An American TV show that ruffled Thailand’s government is just fiction, the U.S. embassy said Tuesday as it responded to questions about the flap.
A fictional portrayal of the Thai government was the subject of a recent episode of the political drama Madam Secretary that aired on the CBS television network on Nov. 4. But the instalment dealt with the real-life issue of Lese-Majeste – the Thai law that guards strictly against defaming the country’s powerful royalty.
“This television show is a fictional work, an expression of the show’s creators, and is not a reflection of U.S. government views,” U.S. embassy spokeswoman Jillian Bonnardeaux told BenarNews via email.
Last weekend, Thailand’s military-run government publically expressed its objections.
The episode “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,” the Ministry of Foreign affairs told AFP on Sunday.
The next day, Busadee Santipitaks, a spokeswoman for the ministry, told BenarNews it had instructed the Thai embassy in Washington “to convey our concerns to the producer, CBS, on the contents of the episode ‘Ghosts.’”
The network “should be aware of the feelings of Thai people. We hope in the future, the producer is sensitive about the issue,” Busadee said, while declining to identify portions of the episode deemed inappropriate.
On Tuesday, a New York-based spokeswoman for CBS’s entertainment division declined comment.
The episode’s plot features the character of Rochana Arak (played by Kimiko Gelman), a Thai-born professor who travels to Thailand to give a speech at a religious freedom conference. But she is arrested there in front of her ex-boyfriend, Henry McCord (played by Tim Daly).
McCord, a presidential adviser and husband of Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (played by Tea Leoni) successfully petitions the king for a royal pardon. However, the monarch dies and McCord and Rochana are captured by the Thai military, leading Washington to launch a hostage rescue mission.
“Thailand is a country where free speech doesn’t exist,” Leoni’s secretary of state laments.
In reality, the Thai monarchy is shielded by Lese-Majeste, which forbids insults to members of the royalty and carries a prison term of up to 15 years for violations. At least 94 Thais were prosecuted under the law, from when the junta seized power through a coup in May 2014 till August, according to iLaw, a human rights advocacy group.
Bonnardeaux, the real-life U.S. embassy official, noted that the U.S. and Thailand celebrated the 200th anniversary of their friendship this year.
Thailand is “our most enduring ally in Asia,” she told Benar, and “our relationship with the Kingdom of Thailand remains one of our most important in Asia.”