YouTube is working with government officials in Thailand to reinstate access to the popular video-sharing website after officials blocked it because of a video that ridiculed the country's popular king.
The incident has sparked widespread indignation in Thailand, where the crime of lèse-majesté, or offending the monarchy, is taken seriously. Last week, a 57-year old Swiss national in Thailand was given a 10-year jail sentence for defacing posters of the king with spray paint.
Most of the user comments under the offending YouTube video implored the site to take it down. It was removed by the person that posted it last Thursday, but new videos, equally offensive, have been added to the site. It remains blocked in Thailand.
In a bid to resolve the impasse, YouTube officials have been working with the Thai government to show them how to block specific videos, instead of the entire website.
"While we will not take down videos that do not violate our policies, and will not assist in implementing censorship, we have offered to educate the Thai Ministry about YouTube and how it works. It's up to the Thailand government to decide whether to block specific videos, but we would rather that than have them block the entire site," said Julie Supan, head of YouTube communications.
She said YouTube has spoken directly with Thailand's Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom. The minister told YouTube that his government is inflexible on the issue of the offending videos, and asked how to block individual material instead of the whole site.
YouTube did not know when access to its site might be restored in Thailand.
Thailand has faced criticism over the issue from anti-censorship groups. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said the move to block YouTube access appeared to be part of a more widespread effort to cut Thais off from the internet following a military coup last September, when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his government were replaced by military appointees.
For YouTube, the issue highlights the wide range of potential problems internet companies can face around the world, as different countries and cultures have different views on taste and censorship. Brazil blocked access to YouTube briefly over a video that purported to show a famous model cavorting on a beach. And Turkey reportedly blocked access to the site because of a video considered insulting to one of the country's founders.
In contrast to Thailand, one video of Queen Elizabeth II pokes light-hearted fun at the monarch, and the user comments are mostly anti-monarch. The video runs to the tune of the song ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and shows her in various ceremonies, on horseback and elsewhere. User comments range from "I love her" to the opposite extreme. The video has not been blocked in Britain.