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    Southeast Asia
     Feb 19, 2005
The anatomy of a Thai porn scandal
By William Sparrow

BANGKOK - In a case not unlike the Anara Gupta sex-video scandal in India, where a former beauty queen stands accused of appearing in a pornography video, the Natt Chanapa scandal in Thailand is proving to be an enduring and ongoing saga for the young Thai starlet.

On August 2 last year the mainstream, although not yet well-known, actress Natt Chanapa was discovered by authorities to have appeared in a hardcore pornography video that was being distributed on the black market and on the Internet.

Such hardcore pornography is technically illegal in Thailand and the actress could face a jail term. However, the summons that was issued last July and that is being reiterated this week by Thailand's Crime Suppression Division simply asks that the actress appear to answer questions regarding the ongoing investigation. It does not compel or require her to appear, and thus far Chanapa has chosen not to meet with police.

Indeed, meeting with police may only add to her woes, as any questions she answers or statements she makes are likely to incriminate her more and possibly lead to her prosecution. When the case broke last year, the actress sought legal assistance from the Law Society of Thailand, which advised that an earlier statement to the press in which she had said she was "not willing" to act in the movie could be used against her and that she should remain silent on the issue.

Culture and politics
Thailand's Buddhist-majority culture is generally conservative about sexuality, in the typical Asian sense. This is in deep contrast to the notorious reputation that the country has gained for prostitution, live sex shows and red-light districts.

Yet the government works constantly to keep these "dark influences" in check and to restrain, at least, the sex and pornography industries. The government even employs a special section of its police force consisting of computer experts who constantly seek out Thai pornography on the Internet and block access to it within the country. In some cases, this unit even tracks down and prosecutes adult-content webmasters when they are located in Thailand.

Yet for all the pomp and circumstance of the Chanapa case and Thailand's omnipresent war on dark influences, the people themselves seem less than concerned with the seemingly consensual videos Natt has made and with pornography in general.

Chanapa became instantly popular based on the media and police attention she gained as a result of the investigation and has been offered large sums for mainstream acting and modeling jobs. In addition, and far more striking, is the widespread mainstream interest in the video itself. It would seem that if only 10 copies of the illicit video compact disc (VCD) were in Thailand before the story broke, by the following day millions of copies were changing hands throughout the country.

But what's most fascinating about this development is that the heavy circulation of the video has not been limited to the back-alley pirate VCD shops of Patpong. Instead, the video has made its way into the homes and businesses of middle-class Thailand. Hotel employees from major resorts say that the video was being sold among the staff for 20 baht (about 50 US cents) each, and employees were snapping them up.

It would seem that the government's effort to suppress the illicit material has only served to fan the flames of Chanapa's popularity and that of the video itself, taking the underground video from the shadowy black market and thrusting it into mainstream pop culture.

Already making the rounds is a second video, as yet unmentioned by police and generally unknown to most of the Thai public. The additional title appears to be a compilation of scenes that Chanapa did at different times during her "pornography career".

Nevertheless, as damning as this may seem to the conservative watchdogs within Thailand's law-enforcement circles, the general acceptance of such material and Chanapa's mainstream following - as evidenced by the popularity of the video in the general public and by the "legitimate" entertainment industry's embrace of Chanapa after the story broke - seem to indicate that no matter the level of pressure and prosecution that the government levies at Chanapa, it will only serve to bolster her popularity while undermining the prosecution's and the court's ability to enforce any type of harsh sentence, due to negative public opinion regarding any punishment of Chanapa.

Unlike the sex-video scandal involving Anara Gupta and the ongoing court battle being waged in India, there has not been a public outcry in Thailand for pornography law reforms or pressure to prosecute by the public. This makes it unlikely that the Chanapa case will ever be fully prosecuted or, even if it is, that any subsequent penalties would be excessively harsh or worth the prosecution's efforts.

At least for the time being, Thais in general seem to be taking their characteristic mai ben rai (don't worry about it) approach to this issue - an approach that authorities may also be considering.

Asian Sex Gazette deputy editor Lev Jameson contributed research to this article, which appeared previously on Asian Sex Gazette and is used by permission.

India at war with Internet porn
(Feb 5, '05)

India's porn police bring their quarry to eBay
(Dec 22, '04)

In Beijing, porn's cool but Hollywood sucks
(Jun 23, '04)

Round two in Thailand's war on evil
(Mar 24, '04)


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