Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The New York Times
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April 5, 2007

Thailand Bans YouTube

BANGKOK, April 4 — Thailand’s military-appointed government blocked access to YouTube and several other Internet sites on Wednesday in a crackdown on material that denigrates the country’s monarch.

“We have blocked YouTube because it contains a video insulting to our king,” said Winai Yoosabai, head of the censorship unit at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.

Thailand’s ban of YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site, came after YouTube’s owner, Google, refused to remove the video clip, the communications minister, Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, said.

The clip, crude and amateurish and lasting less than a minute, depicts the king with clown features painted onto his face and an image of feet pasted over his head, a highly insulting gesture in Thailand.

The Thai crackdown follows similar moves elsewhere this year against YouTube, whose 16-month-old Internet site allows people to easily upload, share and watch video clips.

Last month, Turkey cut off access to the site for several days to block a video deemed insulting to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Insulting Ataturk is a criminal offense in Turkey.

A court in Brazil ordered YouTube access blocked for several days in January after clips of a prominent model cavorting in the sea with her lover kept reappearing on the site.

The bans come as governments and private companies grapple with the posting of controversial and copyrighted material on the Internet.

Purchased by Google in November for $1.6 billion, some analysts have suggested YouTube could turn into a major liability for the search company.

Viacom, the owner of MTV, recently announced a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube.

Acknowledging that the Internet presents “new and unique cultural challenges,” Julie Supun, head of global communications for YouTube, said the company was “disappointed” that the site has been blocked in Thailand.

“We are currently looking into the matter,” Ms. Supun said in a statement on Wednesday. “YouTube reaches a wide global audience and strives to provide a community where people from around the world can express themselves by sharing videos in a safe and lawful manner.”

In Thailand, insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a serious criminal offense. Last week, a Swiss man convicted of vandalizing images of the king and Queen Sirikit was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Since the military government came to power with the overthrow of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last September, it has banned Web sites, instructed the news media to minimize reporting about Thaksin and has at times blacked out broadcasts of international news channels like CNN and the BBC. Reporting in newspapers remains lively and apparently uncensored, except for criticism of the monarchy.

Mr. Winai said his department was seeking to find the person responsible for posting the clip of the king, which had been viewed more than 16,000 times and was posted by someone using the name Paddidda.