Madam Secretary, a popular Sunday-evening US political drama starring Tea Leoni as the fictitious, problem-solving US Secretary of State and now in its fifth season, came under fire after the first weekly episode of this month featured her scholarly husband-character travelling to Thailand to celebrate the King’s birthday.
While helping “Henry” to pack for the trip, the secretary advises her husband to be cautious, because, “Thailand is a country where free speech doesn’t exist.”
Sure enough, in Thailand Henry meets his old lover, ‘Rochana Arak’ (US actress Kimiko Gelman) while he is attending a freedom of religion forum. When the woman criticises the monarchy at the forum, she is arrested and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
The rest of the sub-plot revolves around how to free Henry and his ex-girlfriend.
She is pardoned, then re-arrested. The US president authorises a ‘black ops extraction’ that immobilises the prison warden and successfully frees the two prisoners. They arrive safely back in the United States, Madam Secretary resumes her plans to run for president of the United States. The happy ending makes no mention of Thai reaction.
Officials said many of the scenes in the show were shot in Thailand but they had no inkling of the key lese majeste references and sequences.
Though no legal action was threatened, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had asked the Thai embassy in Washington to “convey our concern and disappointment to CBS” over the Nov 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 yesterday.
The episode was first broadcast inside the United States by CBS on Sunday, Nov 4.
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.
In real life, the number of prosecutions under the Section 112 law has shot up since the junta seized power. According to figures compiled by Prachatai.com, since the 22 May 2014 coup, at least 127 people have been arrested for violating Article 112, with 57 sentenced to prison terms of up to 35 years.
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.
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