Reporting the red shirt caravan

21 03 2010

Given the huge government effort to discredit the red shirt caravan of 20 March 2010, it is difficult to know where to begin this post. PPT must express incredulity regarding the mainstream media. To watch news readers saying again and again that 25,000 people participated is like watching Alice in Wonderland and 1984 in 3-D at the same time. So let’s begin with a positive angle.

As usual, Pravit Rojanaphruk at the Nation makes more sense than most, and he proves that real journalism can still squeak through the cracks. He suggests that this event was one of historic significance.

Pravit says that the “massive 20-kilometre-long red-shirt motorcade around Bangkok Saturday proved beyond doubt that many working-class and lower-middle-class people in the capital support the red shirts, as they came out in force to wildly cheer the caravan as if their liberators had arrived.”

Pravit says the numbers participating are hard to estimate as the “seemingly endless motorcade left … at 10am and made its way through major streets such as New Phetchaburi, Ratchadaphisek, Lat Phrao, Ramkhamhaeng and Rama IV.” Near the Platinum Fashion Mall, “people along the streets and pedestrians on the overpass ecstatically cheered the red procession.” PPT watched broadcasts from TNN television, and it is clear that the waving and cheering crowds were all along the route.

Pravit adds that the “whole atmosphere resembled a carnival or fiesta. Many bystanders went onto the streets to interact more closely with those in the procession. The caravan rolled on at what could be considered brisk walking pace.” In fact, it was often faster than this. “Many of those cheering the red shirts donned red or had something red on them, such as a handkerchief or a headband. They jumped, danced, waved and shook their foot clappers.”

In commenting on the class-based element he saw, Pravit observes that the support provided to the marchers highlights “the growing disquiet over class inequality among the poor as well as indicating class solidarity.” He adds: “Looking cheerful and confident, they seemed to have the belief that they would eventually prevail. Car-honking and loud anti-Abhisit and anti-old-elite slogans were heard along the route.”

Whereas other media outlets searched long and hard for anti-red shirt responses, Pravit says only that “Some hostile reception was reported in areas such as Onnuj and Klong Tan…”.

The conservative Bangkok Post (21 March 2010) is one of the outlets that tried desperately to locate anti-red shirt opinion and cites police estimates of 65,000 people in the caravan. The Post barely mentions the ecstatic response that the convoy received in many areas. It claims a 10 kilometer-long convoy.

Noticeably, the Post reports Democrat Party sources making the usual claims that red shirt core members “in the provinces” were “paying to recruit people to join the rally in Bangkok.” No doubt they also paid the tens of thousands who showed their support yesterday as well.

At 11 a.m. on the day of the caravan, Democrat Party spokesman Thepthai Saenphong had already told reporters a story about nasty red shirts and the evil power of money. He expressed concern about the (negative) welcome the caravan would get in Bangkok. He said that everyone needed to know that the Democrat Party was receiving reports that the red shirts were hiring pickups for 2,000-3,000 baht per vehicle and hiring people to cheer for the red shirts at 500 baht a head. He seems to mean in the watching crowds. Obviously the Democrat Party spokesman thinks that fantastic stories still carry weight amongst the fearful in Bangkok (thanks to Bangkok Pundit for this link). More likely, however, the Party spokesman is reflecting the deep fear the government and its backers have regarding the swelling support for the red shirts in Bangkok.

In surprising contrast to its usual rabid anti-red shirt reporting (Pravit excluded), The Nation (21 March 2010) has an almost balanced report, referring to “Tens of thousands of red-shirt protesters … in an unprecedented kilometres-long caravan … stepp[ing] up pressure on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call a new general election.” The report goes on to say that “between 65,000 and 100,000 on thousands of motorbikes and other vehicles in the heart of Bangkok, [were] well-received by the local people.”

More in line with The Nation’s usual line, Tulsathit Taptim (21 March 2010) can’t get further than claiming that the whole event was scripted by Thaksin Shinawatra: “Obviously, Thaksin had designed yesterday’s activities to be a campaign of love. It was to counter Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s attempt to label the rally as his opponent’s tool to spread hatred and deepen the divide. Protesters waved and smiled to bystanders during their city tour, receiving friendly greetings in some areas but hostility or disapproval in others.”

PPT seriously doubts Tulsathit saw much of the caravan, but the claim of the whole thing being Thaksin’s script is simply being utterly contemptuous and disrespectful of hundreds of thousands of protesters and their supporters. Unfortunately, he is probably correct to observe that, despite the week-long non-violent rally by the red shirts, “Thailand’s peace [is] hanging by a thread…”. Ask why that is.



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1 01 2011
What the mainstream media won’t report III | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] the massive red shirt caravan circumnavigated Bangkok. The day after that caravan back in March, PPT stated: “Given the huge government effort to discredit the red shirt caravan of 20 March 2010, it is […]

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