I rarely watch Thai-language TV – the content is usually pretty uninspiring and, to be honest, it’s still a strain for me to listen to Thai for more than a few minutes. However, one soap opera beckoned me to the screen yesterday evening – Dork Som Sii Thorng (ดอกส้มสีทอง – literally Gold-coloured Orange Blossom). This raunchy soap might not have come to my attention had the Culture Minister, Nipit Intarasombat, called for the censorship committee of Channel 3 to be dismissed. He bewailed that some of the characters in the series “acted extremely aggressively” with “overly strong emotion” – but that’s pretty standard for Thai soap operas. (Also standard is extremely wooden acting, cookie-cutter plots, rampant product placement and long, lingering shots of an actor’s face at key moments as they slowly contort their features through a range of emotions.)
Of course, the real problem is that this soap is an accurate depiction of high society life. There’s rampant adultery by both men and women (the female lead has particularly voracious needs), drug taking, black magic rites and lots of screaming rows. Consumption is particularly conspicuous, with large houses and flashy cars. Shocking! There are elements in Thai society that take a nanny-knows-best view of the world and try to control what the ordinary Thai people read and watch.
(It’s of note that a prominent US human rights organisation has recently downgraded Thailand’s rating for press freedom from “partly free” to “not free” – one of the contributing factors being Thailand’s ramping up of its already rampant Internet censorship as well as overt political control of TV.)
Anyway, Channel 3 has responded by changing the programme’s rating from “13” to “18” (and there’s a nice big DOG on the screen to remind you of this throughout the program) and added a scrolling message every couple of minutes reminding viewers that soap operas aren’t reality, this isn’t Big Brother, and that under-18s should not be exposed to such corrupting filth. (At least, that was the gist of the message. I paraphrased.)
No doubt Channel 3 is enormously grateful for the Minister’s concerns, and is equally grateful for the terrific ensuing boost in viewing figures.