TV cancellation causes uproar in Thailand

TV officials' decision to cancel an "inappropriate" soap opera has caused an uproar in Bangkok, where censorship is common but mid-season cancellations are rare.

Apichart Werawong / AP / File
An uproar has arisen in Thailand after officials announced the cancellation of a popular TV soap opera. Last week, Thai women (pictured) prayed with incense sticks and lotus flowers in front of a Buddha statue, not seen, during a mass alms offering to celebrate the New Year in Bangkok, Thailand.

A Thai TV station's decision to cancel a popular and edgy soap opera mini-series has caused an uproar among viewers and critics who are demanding that the show's final episodes be shown.

Channel 3 announced Friday that it would immediately stop airing the prime-time action drama "Nua Mek 2" after "having considered that some content was inappropriate for broadcast."

The show, which began Dec. 14 and was aired three nights a week, told the story of a fictitious Thai prime minister, his corrupt deputy, black magic and political manipulation. After the station's announcement, the final two two-hour episodes, which were scheduled for Friday and Saturday, were not broadcast.

The station did not further explain its decision to cancel the show, but a Channel 3 executive told a member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, Thailand's broadcast regulator, that the channel feared the show's content would violate the law, Thai media reported over the weekend.

Some supporters of the series speculated that Thailand's government, which closely monitors television content, had a hand in the cancellation, but government officials denied having pressured Channel 3 to terminate the show.

"Those who know best (about the issue) are the broadcaster, producers and related personnel," Prime Minister's Office minister Warathep Rattanakorn told reporters Saturday.

According to the media reports, the unnamed executive told NBTC board member Peerapong Manakit that the station feared the show's content violated Section 37 of the Broadcast and Telecommunications Operations Act, which prohibits the broadcast of "content that seeks to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, threatens national security or morality, or constitutes profanity or causes severe harm to people's mental or physical health."

The action-packed drama featured repeated dialogue about morals and shed a bad light on politicians.

While it remains unclear what triggered the station's decision to pull the show, scripts posted on the websites of Thai newspapers showed that the prime minister was to be assassinated by the end of the series.

The series' cancellation drew heavy criticism from many viewers who believed it was due to political interference. They urged the station to show the remaining episodes, while some called for a boycott of the channel.

Several Facebook pages sprung over the weekend from supporters of the show.

"How come in this society you're being attacked when you speak the truth? I want the show to run until the end. At least it can open our eyes wide enough to see what our country is really like!!!" a fan wrote on the "Bring Me Back Nua Mek 2" Facebook page, which gained more than 47,000 followers over the weekend.

The Thai Constitution Protection Association said it would seek an order from the NBTC to force Channel 3 to air the two remaining episodes and revoke the broadcast concessions granted to Channel 3.

"It hurts the viewers' feelings and has infringed on the rights of Thai consumers. They have the constitutional right to watch it until the end," Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the association, said Monday.

The group said it would seek to petition a court if the broadcast regulator fails to meet its request within seven days.

Censorship is heavy-handed on Thai television, with cigarettes, alcohol and people held at gunpoint blurred, but the cancellation of a show before its end is rare.

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