YouTube blacking out pages in Thailand


BANGKOK -- The video-sharing Web site YouTube will help Thailand block access to pages that contain clips offensive to its revered monarch instead of blacking out the whole site, a cabinet minister said Friday.

Communications Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom said the idea came during a phone call with a California-based government liaison officer of Google Inc., which owns YouTube.

The site had refused to pull out a clip insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which led the military-backed government Thursday to entirely block access to it.

"He said pulling out those clips would not be an effective way to stop the damage, since users could repost them again," said Sitthichai, referring to Google officer Andrew McLaughlin.

"He said a more effective way would be to block certain pages not to be seen in Thailand," he said. "It will be a few days before we lift the ban on the entire site."

On Thursday, a 44-second video clip, which showed grainy pictures of the world's longest-reigning monarch with crude graphics superimposed on his face, was removed from YouTube by its creator, "paddidda," after the government ban.

The most offensive image to Thais was the imposition of a woman's feet, the lowest part of the body, on his head.

Before the clip was removed, Sitthichai accused YouTube of being heartless and culturally insensitive.

Despite the removal of the clip, which outraged Thais and created a lively debate on freedom of speech versus respect for cultural sensitivity, two more clips mocking the monarch appeared on YouTube on Friday.

One clip, 42 seconds long and titled "King of the Apes," was posted by "thaifreespeech," showing pictures of King Bhumibol, regarded as semi-divine in largely Buddhist Thailand, with a monkey's face.

"This VDO would give up to 15 years prison in Thailand because their leaders are evil and hate free speech," said a caption on one of the slides as the Thai national anthem played.

The clip had been viewed 13,660 times already and attracted more than 200 comments.

Like those on the withdrawn clip, which attracted a torrent of abuse, most of the comments on the new pictures urged YouTube to withdraw it from the site.

"Please YouTube, DELETE IT. it's really hurt Thai people feeling. to 'thaifreespeech' i cursing you. you'll never be happy 'til the end of yr life," wrote blogger "iamboeing".

Another clip, 11 seconds long, defaced the Thai king and President Bush by painting rings on their faces.

Criticizing or offending royalty is a serious crime in Thailand. Last week, a 57-year-old Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spraying graffiti on pictures of the king on his birthday in December, a rare prison term for a foreigner.

However, the generals who ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup last year have also used the lese majeste laws to stifle criticism of themselves or their actions.

Several Web sites calling into question the southeast Asian nation's 18th coup in 75 years of on-off democracy have been shut down by the army-installed government.