THAILAND: 16-hour Internet cafe curfew for under-18s

Authorities hope this will curb online game addiction, inappropriate media content

Bangkok Post
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

By Anchalee Kongrut

People under 18 are banned from internet cafes from 10pm until 2pm the following day under a new regulation now being enforced by the Culture Ministry.

Internet cafe operators can still open 24 hours a day, but young people are allowed on the premises only from 2pm to 10pm. The regulation took effect on March 11.

"This regulation indeed recognises the around-the-clock nature of the Internet and that members of the public can walk into an internet cafe at anytime," said Ladda Tangsupachai, director of the Cultural Monitoring Centre.

"But it also requires the operators to show responsibility to young members of society and help tackle problems involving on-line game addiction among youngsters."

The regulation is part of the ministry's new duty in the area of overseeing media content under a cabinet resolution covering media content monitoring, rating and censorship. The new regulation has drawn flak from internet cafe operators, who yesterday lodged a complaint with the Administrative Court.

A group of 50 internet shops asked the court to nullify the regulation, arguing that it allows state authorities to abuse their power and infringe upon media rights.

Chavaphong Naiyanapath, the group's legal adviser, said since the regulation was issued under the 1997 Videotape and Television Act, a computer hard disk is classified as a visual medium like videotape.

So even though ministry officials will monitor the media content, it is the police who will act as law enforcer and have the power to search internet shops and confiscate evidence without getting a search warrant from the court.

"In short, the regulation makes it easier for police to raid an internet cafe and confiscate a hard disk without any proof of wrongdoing," he said.

Voravit Janchoolphol, internet cafe operator in Samut Prakan, said internet cafe operators had become the scapegoats for the increase in youth problems.

"But blaming us will not solve the problem. Indecent content can be passed on via mobile phones, too," he said.

"Big businesses such as game software companies and mobile phone operators can freely sell their goods and no one dare to do anything. We just wonder why the authorities exclude these big business from the problem," Mr Voravit said.