Wednesday, 25 July 2007

How about it?: A YouTube Live Political Debate in Thailand!

America's hubris and geopolitical blunders sometimes astound me. Its obsession with the Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans of this world reviles. That said, I couldn’t help but admire and ever so slightly envy on Monday a country in which videos can freely be posted by members of the public on public internet sites, and then used to interrogate presidential hopefuls on live TV.

Over the past couple of weeks the American public have been recording themselves asking questions directed at the Democratic presidential candidates and then posting the video on the user-generated site. The results were screened by the CNN editorial team but nonetheless lively and impressive: lots of pertinent, probing and heartfelt questions that, beamed live across America for a live presidential debate on Monday night, really kept Clinton, Obama and co on their proverbial toes.

Questions came from, among others, a mother with a son on a second tour of duty in Iraq, a lesbian couple looking to get married, a man who calls his gun “baby”, NGO workers in Darfur, and a melting snowman concerned about global warming. Gender, race, taxes, religion, war and global warming were all touched on. Instead of dull political plateaus this debate was vibrant, fresh, revealing, even fun.

It may well herald the dawn for a new era of political debate. One of the Youtube founders speaking on CNN (didn't catch his name): “this event will change the entire environment in which political debate is conducted, will be a reference point for future user-generated debates, not just in the US but across the world”.

Can you guess where I’m heading with this?

Thailand, Youtube, the looming reconciliation.

Youtube has been unavailable to internet users in Thailand ever since the ICT Ministry (or MICT) blocked it for refusing to remove clips offensive to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Their grievance was understandable, but they handled it badly. It revealed to the world a slowly creeping trend of increased internet, and wider, kneejerk censorship here. The negative publicity only heightened international concerns about the dictatorial regime's intentions regarding the return to democracy.

Word has it that YouTube will be returning soon, allbeit under the all-seeing Orwellian eye of the MICT. And when it does, what better way for the interim government to avoid the awkward kiss and make up reconciliation, than by going for a full on embrace and plotting a repeat of the historic live US TV debate?

Think about it. Allowing a televised debate in which Thai Youtube users (presuming it does return) field questions at the party candidates would be a stroke of self-deprecating brilliance, a publicity coup that (1) would help prove to the world that the interim goverment is serious about restoring democracy, (2) respects freedoms and diversity of opinions, and above all (3) has a bloody sense of humour. Simultaneously it would engage and encourage young internet-literate Thai youngsters to get involved in the political process.

The irony, the wit, the charm of it. And yes, the unlikelihood!

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