Alleged IT Minister speaks about lese-majeste, national security, Al Qaeda, holistic way, and 3G (the phone not the G string)

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.

18 Responses to “Alleged IT Minister speaks about lese-majeste, national security, Al Qaeda, holistic way, and 3G (the phone not the G string)”

  1. 1 Lloyd 1 February 2009 at 10:12 am

    It beggars belief that someone so ignorant can be in such a position, but then again thats politics Thai style!

  2. 2 ThaiCrisis 1 February 2009 at 10:23 am

    Indeed, it’s surreal. It’s like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Coupled to Benny Hill…

  3. 3 Bedwyr 1 February 2009 at 11:08 am

    How does she get her hair to do that?

    How does she get her mouth to do that?

    How does she get her brain… oh. Sorry


  4. 4 E. Spitzer 1 February 2009 at 11:27 am

    Scary thing is, she is still more qualified than the previous ICT Minister, at least she uses email and knows how to surf the web.

    But seriously it is very bad for Thailand, they must upgrade their IT infrastructure if they want to advance to having a service industry. Right now they have no 3G, bad and unreliable internet bandwidth, VOIP policy/law is a mess, cumbersome laws for hiring foreigners, etc…

    Without these things they will never have an outsourcing industry like India (call centers, back office accounting, reviewing XRays, etc…). All things they could do if they had the infrastructure.

    Alas in nearly 8 years, I’ve seen very few improvements.

  5. 5 fall 1 February 2009 at 11:39 am

    OMG, she’s a nut case.

    But it takes time to get court orders, so we may delete certain content deemed inappropriate before we go through the process.
    Talking about judge-dread style(or more like cyber-Gestapo).

    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.
    She have no idea what Free Speech mean, doesn’t she? Go google it, girl…

    It’s the law of Thailand. We have our laws, they have theirs. We respect theirs, they respect ours, right?
    Yes, Taliban have theirs and North Korea have theirs that allow their citizen to starve.
    Oh boy, aint I glad we dont have law that subject people to life of slavery. We(and international community) will have to follow that, aint we?

  6. 6 Prokster 1 February 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Splendid entertainment, and a big worry off my mind that this bunch will never turn or appoint the tec savvy and turn all 1984 on us.

  7. 7 Luke 1 February 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Bring back the old IT minister, the guy with the crazy inventions and suicide machine. I liked him.

  8. 8 jeplang 1 February 2009 at 2:31 pm

    “She started her career as a nurse… Then she became… are you ready ?… Deputy Finance Minister in Samak’s …”
    I find this statement rather disparaging.Why couldn’t she have undertaken courses in Finance long before she became Finance Minister.Does Thailand Crises know?
    TC is coming over as a bit of an elitist ,and as a fountain of all wisdom.

    The interview is interesting in that it seems to indicate Thai Ministers are not briefed by advisers or by the head of the ministry they are responsible for.
    Her seemingly idiotic statements are surely also a reflection of the quality of people who form the upper management levels of the Thai bureaucracy.
    No ministerial head with any bone of professionalism in his or her body should have allowed a Minister to make such a fool of herself.

  9. 9 ThaiCrisis 1 February 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Her nomination was political, only. You know it, she knows it, everybody know it.

    And there is no need to perpetuate a form of fantasy about the “nurse who was studying finance during the night, after her shift at the hospital, so one day she would be able to answer the call of political duty”.

    And anyway, the day after her nomination by Samak, all doubts were lifted, when she made the striking statement about the VAT…. and the job description on Google.

    So… overall… I don’t think I’m an elitist.

  10. 10 Ty 1 February 2009 at 5:28 pm

    jeplang: “No ministerial head with any bone of professionalism in his or her body should have allowed a Minister to make such a fool of herself.”

    To be fair to bureaucrats, who could have foreseen that she’d be such a disaster? Sometimes politicians think they can handle themselves and refuse to listen to advice. I’m not sure she realizes even now what an impression she made.

  11. 11 KwaiJokFoong 1 February 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Nowadays Thailand’s national security is only threatened by the retards who run the country. I know people in Thailand with less than an elementary school education who are better qualified for the job. This woman’s domestic servants probably are, too. What a disgrace.

  12. 12 mark 2 February 2009 at 3:09 am

    There’s plenty of ministers who sound like her. What’s so sad is that the Thai media and Bangkok Post readers (I’m not referring to foreigners here) don’t pick up on it. Imagine if she was being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today program and she made the comparison between lese majeste and national security, invoking Al Qaeda and terrorism. They would have crucified her. But ministers in Thailand say this sort of thing every single day.

    At least Abhisit is not stupid. He’s just a (military appointed) liar who says one thing and does another.

  13. 13 mark 2 February 2009 at 6:25 am

    N.B. There is a good article in the Bangkok Post today entitled “Still On Hold – Telecom industry awaits direction while ICT minister’s attention is occupied elsewhere.” It describes the woeful state of the telecoms industry (financial problems, lack of direction) while the intellectually challenged ICT minister continues her anal obsession with lese majeste.

    A classic quote: “Don’t ask me much,” the former nurse told journalists on her first day in office. “Often press conference will leave me with nothing to say. I don’t have any special policy, but would like all agencies under the ministry to continue working as usual.”

  14. 14 ThaiCrisis 2 February 2009 at 6:59 am

    Spot on if I may say : that was the expression I was looking for.

    I was before on “Obsessive Compulsive Political Disorder” (OCPD).

    But you’re right. From a psychoanalytic point of view, she’s still on an early anal developmental phase.

  15. 15 Steve in Thailand 2 February 2009 at 10:40 am

    Wow – she makes Sarah Palin look well-informed and professional……..

    Ah well – that’s what you get when it’s “jobs for the boys” (and girls, in this case).

  16. 16 Mr. Wrigley 2 February 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I never supported the law breaking tactics the PAD used to assist in overthrowing the last government(s), but it is easy to understand why many of their supporters despise the rural politician and rural voter. Though Democrat party is not perfect–they generally do appoint people to cabinet positions that are qualified for the position, relative to say the former PPP or other coalition parties, and in this case Puea Pandin.

    As a member of the coalition, Puea Pandin gets X cabinet seats because it has X MP’s, so what do they do with them? Well, they could give them to people within the party who are qualified and experienced, but that would be too easy, make too much sense, and would serve the overall interest of the country. No, instead, they are subject to the ownership priorities of the party leaders and financiers. And since the Suwanchawee family, with husband Phairoj as a main backer, the cabinet posts goes to family or people who are within the inner circle.

  17. 17 KV 26 February 2009 at 1:41 pm

    The market regarding internet connections is just not working here. In Thailand people pay more for slower connections than most European people. And this in real euro to euro comparison. I mean the nurse in Europe doing some Thailand-banned bottom half showing with her boyfriend is paying from probavly 1800 euros salary maybe 20 euros a month for internet when her fellow colleague in Thailand who is not showing her bottom half to her boyfriend because it threatens national security is paying from her 300 euros salary the same 20 euros a month for internet access. The market here is not functioning.

    Oh and she just avoided like any proper politcian to answer the final question: how is alledged lese majeste incidents “threat to national security”. I just dont get it.

  18. 18 ThaiCrisis 26 February 2009 at 3:26 pm

    “National security” is just the a toy for generals, politicians and officials who are too lazy (and/or afraid) to discuss, and to think by themselves.

    “National securiy” is the best way to avoid debate. “National security”, used nowadays by so many people, is just the level zero of political marketing.

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Thailand Crisis

Coup, Economic slowdown, Terror In the South... The situation is worsening in Thailand. Bumpy road like often before.

But this time, it's different.

The key to understand the present turmoil is the inevitable... succession of King Bhumibol.

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