Thai public television PBS has pulled their most controversial TV program to date, Tob Jode (Answering Thailand’s Issues), following public backlash against its series on the monarchy. Opponents deemed the show “anti-royal” and a threat to national reconciliation in a country marred by years of ongoing conflict and deep polarization. Online community was a major force behind this public outcry.
The public channel took a big gamble when it first aired a five-part series on “The Monarchy under the Constitution” on March 11, 2013. Pinyo Traisuriyathamma, a popular political show host, knew full well the controversial nature of holding a televised public discussion on the monarchy, given the topic's highly sensitive nature and the rise of lese majeste persecution in recent years. Yet he believed in this critical moment, Thailand can no longer remain silent about the elephant in the room. The editorial board defends the program:
The purpose of this series on the monarchy is to provide a much needed neutral forum for an honest and frank discussion about our most sensitive topic but urgent matter
Below is a short video clip which gives a preview of the controversial last episode:
Criticism mounted and spread throughout the online world following Somkiat Jiamteerasakul, an academic from Thammasat University, who campaigned for amnesty and lese majeste reform. Frank discussion about the monarchy, including questions about someone's loyalty/disloyalty to the royal institution, were unheard of on mainstream media.
Pro-monarchy Facebook groups were littered with anger and outrage. The Pithak Siam Group sent some 20 members to protest at the Thai PBS headquarters. The group said:
We won't allow people who seek to overthrow the monarchy to do this to our country
Khon Thai Rak Chart Group (Thais who love their nation) stormed Thai PBS building to demand the show’ cancellation, citing “inappropriate and unacceptable discussion regarding the monarchy on air.” Similarly, the Dislike Yingluck for Concentration Citizen wrote on their Facebook page, questioning the motive behind Tob Jode‘s monarchy series.
Under enormous pressure, Thai PBS Editorial team pulled the plug on the show, fearing the safety of its employees following numerous threats and intimidation made to their staff. Tob Jode‘s Facebook page, which has since been removed, offered an explanation of their decision:
We are no longer certain we can maintain public confidence in our role as media.
Is freedom of speech and preservation of the monarchical institution a zero sum game? Tob Jode sought to precisely highlight this predicament in Thai society. Despite this initial setback, the Thai PBS Policy Committee convened and decided to finally air the last episode of Tob Jode‘s monarchy series. The Committee reckons that its previous decision to cancel the show was in breach of its own professional conduct.
The administrators and the staff [of Thai PBS] must remain independent from interest groups and pressure groups, so that the public can be confident of our impartiality.
Saksith Saiyasombut writes about the impact of the cancellation of the show:
…the cancellation of an open and straight public debate about the role of the monarchy in the Thai state is a cruel reminder that a certain section of the Thai population is still not ready to face differing notions about Thailand’s power structure. While ThaiPBS is to be commended on tackling a thorny issue, it has made a number of discouraging steps backwards by deciding to cancel the show.