Tuesday evening I attended a special event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand where “The Man Who Banned YouTube” was speaking. Sittichai Pookaiyaudom, Thailand’s Minister for Information and Communciation Technology, made waves internationally when his ministry blocked access to the YouTube video-sharing website after videos deemed insulting to His Majesty the King were posted on this Google-owned website.
Khun Sittichai is an unlikely Minister. By his own admission, he is a lousy politician and is just doing his duty to help the country during this transition to a new and hopefully elected government. As an Australian-educated electronic engineer, Khun Sittichai claims not to have much use for the internet, although when questioned he showed a strong comprehension of the specifics about the internet when explaining why the entire YouTube site was blocked rather than the specific URLs of the offending videos.
Right: Minister Sittichai and the moderator field a number of tough questions.
Most of the evening was Q&A with Khun Sittichai using self-depracation and condescending and vaguely sexist and racist comments to avoid directly answering questions. By his estimate, only about 200 websites have been blocked in the six months since he was appointed, of which two or three are political websites.
Those who protest the interim government provided a list of more than 17,000 websites they say have been closed down. One wonders where the real number lies.
What was particularly interesting to me was the three Thai journalists who were there asking questions, including one man from The Nation. Their questions, and his in particular, were clearly coming from a point of anger and frustration with the coup government. I found it unprofessional when the reporter from the Nation began his question by saying he would not refer to Khun Sittichai as “Minister Sittichai” because that would require him to recognize the legitimacy of the interim government. While I can understand why he feels that way, it causes me to question how effectively he can write articles in The Nation if he is so clouded by anger.
It was a good experience for me because the evening provided another view on what’s happening here in Thailand. It will take many, many more views to gain a better understanding and when I offer my insight about politics in Thailand, I try to make clear that my understanding is sophmoric at best.
Yesterday was a teaching day. Since school has started again, Kobfa, Markus and Ken have been regulars with at least one of them every week. Yesterday it was Kobfa, Ken and I. While Kobfa was translating a report on a study Ajarn Yai conducted about integrating special needs children with the general students population, Ken took the more advanced 4th to 6th graders and worked with them on constructing sentences in the sala or pavillion by the khlong.
As I was working with the less advanced children in the classroom, there was a crack of thunder and within seconds the rain was coming down in buckets, being whipped around by winds that had suddenly picked up. The children jumped up and raced to close the shutters in the classroom so our computers wouldn’t get wet. Then we looked outside and realized that Ken and his students were still in the sala, stranded by the rain. (below)