YouTube Seeks to End Ban in Thailand


By AMBIKA AHUJA
04.08.07,
3:40 AM ET

YouTube offered Saturday to “educate” Thai officials who want to
block individual clips from its video-sharing service, hoping to end an
impasse that arose after a slideshow mocking the country’s revered king
appeared online.

Thailand blocked YouTube on Wednesday after its owner, Google Inc.
(nasdaq:
GOOG

news


people
), refused to remove the slideshow of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The
initial video, which was withdrawn Thursday, showed pictures of feet
over the king’s head – a major cultural taboo in Thailand, where feet
are considered dirty and offensive – and graffiti scrawled over the
79-year-old monarch’s face. At least one still frame from the video
remained on the site.

A variation of the withdrawn video
reappeared Friday, along with another one that showed a picture of the
king superimposed with a monkey’s face. It also carried messages with
profanities and said Thailand’s “leaders are evil and hate free speech.”

YouTube said Thailand’s information ministry was having difficulty blocking individual videos.

“While
we will not take down videos that do not violate our policies, and will
not assist in implementing censorship, we have offered to educate the
Thai ministry about YouTube and how it works,” said Julie Supan, head
of global communications for YouTube.

“It’s up to the Thailand
government to decide whether to block specific videos, but we would
rather that than have them block the entire site,” she said.

Insulting
the monarchy in Thailand is a crime. Last week, a Swiss man was
sentenced to 10 years in prison for vandalizing portraits of the king.

Sitthichai
Pookaiyaudom, the minister of information and technology, said the
government remove its ban on the site only when it has the technical
capacity to block individual pages or until all the contentious clips
are blocked or removed.

“I don’t want to hear a lecture on free
speech … I am a proponent of free speech but this is just culturally
insensitive and offensive,” he said, adding that he would not block
access to materials that are anti-government. “But we will not tolerate
materials that offend the monarchy.”

Some in Thailand have
criticized the ban as a violation of freedom of expression and another
sign of censorship by the military-installed government that took power
after a coup ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many
viewers, however, have reacted with outrage, hurling abuse at the
clip’s creator. Some newspaper columnists have praised the ban, saying
YouTube should respect cultural sensitivities and not allow videos that
would be considered illegal in Thailand.

The government has also blocked a number of other Web sites deemed insulting to the king.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material
may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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