“I’m old. I have an e-mail account but rarely check it; normally I use the telephone.”
Strange words for a man in charge of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. Surely someone in such a position should know how to use the internet, but he has already admitted that he only ever visits two websites: that of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and that of the Professional Golfers’ Association where he can keep up with the latest tournaments.
Information and Communication Technology Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, 59, says he has only ordered the closing of five websites, although he admitted that he had “not even glanced” at those sites before he closed them, as The Nation reported.
“I once visited pantip.com and was confused by its many rooms. I quit and never went back,” recalled the baffled minister. Unsurprisingly, the site with the “many rooms” was one of the five that were blocked. Camfrog.com (an erotic webcam portal) was also blocked, but the minister found himself unable to remember what the other websites were, although he was sure they were pornographic.
On the subject of Camfrog, which was blocked along with YouTube, Sitthichai admitted “he did not know the purpose of the two sites or what users did at them,” again from The Nation.
Minister Sitthichai has said that he has received around 100 websites for his consideration. Despite apparently not knowing what the internet is for, he says he is able to make his decisions quickly. “Remember when the church and religion were taboo?” he said in response to criticism that arose after he blocked YouTube. “Those challenging their religion were punished.”
Those who keep up with Thai affairs will be familiar with Sitthichai saying things that make very little sense, or are just downright odd. (“Though non-elected, the [present] government was more democratic.”) He recently said that the internet, a tool filled with vast resources, that is shaping the world as we know it and how we get our information, is not “exciting”.
After drawing massive media attention to the knee-jerk banning of YouTube in Thailand, Sitthichai said: “I am waiting to hear from [YouTube] about what can be done. If YouTube can’t suggest a solution that we can effectively implement, then we have no choice but to keep the ban.” The minister went on to outline that he would lift the ban if the government was given the capacity to block individual pages. “The people demanded that I show a reaction,” he said. He also said that Thailand would “negotiate with Google to help.”
Julie Supan from YouTube then said that while the video sharing website would “educate the Thai Ministry about YouTube and how it works. 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.”
So that should have been everything fixed, right? Wrong! The fun and games were only just beginning. “Those clips are very harsh to the feelings of Thai people and our culture, and foreigners will never understand,” Sitthichai said.
If us lowly foreigners didn’t understand before why the feelings of Thai people were hurt, now, after Sitthichai’s bull-in-a-china-shop effort we are starting to see a clearer picture. That individual video that so distressed Sitthichai, and was largely unknown around the world, has now been watched by hundreds of thousands of people across the planet; Sitthichai’s efforts have made sure of that. The multitude of videos that followed were just the icing on the cake.
Then, out of nowhere, Sitthichai announced that Thailand was suing YouTube. “This YouTube issue is about a private firm in the US trying to bully a small country like Thailand,” he said. Isn’t Thailand actually very big? With a population of more than 60 million?
Sitthichai does make a valid point when he highlights that Google has bowed to China’s demands for censorship, but Sitthichai also said that he would work to block individual pages on YouTube. What happened to that idea? Maybe he forgot. The lawsuit against YouTube has come about because of the refusal to remove offending clips.
If Sitthichai had wanted to prevent public anger from the insults directed towards the monarchy, as he said did, he would have done well not to give the first clip such an enormous publicity campaign. If he’d been more clued up on how YouTube worked and what it was for, he might not have decided to block the entire website, and he may have discovered that each video has its own individual URL, which could then have been blocked. It’s plausible that nobody would have even seen the original video and it would now be banished into cyberspace beneath countless clips of cats falling off TVs.
Sitthichai has accused YouTube of “playing a game”. The real game is trying to work out what’s going on in Sitthichai’s head. It’s not fair to say that he does everything wrong, but he just seems to be completely bemused by the whole idea of the internet.
In response to the number of anti-coup and anti-junta websites that are around, he said that “we are unable to keep up with them. They just open up another website.” He said that blocking websites was futile, and yet he has failed to acknowledge this throughout the whole YouTube fiasco. He went on to say that the best way to counter negativity on the internet was to counter the points raised by improving the content of state websites.
Although the YouTube clips were about the monarchy and not the junta, would this not have been a good time to educate us clueless foreigners?