PPT has for some time been posting about the way the mainstream media has been pro-government and, in substantial parts, essentially yellow-shirted in its biased reporting. That has now changed. Large parts of the media are now simply acting as the tools of the military-backed and palace-supported government fronted by Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Part of the reason for this is a ratcheting up of the fear of the red shirt rallying that is now felt by the government and its supporters. So fearful have they become, that they have allowed the red shirt agenda to become the agenda. Some of this is made clear in a Bangkok Post (20 March 2010) report that tells of Prime Minister Abhisit’s supposed “offensive to counter ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s daily video-link where he encourages people to join the red shirt rallies.”
Abhisit got together a group of local media and broadcast in Thai for a substantial time yesterday (Friday). On other channels, commentators made exactly the same points that Abhisit made. In other words, this was a concerted media propaganda campaign organized by and for the government.
Abhisit also spoke to Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN. (PPT has yet to see the latter international interviews/reports, but we sat through the Thai versions). Abhisit was agitated, spoke very rapidly and seemed quite disturbed by the events on the streets and by the developing class warfare discourse. Another campaign is under way attacking the red shirt blood sacrifice.
The Post claims that Abhisit wanted to attack “Thaksin’s repeated messages that prai [phrai], or proletariat, are oppressed by the elite and that Thaksin wanted to fight for the proletariat…”. In a strict sense, the phrai are not the proletariat, and Thaksin and others use the term more to mean the “commoners” who face the aristocrats at the center of the amart. Other outlets were more accurate in simply using the terms “amart” and “phrai.”
Abhisit is reported as saying: “Pol Lt Col Thaksin used to be an extremely rich prime minister. Is he an elite or one of the proletariat? This morning I saw a photograph in Matichon newspaper picturing where demonstrators were lying down…”. He continued to say he saw a “photograph of Pol Col Thaksin and his children overseas. Do these represent the elite and the proletariat?” Abhisit was trying to capture a contrast between Thaksin and his supporters, but it is meaningless to people who see themselves sacrificing something for change (and, in many cases, for Thaksin).
Then Abhisit started to sound like an American Republican by damning “class war,” saying “Thaksin should not speak in a way that could create hatred between the rich and poor. Society would be fine as long as people could do their jobs lawfully and had opportunities and rules that everyone respected. Mr Abhisit warned that attempts to divide society and incite people to topple the system were dangerous.”
That seems to be the point. The red shirts have hit on a deeply felt resentment of power and privilege, and the conservative establishment is spitting mad. Few red shirts or any of their supporters is going to seriously buy into an argument that society “would be fine as long as people could do their jobs.” This is the pampered elite speaking to the people they exploit.
Abhisit “explained” – pleaded and dissembled might be the correct terms here – that Thailand no longer had a proletariat and an elite. He said: “All Thai people are equal in terms of freedom but they are unequal in opportunities and his government is trying and doing more than other governments to solve this inequality.” He claimed that “his government was doing what other governments dared not do.” Most red shirts would just laugh at this or get angry. Only this week Abhisit personally vetoed a proposal for the government to raise the already low rice price by a measly 200 baht a ton. Symbolically that is a telling move.
The Nation (20 March 2010) adds to this story, saying that Abhisit asked: “Is Thaksin an ammart or a phrai? He was prime minister and super-rich.” Does Abhisit really think that red shirt supporters don’t know that Thaksin was rich? We’ll forget the historical examples of wealthy people supporting various people’s struggles, but Abhisit seems to live in a different world.
He demonstrated this when he claimed: “Inequality is normal in any society, but it should not be used to incite hatred in society…”. Well, yes, but the downtrodden don’t want to see inequality justified, and when the premier asks “whether Thaksin had tried to solve the problem of inequality between ammart and phrai while serving as prime minister between 2001 and 2006,” most red shirts would claim that he did more than anyone before him and certainly any leader since. That’s one of the reasons why Thaksin continues to be supported; he was seen as trying to do something.
The media propaganda campaign for the Abhisit government is also shown in the Bangkok Post’s (20 March 2010) report that Saturday’s red shirt 46km caravan around Bangkok will cause traffic chaos as “30,000 protesters” join in. Maybe 30,000 will join the drive around Bangkok, but having been to the rally site at Rajadamnoen again last night, PPT was staggered by how many protesters were there.
PPT walked around a very large area where the protesters are camped out and then up to Pan Fah Bridge and down to the Democracy Monument. Our estimate is 50,000 to 75,000 people were there. We were very surprised for having been limited to local media for the last few days, PPT expected a hugely diminished crowd. Some media reports were of 10,000 protesters left. Looking at the crowd from the apex of the Pan Fah Bridge, it was a huge sea of red. At the same time, many screens have been set up around the area where the rally is going on, and so there are groups numbering from tens to hundreds sitting in front of the screens, some of them a considerable distance from the main rally site. In addition, there were smaller stages, with various groups talking to small crowds. Thousands of other red shirts camped out all over the area, sleeping, eating, singing and shopping.
The latter might seem odd, but the mushrooming of vendors selling everything from Marxist-Leninist literature to mosquito nets to VCDs and shoes and, of course, food (in remarkable regional variety) is something PPT wasn’t expecting. The atmosphere is laid-back – indeed, quite literally as red shirts seem to have purchased deck chairs and now make themselves comfortable for the night time talks. People there seem happy and friendly. Also noticeable was the number of couples with kids arriving for the evening and small groups of workers arriving as they finish their shifts. Groups of red shirts were still arriving at 10.30 p.m. Traffic in the area was light but flowing easily. Back up in the Sukhumvit, the traffic was horrendous, even at 11 p.m. That’s the elite partying on a Friday night.
It is remarkable how inaccurate the reporting from the red shirt rally is. As PPT left the rally, we ran into an outside broadcast van for Thai Television, so we asked the reporter there why the reporting from the rally was like this. She might have felt threatened by the accusation, but said that was what “the bosses” ordered. PPT left it at that.
To finish this post, we point to the The Nation’s (20 March 2010) story where it is stated: “Fearing the urban middle-class Bangkokians would either join the red shirts today or confront them, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has advised people to stay at home while the demonstrators march through the capital.” Televison commentators keep telling people to stay at home. Based on experiences of the past few days, they really do fear that the support for the red shirts will be huge. That said, recalling events in 1975 and 1976, marches like this, even if motorized, offer opportunities for opposed forces to attack.