Producers and parents are both responsible for allowing children to watch inappropriate TV content
The rating system on Thai television should be effectively enforced to ensure appropriate content for viewers. Although the rating system exists, the airtime of some programmes with inappropriate content for children and youth is before many youngsters' bedtime.
At a recent seminar by the Christian Council of Thailand, panellists voiced concern that many Thai soap operas are broadcast too early, and that most of these soaps have content that is not appropriate for children. For instance, many contain graphic or violent scenes of sexual assault on women. In addition, the theme of these programmes doesn't offer anything to provoke constructive thought, as most of them are about female characters cat-fighting over a man.
If we agree with the values that these soaps portray, then here are the characteristics they will promote, based on what we have watched:
We will tend to make decisions from emotion instead of rational thinking, as virtually no Thai soaps show how protagonists overcome a difficult situation by rational judgment.
Most soaps are about people who seek an easy fortune, because that's what many Thais desperately wish for. Thai soaps don't value hard work, either, as virtually none are about how a hard-working person can become rewarded or successful at the end of the story.
We should not continue to be complacent about this. These soaps have a strong influence on our children, especially with television now accessible to almost every household.
The seminar panellists voiced concerns that children under the age of 8 are most vulnerable. Children at this age cannot properly distinguish drama from real life, and many will imitate what they see. If these children are allowed to watch programmes with violent content or verbal abuse, day in day out, they will eventually come to believe that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. Under such circumstances, it doesn't take a great stretch of the imagination to realise what will happen to these individuals and our society. In a recent incident, a student hanged himself after copying a scene he saw on a TV show.
This is not to suggest that Thailand should employ rigid censorship on television. But what we are asking is that the appropriate rating system is applied and more space is allocated for children's programming.
TV producers tend to claim that they cannot produce quality, or children's, programmes because these types of shows cannot attract sponsors, unlike the soap operas with their emotionally-charged themes.
The only solution therefore, is that the rating system be strictly enforced to ensure that adult soaps are aired at appropriate times. If we let the free market rule on TV, people will have a tendency to watch lurid, low quality programming.
Low quality TV may be a factor in our increasing cynicism and inability to tolerate others or to articulate arguments or express our opinions. We are an attention-deficit people who seem to prefer punchlines and sound bites that we agree with, rather than facts, information and alternative opinion. Much has been said about how this medium can have a bad influence on us. Now it's time to look at what other options are available for audiences.
Ironically, while Thai censors are highly sensitive about the content of certain movies, they allow Thai soap opera producers to air inappropriate scenes direct to young viewers at home every day, even though these soaps are more influential than movies. They let TV producers get away with such content, but censor thought-provoking themes that feature in many movies.
Surely this should work the other way round: Low-grade TV programmes should be subject to more scrutiny because they appeal to a mass audience that is impossible to regulate.
Parents should be vigilant in controlling what their children are watching. Sadly, many parents let their children watch these soaps because they themselves are addicted to them.
Producers have a responsibility too, to write scripts that instil desirable values such as honesty and hard work. Many Korean and Japanese soaps have successfully done this, through smart story lines. It's about time that Thais followed suit. Otherwise we may end up becoming what we watch.