By Pravit Rojanaphruk
One of the least explored aspects of the lese-majeste law is censorship and self-censorship of anything that can be considered even mildly critical of the monarchy.
There is no doubt that debate on this controversial law will strengthen the campaign for amendments like the one led by the Nitirat group of law lecturers, as well as encourage an equally determined group of royalist lecturers under the banner of Siam Prachapiwat to oppose it.
Too little has been said so far about the impact of the blurred line between what constitutes honest criticism and scrutiny of the monarchy for the benefit of the public and what can be seen as pure slander.
For one thing, Thais are not able to tell what is true criticism, because they cannot publicly write or express anything about the monarchy, even though the country’s current educational system continues spouting on the benefits of critical thinking.
The lese-majeste law has left people afraid of speaking honestly and allows for the circulation of rumours, especially as only positive information about the institution can get published or broadcast. Not all rumours that this writer has heard so far are even plausible, and at times I have to remind the conveyor of these fanciful but negative stories to be more careful and not believe in them too hastily. But then again, these negative tales are a direct product of censorship in Thai society.
Last, but not least, the mass media is getting used to censoring itself about anything that can be considered even mildly critical of the monarchy.
While it’s difficult to quantify the actual cost on society, there is a growing resentment against the highest institution in some sectors of society.
In fact, decades of self-censorship have left many royalists increasingly intolerant of people who criticise the law. Those calling for the amendment or abolition of the law are being regarded as outright anti-royalists.
Decades of censorship also makes it very difficult to reason with ultra-royalists.
To them, the monarchy must remain above any criticism and scrutiny, no matter what price society has to pay as a result.
The level of tolerance is dropping as royal celebrations become larger and grander every year.
Those who think that the Thai mainstream mass media has always been this tame should read newspapers published during the 1950s to realise that this was not always the case and what we see today as the natural order is wrong.
Nowadays, a public campaign to amend the lese-majeste law is enough of a reason to call for a military coup.
Last week, the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy broke their silence to say that another military coup was justifiable and should even be encouraged now that the draconian lese-majeste law and the monarchy are being threatened.
The law, alas, has been elevated to a status not unlike that of the monarchy institution itself, making it inviolable for the ultra-royalists.