YouTube Offers to 'Educate' Thai Officials to End Ban Over Videos Mocking Revered King

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YouTube offered Saturday to "educate" Thai officials who want to block individual clips from its video-sharing service, hoping to end an impasse that arose after a slideshow mocking the country's revered king appeared online.

Thailand blocked YouTube on Wednesday after its owner, Google Inc., refused to remove the slideshow of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The initial video, which was withdrawn Thursday, showed pictures of feet over the king's head — a major cultural taboo in Thailand, where feet are considered dirty and offensive — and graffiti scrawled over the 79-year-old monarch's face. At least one still frame from the video remained on the site.

A variation of the withdrawn video reappeared Friday, along with another one that showed a picture of the king superimposed with a monkey's face. It also carried messages with profanities and said Thailand's "leaders are evil and hate free speech."

YouTube said Thailand's information ministry was having difficulty blocking individual videos.

"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," said Julie Supan, head of global communications for YouTube.

"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," she said.

Insulting the monarchy in Thailand is a crime. Last week, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for vandalizing portraits of the king.

Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, the minister of information and technology, said the government remove its ban on the site only when it has the technical capacity to block individual pages or until all the contentious clips are blocked or removed.

"I don't want to hear a lecture on free speech ... I am a proponent of free speech but this is just culturally insensitive and offensive," he said, adding that he would not block access to materials that are anti-government. "But we will not tolerate materials that offend the monarchy."

Some in Thailand have criticized the ban as a violation of freedom of expression and another sign of censorship by the military-installed government that took power after a coup ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many viewers, however, have reacted with outrage, hurling abuse at the clip's creator. Some newspaper columnists have praised the ban, saying YouTube should respect cultural sensitivities and not allow videos that would be considered illegal in Thailand.

The government has also blocked a number of other Web sites deemed insulting to the king.