Thank you ! Thank you Bangkok Post for the hilarious (and scary…) interview of Ranongruk, the alleged IT Minister.
My readers are probably aware. They know this woman…
She’s one of the Frankenstein Ministers… She started her career as a nurse… Then she became… are you ready ?… Deputy Finance Minister in Samak’s government in march 2008.
She thought that the VAT was paid only by tourists… and she went on Google to learn about her new job. I’m not joking (proof here).
Abhisit made her IT Minister… I’m wondering who is the most ridiculous for that matter. Anyway. We knew that she would be a real winner.
She started quickly, end of december, with a striking agenda : lese-majeste everywhere, even in her tea.
And now this interview with Bangkok Post. It’s a master piece, nothing less.
I’m copying the whole article, for the legacy. So historians can have a good laugh in a few years.
With all the hoopla lately over banned websites and lese majeste, I decided to meet Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee and talk about the practice of censorship (as a matter of national security) versus freedom of speech (as a component of democracy).
Coincidentally, inside her office at Parliament House, the television was showing Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga addressing the parliament over this very issue. So I was invited to sit down and watch TV with the minister.
The Justice Minister announced that some 2,300 websites have been banned, while more than 40 lese majeste cases not relating to internet sites are being looked at by the police.
Minister Pirapan went on to stress how the foreign media and foreign governments should respect Thailand’s lese majeste law as it is a matter of national security, not dissimilar to the United States banning al-Qaeda or terrorist-related internet content, or even the law requiring visitors to take off their shoes and belts for inspection when entering the US.
“It’s a matter of national security,” he said. “They have their laws, we have ours.”
After watching the minister on television, it was time to talk with Minister Ranongruk.
Q: It has been reported that you requested a 500 million baht budget for your crusade against “inappropriate” websites. Is that true? [After all, it only requires one person and 10 minutes work to ban a website.]
No, that’s not true. The budget request was made in 2551 [2008, by the previous People Power party government]. I haven’t spent one single salueng [penny]. My strategy is to use the holistic approach.
Q: Would you explain how that’s done?
When I first came into office … I remember people forwarding me emails with inappropriate website content … so I wanted to make this my priority. I want to track down the wrong-doers. I proposed the ICT ministry, as the host, link with the justice ministry and the defence ministry. We look at three issues on the internet … national security, traditions and gambling … like online gambling, which is a bad thing.
I act as the host that links between the three ministries … it’s the holistic way. We each have our units that collaborate in finding inappropriate content and act on them. For example, the defence ministry would handle more of the national security issues, and myself more on tradition.
Q: Is there a guideline for banning a website?
Before, there used to be a code system [put in place by past governments]. For example, let’s use my name. If the word “Ranongruk” is on the database, then we can check on anyone who uses the word on the internet. It will pop up and we can see what is being written about “Ranongruk”. But the system is easy to evade. People get smart and they type in “Ranong-ruk” if they want to say bad things … and the system won’t catch it.
Now we have the collaboration of ISPs (internet service providers) and we ask the public to inform us through a call centre (1122). If any inappropriate content is found on the net you just call in.
Then I have a committee look over the case. If they find that there’s a case, they submit a report to me. If I agree, then I pass it on to the police, then the police pass it to the prosecutor, and then on to the court. With a court order, we then ban the website. But we no longer just stop there. We want to find the people behind the website and bring them to justice. Otherwise, they’d just create another website.
Q: So, does that mean the more than 2,300 websites that were banned were all done so by court order, and that the ICT has not preemptively or illegally banned any website?
Yes. But it takes time to get court orders, so we may delete certain content deemed inappropriate before we go through the process.
Q: With all the time and resources spent on censorship, what about the ICT’s other functions, such as developing Thailand’s IT [internet technology]?
We do that too. The priority is different. For example, our IT system is even more outdated that Cambodia’s. They have 3G, but we still don’t! However, our operators already have the technology … both AIS and DTAC have the capabilities, but we haven’t put it to use yet.
Q: What’s the delay?
Well, there are issues.
Q: Now that you’re in charge, there won’t be any delays?
Yes, now that I’m in charge, there won’t be any delays. I also have plans to install the internet in schools nationwide – free internet! Not like before when they wanted to install the internet but charge the schools for it. If we can give free books and uniforms, we should also give free internet access.
Q: But back to the banning issue. Given the democratic system, should the government be the one to decide what is “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for the people, or should the people be able to decide for themselves?
Q: We have to look at what is inappropriate. For pornographic content, we know it’s inappropriate. For example, what is it called … com … com … webcom? [Interviewer: "webcam"] Yes, webcam. You are supposed to only show your top half, but kids also show their bottom half!
We know that is inappropriate. There’s also sex on the internet. What do they call it, sex phone? [Interviewer: "You have cyber sex via webcam"] Yes, having sex through webcam. Or prostitution on the internet. Or clips of kids fighting each other … these we know are inappropriate.
Q: Okay, but appropriate or not is subjective. You deem something as inappropriate, but that’s your opinion, not fact. So does that mean, given freedom of speech as an integral component of democracy, the government should have the right to direct their opinions on to the people? Or should it be the prerogative of the people to decide for themselves what is or isn’t appropriate?
Q: Yes, yes, yes. The government should have the right to direct. [A long pause] But let’s not use the term “direct”, let’s say we have the right to “give guidance”, to “suggest”, what is inappropriate.
Q: Either way, that results in censorship and bans. So what would you say to foreign media and governments condemning such action for being undemocratic?
Q: Like Minister Pirapan said [earlier on television], the Royal Family is our Father and Mother. The Father and Mother of the land. Would anyone allow people to insult their father and mother? Not us. Democracies are always different. France is different from America and South Korea. Can you accept it? Jumping at the chairman of the House and going thump, thump, thump [she makes punching gestures, in a reference to violence in the South Korean parliament]. It depends on the country and traditions.
Q: Both you and Minister Pirapan say that lese majeste is a matter of national security, like the example cited about America banning “terrorist” websites. One may argue that that’s a case of enemies at war – there’s death and bombing – a case of national security. How then do you make the link between Royal Institutions and national security?
Like Minister Pirapan said, it’s not about libel or slander. A lot of foreigners misunderstood. They don’t fully understand the law. It’s about national security. It’s the law of Thailand. We have our laws, they have theirs. We respect theirs, they respect ours, right?
It’s what our flag stands for. The colours of our flag stand for country, religion and King. What our flag stands for is our national pride … our national security. All of these are what Thailand stands for … for “country”, it’s about fighting foreign invaders … for “King”, it’s about protecting our revered institution.