Beware the watchdogs of cinema

Thailand's new Film Act could allow for even greater government censorship of movies, says Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post
Saturday, June 23, 2007

By Kong Rithdee

This is not 1984, but the Thought Police continue to grind their teeth and tighten their grip with manic paranoia. Buoyed by the heaving waves of new conservatism, the Big Sisters at our Ministry of unCulture are pushing a new Film Act that promises a weird rating system that will zap us back to the Dark Ages, if not into a black hole.

Now in the pipeline to be tabled before Cabinet and subsequently to the National Legislative Assembly, the draft of the new film law, written by the Council of State under the guidance of the hawks at the unCulture Ministry, proposes a system unseen before in the history of film rating (bar Communist states). As written, there will be the G rating, given to a movie suitable for all age groups; the over-15 rating, the over-18, and here's the kick: the "Banned" rating. Hidden like a dagger in a cloak is another clause that gives legal right to the film committees, which will be made up mainly of bureaucrats, to axe "inappropriate scenes". They just adore their scissors, these self-appointed dogs -- I mean watchdogs -- and with the tenacity of a rottweiler biting into the arm of a suspect murderer, they'll do everything to cling on to their power to cut, hack, bite, butcher, amputate, mutilate and maim. In short, there will be both the rating and the cut. This proposed legislation is not in the least an improvement to the antiquated, pre-constitutional monarchy 1930 Film Act that is still being enforced today. Seventy-seven years of trying to catch up with reality, and still we fail miserably. It's not just disappointing, it's utterly sad.

In a sensible world, to apply the film rating and age classification means to do away with the cuts and the ban. The system works like a swimming pool with different depth levels; kids can go in at the shallow end and not the other, but there must be a deeper end into which adults can take a plunge. Only halfwits would build a swimming pool with only the shallow side and ban anything deeper, absurdly claiming that it is "dangerous" and "inappropriate". The people who've written the new film law clearly want us all to keep swimming in the kid's pool, splashing about in waist-deep water like dying beached whales, and thus dwarfing our ability to grow and seek challenges down the deeper slope.

True, it is naive to believe that the rating system is faultless, but in many countries it has proved an adequately foolproof means for the state to allow artistic freedom while retaining certain measures of control.

To advocate the No-Cut!-No-Ban! stance may sound extreme to concerned parties -- what if they start making kiddie porn, what if the movies start mocking Muslims, or Sikhs or Hindus or Buddhists, what if...? Those who've raised these knee-jerk What Ifs fail to acknowledge that these offences have already been covered by other legislation, like the anti-obscenity or lese majeste laws, and that the spirit of the film act should be to encourage freedom of expression instead of crushing it.

Besides, if I wanted to make porn, I would never in my full sanity submit it to the rating committee -- I would rather sell it underground (or above, in dusty corners of crummy department stores) as porn peddlers are doing it today, this minute, right now, pronto!

Harbouring a chronic, laughable mistrust against modern art, the Ministry of unCulture only flaunts the movie rating system as a subterfuge to defuse the growing anxiety of professionals and the public who are weary of fascistic censorship, but in their heart of hearts the state does not want to relinquish their god-like power to tell us what we can see. Their moralistic posturing and insistent claims that they are doing this to protect youngsters can be hardly justified, since every day we still see brain-damaging stuff on television, not to mention other media that openly plug obscure materials -- like those 1-900 lines with pictures of red-lipped women -- without raising any objection from those cultured people in traditional Thai dresses.

Last week the Thai Directors' Association and Thai Film Foundation submitted a petition to Cabinet to reconsider the law, particularly the heated issues of cutting and banning. In our attempt to update the 77-year-old Film Act, will we end up with a new law even more antiquated in mentality? Replacing something bad with what is worse would be the sickest joke of the year.

Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the real.time section of the Bangkok Post.