Reporters Without Borders has asked Google to explain how its video-sharing website came to be unblocked today.
”We note the unblocking of the video-sharing site but we ask Google to make public the contents of a compromise referred to by the Thai Information and Communications Ministry” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
The Minister of Information and Communications, Sitthichai Pookaiyaudoom, said that all restrictions on access to the site had been lifted.
In an interview with The Nation newspaper, he said that the lifting of the blocking followed an assurance from YouTube not to put online videos which could contravene Thai laws or that were insulting to the monarchy. Sitthichai Pookaiyaudoom added that YouTube had created a programme allowing service providers to block access to videos deemed to be sensitive.
The authorities blocked the site on 4 April 2007. The minister justified the step by saying that Google had refused to remove videos which were insulting to the monarchy and threatened to take legal proceedings against the company.
In May 2007, an agreement in principle was reached under which Google agreed to remove four videos seen as insulting to the King of Thailand. The company nevertheless refused to remove two other videos, saying in a letter addressed to the minister that they were “of a political nature but were not intended to insult His Majesty and did not deserve to be blocked”.
11.05.07 - YouTube agrees to remove four videos deemed "insulting" for Thai king
The video-sharing site YouTube agreed to remove four videos deemed to be insulting for the king of Thailand after communication minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom this week threatened to sue Google, YouTube’s owner. But in a letter to the minister, Google refused to take down two other videos, arguing that, while they were of a “political nature,” they did not aim to insult the king and did not deserve to be blocked. Access to YouTube has been blocked in Thailand since 4 April.
05.04.07 - YouTube blocked as part of major drive to regulate Internet
Reporters Without Borders said today it regarded the Thai government’s decision to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube as "inappropriate"and voiced concern about its current strategy towards online content. YouTube has been inaccessible inside Thailand since yesterday because of videos "insulting" the king.
The press freedom organisation also hailed YouTube owner Google’s refusal to withdraw the offending videos but questioned its double standards, as it continues to censor its search engine in China.
"The Thai government claims that it censors only pornographic websites or those that ’insult’ the monarchy, but in fact it also block online publications that criticise last September’s coup and websites linked to southern Thailand’s separatist groups," Reporters Without Borders said. "We wonder about the legal basis for this censorship, initiated by the government and implemented with diligence by the police. The closure or blockage of an online publication is a serious decision that should require a court order."
Reporters Without Borders said it also had a message for Google’s executives.
"We support their refusal to censor themselves in Thailand but we ask them to harmonise their international policy on censorship," the organisation said. "Is it logical to censor pro-democracy websites in China because it is a vital market, and at the same time to oppose the removal of a few videos making fun of the king?"
Reporters Without Borders added: "We recognise that Google’s executives, unlike some of their US competitors, do show a degree of concern for the protection of free speech but we think it is time they displayed more courage and demonstrated that their motto, "Don’t be evil," does not depend on the company’s business interests."
Information and technology minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom said YouTube was being blocked because Google refused to remove videos insulting the monarchy. In its response to the minister, Google pointed out that videos that are much harder on George Bush are also available on YouTube.
Websites that support deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are also in the Thai government’s sights. They include http://hi-thaksin.net, which cannot currently be accessed from within Thailand. And a website that condemned the coup, www.saturdayvoice.com, has just been closed down.
Freedom Against Censorship in Thailand, a Thai organisation, has reported that online censorship has increased under the new government, with the range of banned sites going well beyond the fight against pornography and "insults" to the monarchy. Many political chat forums have also been closed since September and websites that support the separatist movements in the south of the country (PULO, BIPP and BRN) continue to be blocked.
The government recently announced the creation of a National Committee for Media Oversight to regulate radio, TV, print media and online content. This new body is meant to bring together representatives from the government and Internet sectors including Google and MSN (Microsoft).
Like its US competitors Microsoft et Yahoo !, Google has censored the results of its Chinese-language search engine since January 2006.
Read our weekly "blog review" and create your blog with Reporters without borders : www.rsfblog.org