Thai police investigate TV show about monarchy

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2013 8:18 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police said Thursday that they are investigating whether a television show featuring a rare debate on the role of Thailand's monarchy violated strict laws against insulting the royal family.

A talk show on state-owned Thai Public Broadcast Service created an uproar last week by discussing the role of the monarchy under the constitution and the controversial lese majeste laws that protect it from criticism.

The five-episode series was an anomaly for Thailand, where the discussion of such a sensitive issue is rarely — if ever — aired on a non-cable, broadcast television station.

"The legal team has initially looked into the content and found some of the arguments (made by two of the guests) might have violated the law," national police spokesman Police Maj. Gen. Piya Uthayo told reporters, referring specifically to the last two episodes of the show, which featured a debate between outspoken historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul and sharp-tongued social critic and royalist Sulak Sivaraksa.

Piya said the Royal Thai Police set up a committee Thursday comprising nearly 50 investigators to determine whether the show's content was illegal. He said the issue is "significant, has an impact on national security and is at the center of the public's attention."

Police also advised the public against sharing the show's content on the Internet, saying to do so may also violate the country's Computer Crime Act, which punishes circulation of material online that threatens national security.

Piya said investigators would check whether the show's content violated any laws apart from lese majeste, which mandates three to 15 years in jail for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent."

International rights organizations have criticized Thailand's lese majeste laws, saying they're often used by politicians to silence rivals and undermine freedom of expression in the country.

The final episode of the series was scheduled to air last Friday, but was put on hold after a small group of royalist supporters went to the head office of the Thai Public Broadcast Service that day and demanded that it not be aired.

The station aired the final episode on Monday.