The Embassy and the ABC

From the Bangkok Post:

Thailand has protested to the Australian government over the airing of a documentary critical of the Thai royal family and warned that the broadcast could affect ties between the nations.

A senior representative from the Thai embassy met with officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday to express his concern at the programme aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“The concern is that it might affect the good relations between Thailand and Australia, especially the people to people relations,” Saksee Phromyothi, minister-counsellor at the Royal Thai Embassy, said.

“We consider this an issue matter of national security… because the royal family, the monarchy, in our constitution is above politics.”

Thailand’s ambassador designate Kriangsak Kittichaisaree has also written to ABC managing director Mark Scott to complain about the programme which could breach Thailand’s lese-majeste laws which prohibit criticism of the royals.

“I regret that an organisation of the ABC’s stature has lowered its own standard by airing the said documentary which is presented in a manner no different from tabloid journalism,” he wrote.

The programme, which aired late Tuesday, was broadcast on the state-funded station only in Australia and cannot be viewed over the Internet outside the country.

But Thailand’s diplomatic missions in Australia say they have received complaints about the programme on the monarchy — which Kittichaisaree said was “the soul” of the nation and cherished by Thais from all walks of life.

“I presume that once you have decided to put this hyper-sensitive programme on air, a protest letter like mine, which I hope you will seriously heed, should come as no surprise,” Kittichaisaree wrote to Scott.

“I strongly express both resentment and disappointment with the poor decision you have made.”

The ABC could not immediately be reached for comment. But a report in the Australian newspaper said the ABC had effectively shut down its Bangkok office, sending its local staff home until further notice.

A spokesman for Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that Thai embassy officials had complained about the ABC programme and noted that the Thai monarchy was a much revered institution.

“However, the Australian government does not and cannot control content run by Australian media organisations,” he told AFP.

Breaking Thailand’s rules on the monarchy have seen prison sentences of up to 18 years handed down, and Australian writer Harry Nicolaides was in 2009 sentenced to three years in jail under the law over a self-published novel.