caused even more of a sensation than Dianagate, as the conversation was more directly sexual, and Charles was recorded joking about being reincarnated as his lover’s tampon: “God forbid, a Tampax! Just my luck!”

29 June 2022

Boiled Angels:
The Trial of Mike Diana


Boiled Angels

Boiled Angel / Answer Me!

In 1994, cartoonist Mike Diana was convicted of producing and distributing obscene material, after Florida police obtained copies of his zine Boiled Angel (issues 7 and 8). Its twisted humour was certainly provocative—zine bible Factsheet Five described it as “designed to turn your stomach”—though this was precisely Diana’s intention. As he says in the excellent documentary Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana: “My goal was to make the most offensive zine ever made.”

Following the guilty verdict, Diana was denied bail. After four days in custody, he was fined $3,000 and sentenced to 1,248 hours of community service. The documentary, by horror director Frank Henenlotter, features interviews with Diana, his family, and the defence and prosecution attorneys. It’s a thorough recounting of Diana’s trial, and it also gives plenty of historical background on the Comics Code and the underground comix movement.

Diana’s case was very similar to that of Mark Laliberté, whose comic zine Headtrip (issues 1 and 2) was accused of obscenity in Canada. Laliberté and Diana had traded zines, and Laliberté’s copies of Boiled Angel were also cited in the Headtrip obscenity trial. The failure to secure a conviction in Canada perhaps made the US authorities all the more eager to prosecute Diana in Florida. (At least, that’s what Laliberté alleges in the documentary.)

Zap Comix / Nasty Tales / Meng and Ecker

Although Diana is the only artist ever convicted of obscenity in the US, there have been other prosecutions of comic art. Booksellers in New York were fined for stocking Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix (specifically the ‘family values’ parody Joe Blow in issue 4; charges against Zap’s publishers, the Print Mint, were later dropped). In a similar case in the State of Washington, booksellers were prosecuted in relation to Jim Goad’s zine Answer Me! (issue 4, with a cover illustration by Mike Diana), though they were eventually acquitted.

There have also been a handful of obscenity cases against comics in the UK. Charges against Oz magazine (issue 28) and the Nasty Tales comic (issue 1) were both related to Robert Crumb cartoons, and Crumb’s book My Troubles with Women was seized by customs in 1996. (In all three cases, the charges were eventually dropped or overturned.) David Britton was found guilty on obscenity charges relating to his novel Lord Horror and his comic Meng and Ecker (issue 1); the charge against the novel was overturned on appeal, though the conviction of the comic was upheld.

02 June 2022

“It sets back the clock...”


Fairfax County Circuit Court

Johnny Depp has won his defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard, after the trial concluded yesterday. Depp had sued Heard for libel in relation to three sentences in an op-ed she wrote, and Heard counter-sued Depp over three quotes attributed to his lawyer. Although Heard won in one of those instances, the trial was a victory for Depp, who won in all three of his cases and was awarded the maximum legal entitlement of $10 million in damages.

Depp’s lawsuit related to a Washington Post op-ed published in 2018, in which Heard described her personal connection to domestic violence: “I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” She also wrote: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” The jury determined that both statements defamed Depp, even though he was not named in the article. They also concluded that the op-ed’s online headline (“I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”) was defamatory, and that Heard was liable for this even though she had not written it. (Like other headlines, it was written by a subeditor.)

Heard counter-sued for $100 million over three statements issued by Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman, to the Daily Mail. Waldman was first quoted in the Mail on 7th April 2020 (on page 38), and on the newspaper’s website the following day: “Amber Heard and her friends in the media use fake sexual violence allegations as both a sword and shield, depending on their needs. They have selected some of her sexual violence hoax ‘facts’ as the sword, inflicting them on the public and Mr Depp.” He was quoted again online on 27th April 2020: “we have reached the beginning of the end of Ms Heard’s abuse hoax against Johnny Depp.” Those statements were not regarded as defamatory by the jury.

A third quote from Waldman, which also appeared online on 27th April 2020, was deemed defamatory, for which Heard was awarded $2 million in damages. Waldman said: “They set Mr Depp up by calling the cops, but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.” (The Mail has deleted each of these Waldman quotes from its website, though the Washington Post has not deleted Heard’s op-ed.)

The verdict was in stark contrast to the outcome of Depp’s libel case in the UK two years earlier. He had sued The Sun after it referred to him by name as a “WIFE-BEATER” in a headline, though he lost the case and the judge described the allegation as “substantially true”. US defamation law is much stricter than that of the UK, with a requirement to prove ‘actual malice’ in cases involving public figures, making the outcome all the more surprising. The jury’s verdict seemingly reflects their belief that Heard deliberately falsified her abuse claims in a vendetta against Depp.

Perhaps the key difference between the UK and US cases is that the former was decided by a judge whereas the latter was a jury trial. The US trial was televised, and Heard had been convicted in the court of public opinion long before the jury’s verdict was announced. It’s possible that the (unsequestered) jury was influenced by the extensive coverage the trial received on social media, which was overwhelmingly negative towards Heard, or that the jurors themselves formed the same opinion of her as the armchair pundits.

After the verdict, Heard described it as a retrograde decision: “It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated.” Depp, on the other hand, welcomed the apparent vindication of his “quest to have the truth be told”. (Heard and Depp were photographed in Fairfax County Circuit Court by Jim Lo Scalzo.)

26 May 2022

สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว



Kanokrat Lertchoosakul’s book สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว (‘the Cold War (in)between the white bow’), published last year, examines the roles of successive generations in the current Thai political protest movement. Kanokrat argues that the present government, which came to power in a military coup, is a remnant of the Cold War era, when authoritarianism was accepted by society at large. (Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul discusses this older generation’s submissive attitude in Thai Cinema Uncensored: “disruption of the flow and unity is a really big deal. Like my Mum... she is in the generation of Sarit [Thanarat], all these people who were very powerful.”) On the other hand, today’s students are much less tolerant of Thailand’s top-down culture, and in 2020 the Free Youth anti-government group encouraged high school students to wear white ribbons as a symbol of resistance.

What’s most remarkable about the book is its inclusion (on page 57) of the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The newspaper falsely accused Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, and vigilantes stormed the campus.) For more than thirty years, there was an unspoken prohibition against reproducing Dao Siam’s incendiary headline and photo. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine broke the taboo in its June 2012 issue, though other publications have only recently followed suit. The front page has appeared in only three other books, all published within the last three years: 45 ปี 6 (‘45 years of 6th Oct.’), Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), and Moments of Silence. Heavily obscured by overpainting, it’s also part of Thasnai Sethaseree’s new Cold War exhibition at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai.

05 May 2022

“The world’s smallest...”


Thumby

Earlier this year, TinyCircuits launched the Thumby, the smallest games console in the world, which has a ridiculously tiny ½" black-and-white OLED screen. Designed and manufactured in Ohio, the Thumby was inspired by the Nintendo Game Boy (model DMG-01) from 1989, though it’s a fraction of the size. The Game Boy Camera accessory was the world’s smallest digital camera in 1998, and NHJ’s Snap camera was advertised as such in 2004, though later microSD cameras such as JTT’s Chobi range (2011) and MellowCase’s model RX420 (2018) are even smaller. (Chinese copies of the Japanese Chobi cameras have model numbers Y2000 and Y3000; the MellowCase camera is also branded as MHDYT and NIYPS.) The smallest digital pico projector, Orimag’s model P6, was released in 2017.

The smallest digital cassette formats were both developed by Sony: the NT (audio) in 1992, and the MicroMV (video) in 2001. In digital audio, the smallest MP3 players are those produced by Samsung (model YP-T5 from 2004), Apple (the iPod Shuffle from 2005), and MobiBLU (model DAH-1500i from 2005), though they lack in-built speakers. The Russian Edic-mini’s premium Tiny range of digital audio recorders—notably the A31 (2009) and B22 (2012) models—are the snallest in the world. The UK tech company Zini produced a range of Zanco miniature cellphones, including the world’s smallest, the Tiny T1 (2018).

Miniaturisation was a key selling point for consumer technology long before the digital era, and there have also been similar trends in other fields, such as transport, though for very different reasons. There was a mid-century vogue for microcars and ‘bubble cars’, for example: the Messerschmitt KR200, BMW Isetta, and Austin Mini were popular following the 1956 Suez crisis, due to their fuel efficiency. The tiny Peel P50 was the smallest production car ever made, and at more than 100 miles per gallon, Peel claimed that it was almost cheaper than walking.

But technological miniaturisation isn’t primarily driven by economic factors. Instead, smaller gadgets are created because they’re more convenient, and because innovation makes them possible. Cameras, audio player/recorders, televisions, radios, and other analogue devices have been shrunk to pocket size thanks to the development of ever more complex transistors and integrated circuits, a trend that Gordon Moore noted in 1965. (‘Moore’s law’ states that processing power doubles every two years.)

Sony Ruvi

The most famous subminiature cameras, and those with the highest optical quality, were produced by Minox in Germany. Their first model, from 1936, had a stainless steel body. After World War II, Minox released the model A, with the same design as the original in a lighter aluminium body. This was followed by the slightly larger model B, with an in-built light meter. At the other end of the quality spectrum, in the UK, Corona’s Midget camera (1935) was given away with breakfast cereal. The world’s smallest camera, the Petal, was released in Japan in 1947. This minuscule camera, made from chrome-plated brass, is barely larger than a coin. The original circular model was followed by the Everax A (engraved with a floral motif) and the octagonal Sakura Petal. In the 1950s, Tougodo’s Hit range became a generic term for all Japanese subminiature cameras (known in Japan as mame kamera or ‘bean cameras’), though the Hit and its imitators were all inferior copies of more advanced cameras produced by Jilona (the 1937 Midget), Akita (the 1939 Mycro), and Toyo (the 1948 Tone).

The world’s smallest movie camera, the Bolsey 8, was released in 1956. With its stainless steel body, this is a beautiful machine, and it’s smaller than any subsequent movie camera or camcorder. Sony’s Ruvi (model CCD-CR1), from 1998, is the smallest camcorder in the world. It used Hi8 videotape, in a reusable cartridge that also contained the tape mechanism. The smallest movie projectors were manufactured by Kern of Switzerland in 1926—the Micro-Ciné and Presenta Pocket Ciné—both of which projected 9.5mm film cartridges using a bulb powered by an external battery pack.

The Sony M-909 microcassette unit (1991) is often said to be the world’s smallest tape player/recorder, though Dictaphone’s picocassette Exec (model 4250) from 1985 was even smaller. Unlike the M-909, the Exec also has a built-in speaker. The picocassette is the smallest cassette ever made, and in 1987 Bandai produced the smallest tape cartridge, played in a Leadworks miniature Wurlitzer jukebox replica (model 1015). Prior to audio cassettes and cartridges, in 1962 the Lincoln Memocord was advertised as the smallest reel-to-reel recorder.

Bolex 8 Petal

When it comes to handheld televisions, two manufacturers dominated the market: Sony and Casio. The Sony Watchman (model FD-210) was launched in 1982, with a black-and-white CRT screen, and Casio introduced the first LCD screen only a year later (model TV-10). In 1992, Casio’s CV-1 model was the smallest TV thus far, though it needed an external battery and an earpiece antenna. Seiko released its TV watch in 1982, a breakthrough in wearable technology with a tiny 1¼" screen, though it required a separate tuner unit and an earpiece antenna. (Model numbers—DXA-001 and DXA-002 in Japan; T001-5000 and T001-5019 elsewhere—varied according to which accessories were included.) Another TV watch, NHJ’s VTV-101 (and its European model, VTV-201) from 2004, also needed an earpiece antenna. The world’s smallest self-contained TV was released in China less than a decade ago, branded as both MyTech (model MT-101) and Leadstar (model LD-777).

The first transistor radio, Regency’s TR-1, was launched in the US in 1954, but Japanese radios quickly dominated the market after the release of Sony’s TR-63 in 1957 (and the model TH-666 from Hitachi in 1959, which was briefly the world’s smallest). The TR-63 sold millions of units, and miniature Japanese transistor radios were hugely popular in the 1960s, a trend initiated by Standard’s Micronic Ruby (model SR-G430) in 1962. Various companies have staked their claim to ‘the smallest radio in the world’. In 1953, in the immediate pre-transistor era, the Emerson model 747 tube set was accurately advertised as the smallest radio. The same claim was made for two crystal sets—Midway’s Tinytone (1955) and Planatair’s model 76404 (circa 1960)—and Sinclair’s Micromatic transistor unit (1967), though all lacked in-built speakers. (The Micromatic design was copied by the Canadian firm Clairtone in 1968.) The Motz (2010) range of tiny wooden radios and MP3 players made in Korea by Pyramid are smaller than all of these, and they include speakers.

Minox A

The smallest record players were sold as toys. The Poynter toy company released its Mighty Tiny children’s record player in 1967, promoted as the world’s smallest. Then, in 1987, the same company beat its own record, with a miniature plastic replica Victrola gramophone. The Soundwagon, made in Japan by Tamco (based on a 1976 Sony design), was sold as a toy, though the packaging for its 2018 relaunch—Stokyo’s Record Runner, also made in Japan—states that it’s not suitable for children. (It also includes a disclaimer that the product may scratch records—these devices were nicknamed ‘vinyl killers’, with good reason.) The Record Runner was promoted as the world’s smallest record player, though it’s bigger than Poynter’s Victrola. The smallest records in the world were produced almost a century ago, in 1924, for Queen Mary’s doll’s house. These 1⅓" shellac discs were played on a unique 1:12 replica HMV gramophone.

27 April 2022

“Conspiracy to corrupt public morals...”


Ladies Directory Classified

Alfred Barrett’s lonely hearts magazine The Link, founded in 1915, was certainly ahead of its time. It published personal ads, though as its masthead proudly proclaimed, they were “NOT MATRIMONIAL” in nature. So if people weren’t looking for a spouse, what could they be looking for...? The Metropolitan Police pondered that very question, after R.A. Bennett—editor of another magazine, the moralistic Truth—sent copies of The Link to Scotland Yard.

Bennett suspected that some of The Link’s classified ads were coded messages written by gay men. One example, which he underlined with a literal blue pencil, was by someone “anxious to correspond with friend. Must be same sex, affectionate, and amiable”. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time, and the police seized not only copies of The Link but also letters sent to the box numbers advertised. Barrett was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1921, and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

Forty years later, in 1961, another publisher was convicted of the same offence. Frederick Shaw’s Ladies Directory, founded in 1959, was a catalogue of ads placed by prostitutes (the equivalent of the ‘tart cards’ left in phone boxes). Shaw himself had sent his publication to the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeking guidance on its legality. He got his answer when the DPP charged him with conspiracy to corrupt public morals, and after his conviction he served nine months in prison. The charge—which set a legal precedent—related specifically to issues 7-10 of the Ladies Directory. (My copy of number 8 is an undated and unpaginated A5 booklet.)

In 1965, Way Out led a revival of the lonely hearts magazine, and soon inspired imitators such as Exit and numerous others. In his authoritative Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green noted that these titles “were not prosecuted, and more respectable magazines began to run lonely hearts columns that might have been indictable in earlier years.” H.G. Cocks, however, in his book Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, demonstrates that these titles were indeed prosecuted for conspiracy to corrupt public morals: “The way the police in Britain investigated smalltime magazines like Exit and Way Out while their American counterparts merely shrugged as their own swinging industry exploded, tells us everything about the differences between the two countries.” (Classified’s coverage of the investigation into Exit and Way Out sets it apart from other books on censorship in Britain.)

The last major conviction for consiracy to corrupt public morals came in 1970, when three publishers of the underground magazine International Times received suspended sentences. In 1969 (issues 51-56), IT published a column of gay personal ads (Males), and this gave the Metropolitan Police the excuse they needed to prosecute the magazine, after several previous speculative raids on its offices. In an echo of the investigation into The Link fifty years earlier, and notwithstanding the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the police seized hundreds of letters sent in reply to the ads. The editors of a more famous underground title, Oz, were acquitted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1971, though after a prolonged trial they were found guilty of obscenity (a verdict later overturned on appeal).

05 April 2022

“Pictures too horrific to print...”


The Times

For the first time, some UK newspapers have published photographs of casualties of the war in Ukraine, after bodies were discovered lying in the streets of Bucha. The area was recaptured by Ukrainian forces last week, though war photographers discovered evidence that Russian troops had killed hundreds of civilians, some of whom were also subjected to torture.

The first image from Bucha was published yesterday by The Sunday Times: a photograph by Ronaldo Schemidt of a dead man, lying face down, his hands tied behind his back. Images of other casualties, their hands similarly tied, appear today in the Irish Independent and The Times. Today’s Daily Mail prints a graphic close-up of a dead man’s bound hands.

The most widely reproduced image, taken by Schemidt, shows several bodies lying on their sides in the middle of the road. It appears on the front page of The Times today, and on the inside pages of The Daily Telegraph. The Financial Times front page shows a different view of the same scene, also taken by Schemidt. Picture editors must balance the instinct to reflect the reality of war with the sensitivites of their readers, and today’s Metro describes the Bucha photographs as “pictures too horrific to print”.

Previous wars have led to similar editorial dilemmas. A photo by Ken Jarecke of an Iraqi soldier’s charred body was rejected by all newspapers except The Observer (which printed it on 10th March 1991), and during the second Iraq war “a gruesome image of a young child’s head split open” was the subject of much debate in the media before finally being printed by The Guardian (on 28th March 2003). Following the 9/11 attack in 2001, the US media all agreed to avoid publishing any images of the victims—except the New York Daily News, which printed an image of a severed hand taken by Todd Maisel.

06 March 2022

‘This madness must be stopped!’



On 2nd March, the offices of four local newspapers were raided by Russian police, who seized all copies before they could be distributed. Each paper had printed a front-page headline calling for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “ЭТО БЕЗУМИЕ ДОЛЖНО БЫТЬ ОСТАНОВЛЕНО!” (‘this madness must be stopped!’).

Russian media is heavily censored, and state television—which broadcasts Kremlin propaganda—remains the most popular source of news. Even terms such as ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ are forbidden in coverage of the Ukraine conflict, making the headlines all the more courageous. The four newspapers are: Вечерний Краснотурьинск (‘Krasnoturyinsk evening news’), Вечерний Карпинск (‘Karpinsk evening news’), ПроСевероуральск (‘Severouralsk news’), and Глобуса (‘the globe’).

04 March 2022

Kleptopia:
How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World



A mining company has lost its libel case against a journalist who implied it had arranged the killings of several senior staff. In his book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World, Tom Burgis describes the mysterious deaths of former employees of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK. Burgis also wrote an eight-page cover story about the case for the FT Weekend Magazine—headlined Silent Witnesses—published on 2nd October 2020.

In Kleptopia, Burgis alleges that two former ENRC staff died in suspicious circumstances, describing them as “the deceased bearers of ENRC’s secrets”. James Bethel and Gerrit Strydom died in their separate hotel rooms on the same night in 2015, during a road trip. Malaria was recorded as the cause of both men’s deaths, though Burgis points out that their malaria parasites had different genotypes, making it impossible that they were both infected at the same time. As he writes in his magazine piece, this begs the question: “if malaria did not kill the two men, what did?”

A third man associated with ENRC, James Bekker, died when his parked car caught fire in 2016. His body was found on the back seat. In Kleptopia, Burgis implies that he was silenced: “Bekker knew... that the valuation must have been inflated. And he had started telling people as much.” In Silent Witnesses, Burgis alleges that Bekker was the victim of a contract killing: “local crime gangs claimed to have a source who said a contract on Bekker’s life had been paid out.”

ENRC sued Burgis and HarperCollins, who published Kleptopia, though the case was dismissed at yesterday’s High Court hearing in London, and any potential appeal was denied. The judge ruled that ENRC was not defamed by Burgis, as a corporation cannot be held legally responsible for murder. Speaking outside court, Burgis said: “I’m delighted that this attempt to censor Kleptopia has failed.”

24 February 2022

“Harry tried to keep his legal fight over bodyguards secret...”


The Mail on Sunday

Prince Harry yesterday launched a third lawsuit against the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, after the newspaper accused him of attempting to suppress coverage of his legal case against the Home Office over payments for police protection. The article under dispute, by Kate Mansey, was headlined “REVEALED: How Harry tried to keep his legal fight over bodyguards secret”.

The article was published on 20th February, on page 13. The lead is as follows: “Prince Harry tried to keep details of his legal battle to reinstate his police protection secret from the public, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.” The story is still available on the Mail’s website, and Mansey’s tweets promoting it have not been deleted, despite yesterday’s libel action against the publisher, Associated Newspapers.

Harry previously sued The Mail on Sunday for libel in 2020, after it alleged that he had ceased contact with the Royal Marines. His wife Meghan sued the newspaper for breach of privacy and copyright in 2019, when it published extracts from a letter she had written to her father.

In both cases, the Sussexes received undisclosed damages from the publisher. Meghan was paid only a nominal sum of £1 for breach of privacy, though the legal precedent was more significant: the judge ruled in her favour without a trial, his verdict was upheld on appeal, and Associated Newspapers covered her substantial legal costs.

07 February 2022

บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3



More than a decade ago, veteran political cartoonist Sakda Saeeow was accused of lèse-majesté and subjected to a three-year police investigation, after one of his cartoons was misinterpreted. The case—which has not been fully disclosed until now—stemmed from a newspaper cartoon published in Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) on 9th March 2009, showing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as a puppet of his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban. (Suthep was known to be the Democrat Party’s fixer, pulling the strings behind the scenes.)

The butt of the joke was Sondhi Limthongkul, portrayed as a toad complaining that he had been sidelined despite his PAD protests paving the way for Abhisit’s premiership. (This is a reference to the Thai idiom ‘คางคกขึ้นวอ’, literally ‘a toad carried on a palanquin’: rising above one’s station.) But it was the drawing of Suthep that caused the controversy. A reader reported the cartoon to the police, alleging that Suthep’s face resembled that of King Rama IX. As Sakda explained today, he was falsely accused of depicting “ในหลวงชักใยอภิสิทธิ์” (‘the King manipulating Abhisit’).

Under Thai law, defamantion is a criminal offence, and lèse-majesté (royal defamation) charges can be filed by anyone. The police examined all of Sakda’s work published six months before and six months after the cartoon in question. (He often caricatured Abhisit as a puppet, usually controlled by an unseen figure.) The political editors of four newspapers were also called to give evidence, and they all confirmed that the cartoon depicted Suthep, not Rama IX.

Even benign illustrations of King Rama IX were considered taboo, to the extent that children’s picture books—such as The Story of Tongdaeng (เรื่อง ทองแดง)—showed him only in silhouette. Somewhat trepidatiously, Stéphane Peray (known as Stephff) drew a respectful cartoon of the King ascending to heaven, published in The Nation newspaper to commemorate his death (reproduced in Red Lines). A hundred years ago, the political climate was very different: เกราะเหล็ก (‘armour’) printed a highly unflattering front-page caricature of Rama VI by cartoonist Sem Sumanan on 22nd November 1925 (reprinted in Woman, Man, Bangkok), and the newspaper was closed down—though it was back on sale six weeks later.


Sakda’s cartoon was reprinted in บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3 (‘a cartoon record of politics’), the third volume of his political cartoon anthologies, though its notoriety has not been revealed until now. (The book also includes cartoons mourning the victims of the 2010 military crackdown and, as the months go by, Abhisit’s caricature bears an increasing resemblance to Hitler.) In a more famous instance of state censorship, Sakda (who uses the pen name Sia) was summonsed by the NCPO junta on 4th October 2015, the day after Thai Rath published his cartoon mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha’s speech at the UN General Assembly.

23 January 2022

‘When an ox comes to the palace, it does not become a king...’



Turkish journalist Sedef Kabaş was arrested in the early hours of yesterday morning, on a charge of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The charge stems from her appearance as a panelist on the discussion show Demokrasi Arenası (‘democratic arena’), a weekly forum for political debate on Tele 1 TV. (Tele 1 had its broadcasting licence suspended for five days in 2020, along with another pro-opposition channel, Halk TV.)

When Kabaş appeared on the show on 14th January, she quoted a Turkish proverb: ‘Öküz saraya çıkınca kral olmaz. Ama saray ahır olur.’ (‘When an ox comes to the palace, it does not become a king. Instead, the palace becomes a barn.’) This coded reference to Erdoğan was the trigger for her arrest.

Erdoğan has previously filed defamation charges against the Turkish magazines Cumhuriyet (in 2004 and 2014), Penguen (in 2014), and Nokta (in 2015). In 2006, he sued the artist Michael Dickinson over the collages Good Boy and Best in Show. In 2016, he sued a German comedian who recited a poem mocking him. (The poem was read out in solidarity in the German parliament, and The Spectator launched an anti-Erdoğan poetry competition that was won by Boris Johnson.) In 2020, he filed charges against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

17 December 2021

The Whole Truth


The Whole Truth

Wisit Sasanatieng’s new film The Whole Truth (ปริศนารูหลอน) premiered on Netflix earlier this month. It’s the director’s fourth supernatural horror film, meaning that ghost films now make up the majority of his filmography. His two most recent films, Reside (สิงสู่) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), were also about ghosts, though The Whole Truth is more satisfying than either of them. His first ghost film, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี), climaxed with a series of plot twists revealed in rapid succession, tying up all the loose ends at the last minute. Fortunately, the twists in The Whole Truth make more sense, and the ending is genuinely touching.

Two teenagers have to stay at their grandparents’ house after their mother is injured in a car crash, but after they arrive, a mysterious peephole appears, through which they see the apparition of a dead child. The film’s title is a pun on ‘whole’ and ‘hole’, as the hole is a portal revealing the whole truth of the family’s past. The figures on the other side of the hole are surprisingly clichéd, though: another long-haired ghost slowly crawling towards us, two decades after Ring (リング).

Wisit is a superb visual stylist, which is evident throughout The Whole Truth, especially in the establishing shots. He occasionally places the camera directly overhead, most effectively during a party sequence in a circular room, and these crane shots hint at the unsettling history behind the veneer of the grandparents’ neat and tidy house.

The film is most remarkable for its social commentary. Thai studios and TV networks generally err on the side of caution, partly to avoid Thailand’s criminal defamation law. Netflix, on the other hand, has produced several recent Thai dramas that tackle issues such as corruption and discrimination head-on. One of the plot twists in The Whole Truth concerns social attitudes towards disability, and the film is also a thinly-veiled dramatisation of the Vorayuth Yoovidhya hit-and-run case.

Driving while intoxicated, Vorayuth killed police officer Wichian Klanprasert in 2012, though the police investigation into the case was suspiciously delayed. This caused understandable public outrage, as it sadly demonstrates that, in Thailand, ‘influential’ families are above the law. After the car crash in The Whole Truth, the young son of another wealthy family brags about his immunity from prosecution: “The district police is on my father’s payroll anyway.” When confronted by the children’s grandfather, he boasts: “Thai law can’t touch me, don’t you know that?”

Other recent Thai Netflix productions have dealt with similar scandals. Minnie and the Four Bodies (มินนี่ 4 ศพ), an episode from the second season of Girl from Nowhere: The Series (เด็กใหม่ 2) was inspired by the case of Thephasadin Na Ayudhya, who killed nine people while driving underage in 2010 yet avoided jail thanks to her aristocratic connections. The episode features a similar crash, after which the young girl driver’s father is seen bribing the police chief, and the girl is tortured in a cathartic dream sequence. The show’s prologue gets straight to the point, describing Thailand as “a country where there’s no place for the poor, and no consequences for the rich”.

Another Thai Netflix drama series, Bangkok Breaking—directed by Kongkiat Khomsiri, who made the intense thriller Slice (เฉือน)—deals with corruption among the ‘body snatchers’ who transport accident victims to hospital. The show’s Thai title, มหานครเมืองลวง, translates as ‘city of deception’, which would surely have been changed by the censors if it was submitted for theatrical or video release.

05 December 2021

Next Love


Next Love Next Love
Next Love Next Love

The music video for Badmixy’s single Next Love was released this week. In the video, a birthday party (filmed surreptitiously) is being held for a rich man at his poolside, and a succession of women are competing for his affections. The first lady, who has a rather ample figure, is supplanted by one wearing a G-string posing next to a poodle. Another wears a sash proclaiming her ‘Miss Nan’ (from a fictional beauty pageant in that province). All of this may—or may not—have a coded meaning.

The video has been viewed more than half a million times on YouTube already, though satirical content such as this is becoming increasingly risky. Also this week, Warunee Weerasak was charged under the lèse-majesté law and the Computer Crime Act, after posting a Photoshopped image of the Emerald Buddha statue wearing a dress designed by Princess Sirivannavari on Facebook on 24th November. She was arrested on 2nd December, and has been released on bail.

23 November 2021

Miss Thailand Universe 2021


Anchalee Scott-Kemmis

Anchalee Scott-Kemmis, the winner of Miss Thailand Universe 2021, is facing criminal charges after a complaint against her was filed with the Metropolitan Police in Bangkok today. An online image featuring Anchalee is alleged to have violated the Flag Act, according to the ultra-royalist MP Sonthiya Sawasdee.

The image, showing Anchalee standing on the blue section of the Thai flag design, was posted on the Miss Thailand Universe social media accounts (and has since been deleted). Sonthiya claims that, by appearing to stand on the flag, Anchalee is guilty of “placing the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flags at an inappropriate place or in an inappropriate manner”, which is prohibited by the Flag Act.

Violation of the Flag Act carries a penalty of up to six months in prison, though Sonthiya has also accused Anchalee of breaking article 118 of the Thai criminal code. This criminalises “making any act to the flag or any other emblem to be symbolized the State with the intention to deride the Nation” [sic], and carries a more severe jail sentence of up to two years.

The image in question also shows Anchalee holding a large Thai flag, and Sonthiya has completely mischaracterised this patriotic portrait. Also, Sonthiya seemingly fails to recognise that this is a composite image, and that Anchalee did not physically step on a Thai flag. Sonthiya is a member of the governing Palang Pracharath Party, which is essentially the political wing of the military junta. Earlier this year, two art students were accused of violating the Flag Act by another self-appointed moral guardian.

17 November 2021

A Day


A Day

The new issue of A Day magazine (volume 22, number 250) was published yesterday. The issue is entirely devoted to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, under the theme of “Apichatpong’s Universe”. It includes an interview about Thai film censorship (with photographs by Nattawat Tangthanakitroj), on pages 216-219.

10 November 2021

‘Millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’



The Iranian newspaper Kelid (کلید) has been shut down by the government after it published a cartoon criticising Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on its front page on 6th November. Alongside a headline reporting the results of a national poverty survey—“!میلیون‌ها خانوار ایرانی زیر خط فقر” (‘millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’)—a cartoon showed a hand wearing the Ayatollah’s signet ring, drawing a literal poverty line that denied the poor access to food supplies.

25 September 2021

Thai Soaps:
An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas


Thai Soaps

Gerhard Jaiser begins his book Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas by distancing himself from “people who appreciate lakhons as entertainment or even as an art form”, admitting that “I myself do not.” Thai soap operas (known as lakhon or lakorn) are justifiably dismissed as nam nao (‘dirty water’), though they still deserve to be analysed, and Thai Soaps is the first book to do so.

Jaiser’s book (published in 2017) begins with a detailed examination of lakorn narrative structure, character archetypes, and other conventions of the genre. The second chapter makes nuanced comparisons between various original series and their modern remakes, helpfully guiding the reader through the sometimes confusing multiplicity of lakorn versions.

A chapter on lakorn and politics notes how censorship is determined by the political climate. For example, the Thaksin Shinawatra satire เหนือเมฆ (‘beyond comparison’) was uncontroversial in 2010 because “at that time, the Democrat Party, favorable to the Yellow Shirts (and to Channel 3), was in power”, whereas its sequel was censored in 2012, when Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in office. Ing Kanjanavanit’s film Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) suffered a similar fate for the same reason.

Jaiser is surprisingly uncritical of the deeply problematic representation of minorities in lakorn. He does discuss the asexual nature of gay characters, the increasingly negative stereotyping of Westerners, and the almost total absence of black people, though he doesn’t call this out as homophobic or racist. He even seems reluctant to condemn the reprehensible depiction of rape in lakorn, noting that they portray it as “an act that can even increase the love of the female victim for the rapist” yet criticising this in only mild terms as “questionable”.

Thai Soaps includes a valuable appendix listing major lakorn series, with their Thai titles, plot synopses, and (in most cases) original transmission dates. It’s a good example of not judging a book by its cover—which features a fairly unappealing snapshot—because this is a first-rate study of a second-rate genre.

19 September 2021

The Queen’s Gambit


The Queen's Gambit

Chess grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili is suing Netflix for defamation, and seeking $5 million in damages. Her lawsuit relates to the final episode of the Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, released last year. In the episode (titled End Game and directed by Scott Frank), a chess commentator compares the lead character, Beth Harman, to Gaprindashvili: “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.

The lawsuit, filed on 16th September at the Federal District Court of Los Angeles, claims that “Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements” and describes the reference to her never having faced men as “manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.” The episode is set in 1968, by which time Gaprindashvili had played competitive chess against dozens of male players, though The Queen’s Gambit is a drama series, and is thus surely entitled to artistic licence.