Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Free Speech for "The Dark Lord" – Everyone Else Shut Up

SuthichaiYoon, is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Nation Publishing Group in Bangkok. The Nation Publishing Group owns "The Nation" which is one of the two English-language daily newspapers in Bangkok. He also writes a daily Thai-language column and a weekly English-language column.  Mr. Yoon has a blog and also hosts a weekly television program on current affairs.

I generally don’t follow Mr. Yoon’s work due to his lack of credibility.  I’ll give two examples:  he works for "The Nation" and he tried to kill Harry Potter.

However, in a classic example of the age old saying; “Even a blind monkey finds a banana every once in awhile,” Mr. Yoon finally got something right.  A couple of weeks ago, he wrote an editorial in “The Nation” about proposed amendments to the Printing Act of 2007 from the Ministry of Culture and the erosion of free speech in Thailand.

The amendments include 7 points:

1.    Any print media, excluding newspapers, printed in the kingdom must identify itself by category according to criteria set by ministerial regulation;
2.    The National Police Chief is authorized to ban the printing, distribution or import of any printed media which affects the monarchy, national security or public order and morals;
3.    Publishers must publish within 60 days after receiving permission;
4.    Publishers must identify in the printed materials the category and ISBN of each publication as issued by the National Library of Thailand, and must submit two copies to the National Library of Thailand;
5.    The name of the publication must not be the same as or similar to any of the name or abbreviation of any state agency;
6.    Publishers who do not submit copies of their publication to the National Library of Thailand within a specified timeframe will be fined up to 10,000 baht; and
7.    Those who violate a banning order by the National Police Chief will be punished with a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to 100,000 baht, or both.

Mr. Yoon correctly condemned these proposed amendments outright but without truly understanding the reasoning behind them. Obviously, these amendments have been proposed in order to address the well known problems of so-called “Thai journalism” – problems which he is a part of.  

When the news media bends over for advertisers, the military, the police and anyone else in power, they no longer become trustworthy. The news media becomes an accomplice to crimes being committed by these powers.

Thai news reporters are long in words, short in action, fearing for their own lives over the truth, typing away like blind sheep at mundane stories; approved by those same powers. There probably are not very many brave Thai reporters in the entire kingdom willing to investigate a story that could endanger them.

During the Thai military’s massacre of democracy protesters in Bangkok during April and May of 2010, there should have been a relatively large ratio of Thai reporters to foreign reporters covering the event.  Yet, how many Thai reporters were killed or injured? Unless one of them received a paper cut from too quickly retyping an army press release – there probably wasn’t any. They knew the score. It is safer to publish the army’s claptrap given to them at press conferences than to get the truth firsthand at the scene and run the risk of getting shot and killed by the army like Fabio Polenghi of Italy and Hiro Muramoto of Japan. The Thai media probably knew that they’d better let someone like NY Times reporter Thomas Fuller be the one to interview General Seh Daeng, an ally of the democracy protesters for fear that a Thai army sniper’s bullet might miss the interviewee and hit the interviewer instead. Yet the foreign media who put reporters on the scene in harm’s way was intensely criticized for their reporting of the massacre by Thai royalists.

The Thai news media, in general, has been and still are accomplices as they see the corruption, they know the details, yet they blindly keep the people from the truth. The time for bringing Thai newspapers up to journalistic standards is long overdue. While other countries have newspapers that are committed to truthfulness and accuracy, many Thai newspapers – like The Nation, and the other English-language daily; The Bangkok Post, twist facts and arouse hatred. Thai newspapers like Thairath and Manager are just as bad. They often don’t report neutrally and are often just a propaganda instrument.

Some members of Pheu Thai at the Ministry of Culture, frustrated at the poor state of journalism in Thailand, may have good intentions in trying to address some of these problems through legislation but by doing so they might accomplish the impossible and actually lower Thailand’s abysmal Press Freedom ranking by brought about by Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repression.  

The government is far too blunt and dangerous an instrument to be used to legislate the news media’s responsibility to maintain journalistic standards.  Incredibly bad and biased reporting by propaganda rags like “The Nation” in Thailand shouldn’t serve as an excuse to expand the repressive powers of a government. 

Fortunately, wiser minds have prevailed. On November 1, Deputy Spokesperson of the PM’s Office Chalitrat Chantarubeksa told reporters that the Office of the Council of State had rejected the amendments to the 2007 Print Registration Act.  

Suthichai Yoon being portrayed as a champion against censorship is laughable.  If he really is an opponent of censorship then why was he so conspicuously silent when the junta and the previous military installed government of Abhisit censored all kinds of websites, radio stations and publications, shutting down those they didn't like with impunity?  Actively involved in the new and social media, Mr. Yoon has attempted to transform his publishing group's newsroom into a fully digital mode.  So, standing up against censorship of his competitors (for example Prachatai) during Abhisit’s regime was not in his best interest; economically.

Abhisit Vejjajiva (left) and Suthichai Yoon chatting on March 6, 2009 during the 10th anniversary celebration of Asia News Network (ANN) at the Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok.  There, Abhisit gave a speech saying he was committed to media freedom and that Thailand’s Freedom of Press ranking in the world (then at 124th) would improve under his government.  Later that day, police raided Prachatai’s online news office. Abhisit left office two years later with Thailand ranked 153rd in the world in Press Freedom, only 25 other countries ranked lower.

No comments:

Post a Comment