By Kaewmala

Thai lawmakers made world headlines this week. It wasn’t exactly the kind of international press that would make them or Thailand proud. A BBC world headline on April 18, 2012 read “Image of naked woman halts Thai parliament debate.” At home, the Bangkok Post published the image of a half-naked woman captured on the parliament LCD screen.

Pornographic image flashing on Thai parliament screen, source: Khao Sod http://goo.gl/8FLOU

The revelation caused much brouhaha in the porn-loving Thai online community (which just freshly emerged from virtual Songkran reveling with the famous Japanese adult video star Sora Aoi in Buriram). Nonetheless, not all could openly profess to appreciate pornography like ordinary netizens, especially those with a public face to keep.

With the image of a panty-less woman in a provocative pose flashing across a giant monitor, face the size of the Thai parliament hall was shattered. Senior lawmakers blushed profusely, scrambling to give a plausible explanation. Hackers must have infiltrated the parliament network, they said.

The Bangkok Post obligingly ran the story with the headline, “Porn pic hack shocks MPs.” As it turned out it wasn’t a hack job as many already suspected, but a technical glitch; the parliament technicians at the video control accidentally switched to a wrong screen which had a porno image they obviously didn’t mean to share with the esteemed assembly.*

[*UPDATE: According to the Bangkok Post report on 24 April, a probe revealed that the porn image was not transmitted by parliament audio-visual staff. Speculation has now been shifted to mobile & portable devices which might have transmitted the image via the WiFi system from within the parliament. Further investigation is underway.]

At least it wasn’t the MPs who were watching the porn…

Oh, wait…

Thai MP captured on camera watching a porn image on his iPhone, source: Bangkok Post http://goo.gl/QICPY

Somebody took snapshots of an unidentified MP at the same parliament assembly looking at a pornographic picture in the privacy of his iPhone. (It’s anybody’s guess how many smartphones and laptops were featuring a saucy image for individual private viewing in the Thai parliament that day.)

The next day a young and a little red-faced Democrat MP admitted that it was he who was “accidentally” watching a pornographic photo on his mobile phone. His friends always sent or tagged photos for him to check, to tease him, he explained.

Indeed, it wasn’t just Mr. Nutt Bantadtan who was teased. We were all tickled. It’s hard to say how many Thai citizens were really shocked but surely more than a few Thai lawmakers were embarrassed. But if it’s any consolation, it wasn’t the first time lawmakers were caught watching porn in parliament.

Only two months ago, in February 2012, Indian MPs were caught sharing a porno clip with colleagues on their mobile phones while sitting in parliament. In August 2010, porn images were even broadcast for 15 minutes on an internal TV channel of the Indonesian parliament. Then in April 2011, at a parliament assembly an anti-porn Indonesian MP was caught watching the very vice he was trying to outlaw.

This is not to say that porn in parliament is, or should be, business as usual in Thailand or any other country. There’s a certain dignity that’s due to such a high public institution like parliament, not to mention sense of responsibility and work ethics national political representatives are expected to uphold. On the other hand, these revelations show that lawmakers are no different from the rest of us and don’t necessarily have higher morals than their electorates. Besides all too human carnal lust, some of them, like some of us, may also be guilty of hypocrisy.

The Indian and Indonesian MPs were forced to resign after their secrets were made public. So far there is no such call for any Thai MP to resign. Compared to Indians and Indonesians, Thais are very forgiving. We probably have lower expectations of public office holders too. Why, many in the Thai public (yours truly included) are pleased with the young MP’s quick admission. It’s not every day that Thai politicians readily admit to any wrongdoing, big or small, even after they’ve been caught on camera. So we take what we can get.

Some also have a practical humor about it.

Jermsak Pinthong, former Bangkok senator (one of his FB profile pictures)

Dr. Jermsak Pinthong (a veteran media commentator and former Bangkok senator) reportedly said that porn is “a men’s thing, a kind of relaxation.” No disagreement there, although for some fathomable reason people may expect a bit of seriousness from an MP at work in parliament.

But some Thai lawmakers do seem to love fun and can find humor in all jokes—appropriate or not.

Rosana Tositrakul, Bangkok senator, source: Thai Wikipedia http://goo.gl/0zPSJ

Just before the porn in parliament breaking news, a current Bangkok senator (a Democrat supporter and a prominent member of the yellow-shirt PAD) caused a bit of a stir with her Facebook posting. Early in the morning of April 18, my Twitter timeline featured comments on Ms. Rosana Tositrakul‘s Facebook message which can be translated to English as follows:

Was at parliament today. A senior senator told me a story… during Songkran at the Suvannabhumi Airport there were many redshirts on the flight to Vientiane. [Many redshirts travelled to pay respects to Thaksin Shinawatra, their hero, who is a fiend in the eyes of Ms. Rosana and her friends.] Once they got on board they went to sit in business class. An air hostess told them, “You are sitting in the business class but your tickets are for the economy class. You have to go sit in the back.” [The redshirt people] replied, “It’s now red throughout the land. The people reign supreme. We could sit anywhere we like.”

So the airhostess went to tell the captain, who told her he would take care of it. The captain came out and whispered to ‘Tuu’ [nickname of a vocal redshirt leader and Pheu Thai MP Jatuporn Phromphan] who was sitting in the front row. After the captain’s whisper Tuu promptly got up and loudly shouted to his fellows to go sit in the rear cabin. The air hostess asked the captain what he said to Tuu to get him to tell his people to move to the rear cabin. The captain said, “I told him that [passengers in] the front cabin will get off in Nakorn Srithammarat and [those in] the rear cabin in Vientiane.” (Prachatalk.com)

The FB post was an instant hit. It got 56 shares, 271 likes and 65 comments in the short span of time before Ms. Rosana deleted it that morning. (Unluckily for Ms. Rosana, someone—there’s always someone—made a screenshot of her FB post.) Ms. Rosana’s post was shared by some prominent political figures on Facebook, one of whom was the former Bangkok senator Dr. Jermsak who alone, according to Thai E-News, got further 400 shares.  (However, by the next day, April 19, Jermsak’s Facebook no longer featured this shared post – perhaps he also deleted it).

It seems that those in the opposite camp of redshirts (many of whom are Democrat supporters) got a lot of laughs out of Rosana’s redshirts-in-airplane story. Predictably, the reactions were the opposite in redshirt-friendly social networks, where both the current and former Bangkok senators, Rosana and Jermsak, have been slammed for showing a very poor taste in telling and sharing such a joke.

In fact, anyone who has ever read email forward jokes will likely recognize the plot of the joke, which has often been told as a “stupid blonde” joke.

Thai E-News, a redshirt news site, reported on April 19 a reaction from the Redshirt leader and Pheu Thai MP “Tuu” Jatuporn Phromphan, who believes that he was the “Tuu” in the story. His reaction was furious:

This is the worst insult on human dignity, this message that Ms. Rosana posted and deleted but Democrat MPs like Sirichoke Sopha and former senator Jermsak Pinthong further shared to insult redshirt people, mocking [us] merrily…. What Rosana wrote was utterly false because I did not fly directly to Vientiane during Songkran. I had already been there since March 31 to meet the Laotians to prepare for the Songkran [event with Thaksin as the special guest]. I flew to Udon and then [to Vientiane] with Nok Air which has no business class.

What’s most important is the insulting attitude toward redshirt people, that we are stupid peasants who know nothing, buying economy tickets but sitting in business class. As if redshirt people were ignorant fools who have never been on an airplane and have to be shooed away by air hostesses! And what Rosana wrote, that redshirt people responded by saying “it’s now red throughout the land” so we could sit anywhere, was utterly base!

The problem is, did Rosana come up with this story herself? If she didn’t then she should ask this senior senator who she said told her the story to come out, because it was a wicked insult…. What sort of elite class did Rosana hail from? Why did she look down on others’ human dignity, writing something like this? Do you think redshirt people have no feelings like you and your friends? Or because you are a Bangkok senator you can look down on anybody?  

Even buffaloes wouldn’t dare think up such a thing, ma’am….

The lepers have taken Rosana’s message to share in great amusement. But I’m not amused with [them]…. Rosana must show responsibility, even though [she] has already deleted the message…. She must identify who was [the senior senator] because [the story] was 100% false….

Rosana’s conduct must be condemned to the utmost. Condemn [also] those who retold the story which those in the cockroach [Democrat] Party believe was true, which is the stupidest thing ever! Whether there will be any lawsuit, we will see.

Jatuporn’s tirade was as furious and loud as it was long and repetitive. But his sentiment couldn’t be clearer. His vitriol was well matched with the insults and cruel mocking made by those in the so-called cockroach camp. I would hazard a guess that Jatuporn did not realize Rosana’s story was a recycled old joke and perhaps neither did Rosana. Either she made up the story, or there was really a “senior senator” who told her this joke which she took to be a true story. We can fairly guess that she has been embarrassed because somebody must have told her that the story was a joke, not to mention angry online lashing from the redshirts. But we can’t know if she is ashamed of having told the story for she has gone quiet. No apology has been given. Her latest Facebook posting from the past 12 hours at the time of this writing is about an anthropological study of customs of an African tribe.

What is more shameful for a lawmaker between watching porn in parliament and denigrating a large group of people with a bad, bad joke—wittingly or not?

In a more civilized country where social equality is taken more seriously, a lawmaker like Senator Rosana would have been pressured to apologize and likely even to resign for her ill-judged Facebook message. But then Thailand—politically at least—is not yet a “civilized” country.

Thai lawmakers and their electorates alike can still enjoy the freedom to trash and insult one another, unburdened by accountability and sense of decency. I suspect Thais will be at this unpleasant political and social battle for quite a while. The gap between the two sides of the social and political divide will likely grow larger, as one bridge after another is burned by venomous poison in words and deeds. Those still feeling superior will continue looking down their noses at the perceived unwashed for as long as they can. The question is, for how much longer?

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Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Sex Talk”.