Millions read controversial BBC royal biography

BBC Thai has revealed that its controversial biography of King Vajiralongkorn broke records as the site’s most popular story, accumulating millions of views despite the article eventually being censored in Thailand.

The biography of Thailand’s new King, published in December last year, has received over 3 million views and counting, revealed Iain Haddow, Executive Editor of BBC Asia, at a public talk on ‘Media Freedom in an Increasingly Authoritarian World’ on 29 March 2017.  

The biography has had 10 times as many views as the site’s next top performing story.

For Haddow, the article’s record-breaking readership demonstrates a demand for information on Thailand’s long-standing monarchy.

“Clearly there’s an appetite for this kind of news,” the editor said.

While the Thai authorities have censored the biography within the country, the BBC stands by the article on the basis of freedom of information.

“We’re not here to break laws but we are here to stand by what we believe is editorially the right thing to do. We believe that the article was justifiable and that was clearly demonstrated by the number of people who read it,” maintained Francesca Unsworth, Director of BBC World.

“It’s inevitable, even healthy perhaps, that in any country, politicians and journalists will not always see eye to eye. The question for both sides, press and politicians alike, is who sets the limits on our freedoms and how should we be judged? Who is the regulator and what are the rules?”

Unsworth’s call for balance between “government power and media freedom” may seem generous against the junta’s recent refusal to extend permission for the BBC to run one of its major global transmission stations on Thai territory.

The transmission station, located in central Thailand, has been broadcasting since 1997. The contract expired on 1 January 2017. For Unsworth, the souring of relations with the junta over the biography is unwarranted.

“It’s important to note that the article in question was written and published in the BBC head office in London. No BBC Thai staff based in Thailand had any part in writing or publishing the article. Nor did our Bangkok-based news gathering staff.”

While no BBC staff have been accused of lèse majesté, the authorities charged Jatuphat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa, a law student and key member of the New Democracy Movement (NDM), with violating Article 112 of the criminal code on 3 December 2016 for sharing the article on Facebook.

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