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Thai ghost-hunting show accused of exploiting beliefs

Television program makers are accused of exploiting people's widespread belief in the supernatural

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Updated: July 15, 2020 01:42 AM GMT
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Thai ghost-hunting show accused of exploiting beliefs

A statue of an evil ghost overlooks a garden depicting a Buddhist version of hell at the Wat Saeng Suk temple in the Thai coastal province of Chonburi on July 9, 2020. (Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

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The makers of a popular Thai television program, whose purported mission is to uncover myriad supernatural forces around Thailand, are facing a backlash from local Buddhists over their "ahistorical" depiction of a famed local heroine.

In a recent episode, the creators of a television program called "Chong Song Phee" ("The Real Ghosts") claimed to reveal new information about Thao Suranari (1771-1852), the wife of a provincial deputy governor in the early 19th century, a revered figure in a part of northeastern Thailand.

Legend says Lady Mo, as she is popularly known, played a crucial part in helping beat back an invading Lao army in 1826 by organizing a revolt among captive Siamese soldiers.

Her monument in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima is an object of devotion, with numerous locals flocking to it daily to pay their respects and beseech her for favors.

The makers of the ghost-hunting show, who traveled to the shrine where Lady Mo's remains are kept, suggested that her adopted daughter was a mistress of her husband.

They based that claim on a supposed revelation from the show's in-house medium, a Thai woman, who purports to reveal information from people's past lives and communicates messages from the dead. 

Many local Buddhists found that idea highly offensive to Lady Mo's memory, taking to social media in droves to lambast the makers of the television show.

"Many [local] people are angry," said Tewan Liptapallop, who heads the National Office of Buddhism. "The authorities will take legal action against them."

Samarn Thitipongtub, president of the Lady Mo Conservation Group, concurred, arguing that the television program's allegation besmirched the reputation of Lady Mo and her family.

"The show disrespects Lady Mo and destroys her and [her adopted daughter's] virtue," Samarn said.

In response to the controversy, the television channel behind the long-running show has announced that it has stopped airing "Chong Song Phee."

Exploitation of beliefs 

Yet many locals see the case as more than just a subversion of history.

They see it as another egregious example of some unscrupulous people exploiting widespread beliefs in the supernatural for their benefit in the predominantly Buddhist nation where fear of ghosts persists.

"They should research historical facts before going on air like this," said Wichien Chantaranotai, governor of Nakhon Ratchasima province. 

"They cannot claim something by contacting ghosts. It's not science," Wichien said. "Everything they said contradicts Thai history and what we have learned our whole lives [about Lady Mo]." 

Recently a Thai woman was reported to police for photoshopping her face onto Lady Mo's bronze statue and posting the image on Facebook. In the end, the police decided not to charge her with any crime.

It is not the first time that the makers of "Chong Song Phee" have landed in hot water for making dubious claims on air based on alleged revelations communicated by supernatural entities. 

In another recent episode, which featured them visiting a school, the show's medium claimed that the institution's late principal remained as a tormented ghost in the school, anguished over his corrupt and immoral conduct while he was alive.

The principal's family filed a defamation lawsuit against the show makers. 

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