Thailand hits out at US series over monarchy reference

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 19 2018 06:59 AM

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Reuters

BANGKOK - Bangkok has hit out at the CBS show "Madam Secretary" on Sunday in response to an episode that referenced the country's monarchy, calling it "misleading".

Thailand has some of the world's harshest royal defamation laws and monitors potential insults both in Thailand and abroad, with suspects facing maximum sentences of 15 years if convicted in domestic courts.

"Madam Secretary", a popular political drama starring Téa Leoni and now in its fifth season, came under fire after a character travels to Thailand and opines about the monarchy at a conference before being hauled away by police.

Though no legal action was threatened, Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had asked its embassy in Washington to "convey our concern and disappointment to CBS" over the November 4 episode.

"The episode, titled 'Ghosts' presented the Kingdom of Thailand and the Thai monarchy in a misleading manner, leading to grave concern and dismay from many Thais who have seen it," ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks said in a statement provided to AFP.

The statement added that the monarchy has been a "symbol of unity and pillar of stability in our kingdom for more than seven centuries" and is beloved and respected by the public.

"The episode in question did not take into account the sensitivity of the Thai people in this regard," it said.

Royal insult cases in Thailand are often shrouded in secrecy and journalists must routinely self-censor to avoid repeating the original offense.

The amount prosecuted under the law known as 112 shot up under the junta that seized power in 2014, but convictions have declined in recent months and trended towards acquittals or penalties with lesser jail time.

Analysts say the law could be wielded differently under the reign of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne in 2016 after the death of his revered father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

It's not the first time "Madam Secretary" has found itself in hot water among governments referenced in the show.

Last year the Philippines "strongly protested" after a trailer for an episode showed a fictional Philippine president making a sexual advance on the US secretary of state character, which is met with a punch.