Thai junta steps into Pokemon omnishambles

10 Aug 2016

Days after securing a democratic mandate for less democracy, Thailand’s ruling military junta has turned its attention to the most important crisis that is gripping the country - Pokemon Go.

National Council for Peace and Order deputy leader and Deputy Prime Minister General Pravit Wongsuwan has ordered Pokemon Go banned from secure army facilities while an army barracks in the Northeast has put up a sign threatening Pokemon trainers with three years’ in jail for trespass.

NCPO leader and Prime Minister General Prayut Chanocha said that operators would need to be held responsible for the dangers that Pokemon Trainers might face when catching Pokemon in dark alleyways.

The Dear Leader however did say that he does not want Pokemon Go to be banned entirely and said that catching Pokemon in historical sites was good. He said this in the morning just before the NBTC ordered Pokemon banned from historical sites in the evening. Previously the Culture Minister said Pokemon catching in historical sites was inappropriate while the Tourism and Sports permanent secretary was pro-Pokemon in historical sites to boost tourism.

NCPO spokesperson Major-General Sansern Kaewkumnerd said that the game would have to be adapted to local conditions as the pavements in Thailand are narrower than in Japan.

Speaking after the emergency Pokemon meeting with all five telcos, National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit told reporters that he had instructed TrueMove to tell the Pokemon Company to tell Nintendo to sort out the [zoning] issues and traffic issues.

Takorn clearly and calmly explained to reporters that Nintendo was the entity operating the game, which is not the case.

“[The game]... was created in Japan so that people would go out, exercise and meet and interact with each other, but that does not work in Thailand because our footpaths are narrower,” he said, sounding confident in his total cluelessness.

Pokemon Go is created by Niantic of California, not Nintendo of Japan, though it seems clear that nobody at the NBTC knows that fact despite the emergency Pokemon meeting. It’s Pokestops and Pokemon gyms are simply reused places from its other augmented reality game, Ingress, the vast majority of which are crowdsourced from Ingress agents.

Takorn said that TrueMove will be the messenger as it holds the exclusive rights to promote Pokemon Go and that they were in close contact with the Pokemon Company. This signals a climbdown from earlier claims by True that they held all rights to Pokemon in Thailand, including Pokemon Go.

As for jurisdiction over Pokemon, Takorn said that Prime Minister General Prayut Chanocha had phoned up ICT Minister Uttama Savanayana earlier in the morning and had ordered the MICT and NBTC to solve the Pokemon problem. Takorn said that Uttama had given the NBTC the lead in the Pokemon issue for now and that once a plan of action is agreed upon, he will tell MICT to inform General Prayuth to issue appropriate orders.

Takorn cited Australia as an example of how Pokemon zoning had been successfully implemented, not that any such zoning happened down under.

By the evening the NBTC issued a statement which made much more sense than Takorn’s trainwreck of an interview. Relatively speaking, that is.

The NBTC statement said that regulating Pokemon Go would be done in three stages.

The first stage was to order TrueMove to tell US-based Niantic (not Nintendo, finally) to ban Pokemon from dangerous places like railway tracks or open water; from any religious or historic places; all government areas; and all private property.

The NBTC also ordered all five telcos (AIS, Dtac, TrueMove, CAT and TOT) to issue Pokemon Go manuals for adults and another for their children for all their subscribers within three days.

Finally, the NBTC ordered the telcos to make sure that in-game costs and data costs are kept under control and that subscribers do not face any Pokemon-related bill shock.

Elsewhere, confusion and lack of clarity continues. One day after Royal Thai Police deputy spokesperson Pol Col Krisana Patanacharoen has called Pokemon Go a threat to national security because of people wandering around catching Pokemon in government facilities, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathaworn said that Pokemon trainers are welcome to catch the monsters in Bangkok police stations or even in the metropolitan police head office’s compound.

Why does all this matter?

On one level the NBTC order has been watered down so much already. From all the talk about banning Pokemon from roads, someone obviously later realised that nearly every point in Bangkok is within 40m of a road making a road ban effectively Bangkok-wide.

That said, banning Pokemon from private property and government property is, well, what else is there in any given country apart from government land and private land? Are we to be reduced to catching Pokemon along the no-man’s land along the borders?

And yes, the great national security threat will be solved by free Pokemon books by the telcos.

On a more important level, the way the NBTC, the NCPO and various Ministers and Police are approaching the issue of Pokemon Go is a joke. The lack of any coherent message is bad. The way they have demonstrated total cluelessness combined with so much eagerness is worse.

The way the NBTC secretary-general gave a trainwreck of an interview to equally clueless reporters saying Nintendo this, Japan that in such a commanding tone during his interview was unbearably painful to listen to.

These people run the country. These people control Thailand’s telecom sector and like everything else these people have done in recent years, once the dust has settled all this huffing and puffing will boil down to the same - absolutely nothing of consequence whatsoever at all.

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