Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stir over girly calendar

Thai Takes

WHAT’s Thailand’s 365 days of lust?

It is a controversial 2010 calendar featuring nude models whose bodies are painted to cover their assets. The titillating calendar was produced to promote Leo beer, a low-end alcoholic beverage manufactured by Singha Corporation (owner of iconic Thai beer, Singha).

The Leo calendar has attracted uproar from the Thai Public Health Ministry, Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco Consumption Control Committee, the Friends of Women Foundation and feminists. It also led to the resignation of a Singha heiress.

So, what so controversial about a beer calendar featuring photographs of women, whose modesty is virtually covered up by paint?

Well, Section 32 of Thailand’s Alcohol Beverage Control Act 2008 prohibits the advertising of alcohol drinks, their brands and trademarks in a way that encourages consumption, directly or indirectly.

Deputy Public Health Minister Manit Nopamornbodee, as reported by Bangkok Post on Thursday, criticised claims by the brewer and the calendar publisher that the calendar was for sale, not for distribution.

“It is against the law whether it is for sale or for distribution. The calendar carries a logo of the alcohol product and people understand that message,” he roared.

Outside the Prime Minister’s office in Bangkok on Thursday, the Friends of Women Foundation protested against the distribution of the calendar it labeled “Nude Calendar”, “Sin Calendar” and “Lust Calendar”.

Its manager Chadet Chaowilai said many brewers exploited women as sex objects for the sake of their business.

“Such negative tendencies have contributed to the problem of sexual violence against women,” he said, adding that “companies, including Singha, should give up their old marketing strategies and move towards more creative ways to promote their products and adopt a sense of corporate social responsibility”.

Yesterday, the Bangkok Post editorialised: “The argument by the calendar publisher, former supermodel Methinee ‘Lukked’ Kingpayom, that the calendar was made for sale, not for free distribution, is for fools.

“The use of girly calendars as a promotional tool for alcoholic beverages has been around long enough that people understand exactly what is going on without any need for spurious explanations.”

The hot, hot, hot Leo calendar brought heat to the Bhirombhakdi family that controls Singha Corporation when a Singha heiress brought them to work – the Government House (Thai Prime Minister’s office).

On Wednesday, Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, a 23-year-old daughter of the executive vice-president of Singha Corporation, took out two boxes of calendars from the trunk of her BMW and distributed them at the Government House in Bangkok.

Government House officials (including deputy government spokesmen Phumin Leetheeraprasert and Supachai Jaisamut), MPs, police and journalists (covering the Government House beat) lined up to accept Chitpas’ generosity and within a few minutes, about 200 copies were snapped up.

(For the record: the two spokesmen denied taking the calendars, claiming they were only passing by.)

The next day, to accept responsibility for distributing the calendars inside the August compound of the Government House, Chitpas resigned as a political appointee at the PM’s secretariat office.

In her resignation letter, the heiress explained that she did not intend to distribute them.

“I brought along the calendars because some friends want to have them,” she said, as quoted by The Nation.

“Many reporters saw the calendars and wanted them. So, I gave them to everyone. I admit that I did not think that this would turn out to be a big deal. This happened because of my recklessness.”

“I’m upset that the incident affected not only my family and me but also many senior people whom I respect. I myself will take full responsibility for this by resigning from position in the PM’s secretariat.”

Chitpas said she would take the incident as a lesson, and hoped that in the future, she would be given another opportunity in politics.

Democrat MP for Songkhla Sirichok Sopha, a personal secretary to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, according to the Bangkok Post, said “the stir over the nude calendar had affected the reputation of the government as it was distributed at the Government House”.

He, however, denied the Democrat-led coalition government pressured Chitpas to resign, saying she made her own decision.

Probably the only good thing coming out from Chitpas’ generosity is the recipients have something to look forward to when they peek at the Leo calendar.

(Published in The Star on Dec 19. Photograph courtesy of The Nation)