Army still doesn't understand that the people are boss

opinion July 19, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

2,228 Viewed

In threatening to prosecute the producer of a satirical video, the military proves that old habits die hard



For people who have spent their entire professional careers dealing with sensitive and sometimes contentious matters, Thailand’s top security policy-makers certainly have thin skins. The Army is threatening to take legal action against the producer of a spoof music video featuring Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The video portrays the two as lovebirds. 
The Army says the song in the video, “Song Rao” (“The Two of Us”), is disrespectful because it depicts the two leading figures in a sarcastic way. “This action does not honour either of these people. The Army demands that those responsible for the video take it down or face legal action,” a spokesman said.
Does this mean that only “honourable”, favourable presentations of prominent public figures included is permissible?
Is this video libellous? Are we taken to be so gullible that we would believe the two characters are actually in love? Surely the Army can’t be that naive. Has modern Thai gutter-politics reduced us to this?
Even first-year students can tell us that the video mocks the suggestion that Prayuth had sold out to the yellow shirts – who supported the 2006 coup that ousted Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin, from power. Everyone knows Prayuth and Thaksin have since kissed and made up. Perhaps they should have thought about the consequences before they involved themselves in politics. 
Sad to say, the Army has yet to come to terms with the notion of democracy and of the fact that it is a servant of the country and the people. It is civilians, not soldiers, who govern. But this is not to say that our elected leaders are mature and sincere. The quality of our public figures and parliamentarians has not improved over the years, and the casualty of all this gutter politicking is, of course, the public interest.
It’s really its own problem if the military brass doesn’t like the underlying message of the video.
Not everyone will like this particular spoof. But what we need to embrace is the fact that we live in a country where each and every one of us can make that decision for ourselves. 
We must respect the fact that we can watch this video or delete it from our screen if we don’t want it occupying our hard drive. If critics want to go as far as boycotting the product or the producer, that is their prerogative. 
Public figures are routinely satirised – this has long been an important part of our society. Still, some people in this country seem willing to lose face while trying to save face. If the Army can sue simply because it is annoyed by a video that causes its chief some personal distress, even though there was no libel involved, then so can any other public figure who comes in for public criticism, regardless of the political leaning of the producer. And that just leads to more litigation.
It’s useless to argue about one’s emotional distress in a court of law. It’s debatable whether that comes under any legal standard anyway. 
If the Army follows through on its threat of legal action, all it does is encourage people to punish unpopular speech. 
Free speech is vital in all societies. Thailand is a free country. We say that often, but do we really understand what it means?