April 04, 2007 |
YouTube may be irresistible to many, but there sure is a lot of resistance to their content lately. Now Thailand's military government has blocked access to YouTube after Google refused to withdraw a video clip mocking the nation's King. In Thailand, defacing images of the King is a crime. This is not a matter for judgemental indignation on our part, but one for careful thought and correct action on the part of YouTube.
Thai Communications Minister Sitthuichai Pookaiyaudom ordered a block on the entire site in a statement to Reuters via Yahoo!. YouTube is carrying a 44 second clip that ridicules King Bhumibol Adulyadej the world's longest reigning monarch. King Adulyadej is highly revered in Thailand and most of the comment on the clip received before the YouTube ban was highly aggravated and negative toward the creator of the clip. Most Thai people sincerely love and revere their king.
“The king is the most revered figure in the country; he is untouchable,” said Metha Sakaowrat, president of the Information Technology Press Club - a guild of Thai IT journalists.
According to reports YouTube did not find the clip offensive and decided not to remove it. The clip included symbolic gestures including positioning women's feet above the head of the ruler. While this might seem insignificant to many of us, to a Buddhist illustrating the lowest part of the body above the head of a King is the sincerest form of insult. I doubt we could ever expect anyone at YouTube to value the significance of such an insult, much less care for the injured party. Somehow it does not seem wise to thumb one's nose at every tradition.
Thailand has been in some turmoil over the last few years and has been accused of stifling free speech in this case. However, insulting people's culture, religion and King is not exactly a way to make friends. We tend to view everything on YouTube as some declaration of freedom of speech or expression. I guess the question here is really about the sovereignty of other nations and the line YouTube will sooner or later have to draw.
Before you pass judgment on mean old King Adulyadij, it would be fair to read a Time article entitled: “60 Years of Asian Heroes.” What YouTube is essentially telling the people of Thailand is: “We could care less what offends you.” The video may seem like a trivial thing to many westerners, but everyone is not a westerner. We have to be sympathetic to other people and their cultures, and if we aren't then who are the tyrants?
UPDATE: YouTube offered to show Thailand how to block material deemed insulting to King instead of the whole site. They even agreed to removing all the offensive clips. Via BBC News.