Thai TV cancels drama series, viewers smell political interferenceBy Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices Jan 07, 2013 10:00AM UTC
Channel 3 has cancelled the airing of the “lakorn” series “Nua Mek” (literally “Above the Clouds” or metaphorically “Unrivalled”), which was due to show the finale of the second season on Friday. The odd circumstances and reasoning make this the first real hot issue of the New Year for many. The story of “Nua Mek” revolves about corrupt politicians, including a fictitious prime minister and his crooked deputy, who are (SPOILER ALERT!) being controlled by a dark sorcerer and the already-dead prime minister taken over by a necromancer.
The television channel published a very short statement saying that the drama series was deemed “inappropriate” and another drama series would be aired instead. News spread that the decision by Channel 3 was caused by political interference from “a government minister from the ruling Pheu Thai Party”, as it could have been perceived as critical towards them.
Rumors point to political interference, Pheu Thai Party denies any influence
The newspaper Neaw Na cited sources from the “entertainment department” and from “high level sources at Channel 3″ that the Office of the Prime Minister let the broadcaster choose how to end the TV drama, which ultimately led to the decision to axe it immediately.
Reactions from the government side came quickly and all are denying playing any role in the cancellation of the series. Warathep Rattanakorn, the Prime Minister’s Office Minister and the person responsible for overseeing all state media – the privately-owned Channel 3 is broadcasting on a concession issued by the Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand (MCOT) – insists that there wasn’t any interference from the government or MCOT and he himself does not know the synopsis of the show, as he claims to have never watched it.
Deputy Pheu Thai Party spokesperson Sunisa Lertpakawat, stated that it was impossible and that there was no apparent reason to order the axing of the show. She added that some media that are “enemies towards the government are making up a story in order to discredit the government (…)” and is not restricting the rights of TV watchers, adding the government doesn’t have the time “to go after one TV series.”
The owner of Channel 3, Bangkok Entertainment, have yet to comment on this issue [as of writing this article], apart from the short on-air message and a message on their Facebook fan page stating that “after some consideration we have decided that some parts of the content were appropriate.”
With Channel 3’s very sparse statement and huge public interest into why the series was cancelled, there were only rumors and guesses to fill the void.
Editor’s note: Meanwhile on Saturday evening, several Thai news outlets reported that Channel 3 has stated “Nua Mek” could have violated Article 37 of the 2008 Broadcast and Telecommunications Operations Act, which prohibits “programs that that seeks to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, the country’s democracy, threatens national security or morality, constitutes profanity or harms people’s mental or physical health.”
Why they came up with this almost at the end of the second season is beyond me and the commissioners of the National Broadcast and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) are doubtful if that was enough to ban the series – otherwise a lot of other Thai soap operas or “lakorns” would have been axed too!
Media censorship nothing new in Thai society
Whether or not “Nua Mek” was censored by the government (which we will probably never know), it was definitely not the first media censorship in this country. Most political interference in the media targets TV news or political discussion shows. Aside from censorship of the Thai press, which has often occurred in Thai history, or the online censorship that is on the rise since the military coup of 2006, there has been much censorship of TV series and movies.
Among the most recent high-profile movie censoring cases were “Syndromes and a Century” by award-winning independent film maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul; “Insects in the Backyard” was banned for the “strong depictions of sex”; and most recently “Shakespeare Must Die“, an adaptation of “Macbeth” drawing allegories to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts, ended up being banned for “content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation”.
“Nua Mek” is one of the few Thai “lakorns” to be censored (potentially for its impact on politics), but it wasn’t the first one: In 2005, Channel 7 planned to air a TV drama based on the life of then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his then-wife Pojaman, but it disappeared and was never heard of again after the military coup of 2006 that toppled him.
In the end, the fact is that Channel 3 receives its broadcasting license from state-controlled MCOT and is directly under government observation. So it would not be strange at all if Channel 3 would follow a government “order” (if that is actually the case), because despite decent ratings, it appears that Channel 3 is preemptively dodging a confrontation with the government in order to avoid any negative business consequences in the long-run.
Siam Intelligence Unit believes that Channel 3 will keep on using their strategy of remaining silent until the controversy dies down and nobody is asking anymore who actually ordered “Nua Mek” off the air.
Originally published at Siam Intelligence on January 5, 2013. Translation by Saksith Saiyasombut.
About the author:
Siam Intelligence is a Thai-language news and analysis website founded by the Siam Intelligence Unit, a Thai think-tank focused on politics, economy, public policy and international relations.