Cablegate: Thailand Lifts Ban On Youtube

DE RUEHBK #4725 2430909
R 310909Z AUG 07






E.O. 12958:N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: The Ministry of Information and Communications
Technology (MICT) announced on August 30 that it had lifted its ban
on the popular video-sharing website YouTube, a ban that has made
the site inaccessible for most Internet users in Thailand for nearly
five months. The announcement follows directly on the heels of a
visit by the Deputy Counsel for Google, the owner of YouTube, who
met with MICT officials earlier this week to resolve remaining
issues. Although disagreement remains over two videos that the RTG
labels defamatory but Google considers political criticism, MICT
nevertheless unblocked the site. Google has arranged a direct
communication channel with MICT to review videos that may
subsequently appear on YouTube's site. End Summary.

2. (SBU) MICT blocked the YouTube website in April in response to
the posting of videos portraying the King of Thailand in a negative
light. The controversy engendered a number of copycat videos that
proliferated on the site. After threats of a civil suit against
Google in May, Google agreed to remove a set of videos that were in
direct violation of YouTube's terms of use that prohibit videos that
contain slurs or the malicious use of stereotypes. Google also
agreed to block other videos from view in Thailand that appeared to
violate Thailand's lese majeste law that criminalizes insults to the
monarchy, but maintained them on its global site. Google declined
to block a small number of videos that included negative images of
the King but that the company considered as political criticisms and
not intended insults of the monarchy. MICT refused to lift the

3. (SBU) In an attempt to resolve the impasse, Google agreed in
June to open a direct communication channel with MICT, providing the
Ministry a dedicated email address to report any videos it believes
violated Thai law. Google would review the videos and respond
within one working day and if, after legal review, the video was
confirmed as illegal would remove it from display. If disagreement
over the legality arose, Google would remove a video only after a
Thai court judicially determined it to be illegal under Thai law.
For its part, the RTG revoked the MICT's authority to close
websites, requiring a court action instead. (Note: Thai Internet
Service Providers are planning to issue a joint declaration today
pledging to work with RTG officials to identify offensive videos and
proceed in accordance with Thai law.)

4. (SBU) The agreement immediately hit a snag as MICT officials
claimed that videos that Google had agreed to block were still
viewable in Thailand. Google and MICT technical staff worked over
the last two months to define IP addresses assigned to Thailand to
ensure all gaps in Google's blocking were filled.

5. (SBU) Google and MICT still disagree on two remaining videos
that the MICT considers illegal but Google files under the heading
of free speech. On August 27, Google's Deputy Counsel Nicole Wong
met with MICT Minister Sitthichai in Bangkok and confirmed the
blocking of the previously agreed upon set of videos, and acted to
block another that had recently appeared and also violated YouTube's
terms of use. Despite the continuing disagreement over the two
videos, MICT decided to lift the ban.

6. (SBU) Comment: The wave of censorship and media restrictions
that followed the September 2006 coup that ousted Prime Minister
Thaksin have mostly subsided and many print journalists believe that
the media is now in a position to enjoy more freedom than before.
After the coup, the new government imposed tight restrictions on
Thai media, including the internet, and even blocked images of
Thaksin from BBC and CNN news reports. Today, however, the severe
restrictions on broadcast and print media and websites that followed
in the wake of the coup are gone. The August 29 passage of the
Printing Bill by the National Legislative Assembly marked an
important turning point for the press, undoing the 1941 Printing Act
that required newspaper publishers to be licensed and gave
authorities power to shut down newspapers. Additionally, amendments
to the bill and three Revolutionary Announcements that further
inhibited freedom of the press have also been abolished. While
material deemed offensive to the monarchy is still punishable by
imprisonment, journalists we spoke to believe that the new Printing
Act represents a new era of press freedom for Thailand. End

© Scoop Media

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