Speaking with and for murderous regimes

5 07 2010

Greg Sheridan is the foreign editor of The Australian newspaper. He’s conservative and has, over many years, chosen to provide support to various authoritarian regimes in Asia. For example, Singapore has long been pleased when he has written glowingly of the island state’s authoritarian leadership and their ideas about social and political control. He was also a supporter of the Suharto regime, which was constructed on the murder of enormous numbers in Indonesia and, later, East Timor.

So it is no surprise that he should turn up in Bangkok right at the time when the regime is sparing no expense to get positive stories in the international media and is busy acclaiming “true friends” of the current authoritarian administration.

For his article, Sheridan had privileged access to the leadership. And while he mentions the deaths and injuries of April and May, the glowing report is written as if the government that presided over the deaths of at least 90 persons and the injury to perhaps 2000 other and which has hundreds of political prisoners locked up is some kind of liberal regime struggling against evil foes. Of course, that is how Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceives of his role, barely noticing that he has lead the country into a new dark age of military-royalist-civilian authoritarianism.

Sheridan’s article begins like this: “Returning to Bangkok, you might think nothing had changed. The furious blast of hot air and the multi-sourced aromas of tropical Southeast Asia smack you in the face as you walk out of the airconditioned airport. The traffic is as unspeakable as ever, the people just as friendly. Can this city really have gone through such murderous convulsions a couple of months ago? … The deadly street violence of April and May, which left 90 people dead and 1400 injured, have left hardly a trace, visually. One or two burnt-out buildings are yet to be rebuilt, the city hotels are less full than usual.”

Only a fawning foreign journalist feted around a city by the government could not see the scars. No smack in the face from reality here. Even at Rajaprasong, before the recent heavy rains, one could still smell the smoke, see bullet holes and, if you got there before the authorities, see red ribbons commemorating the fallen. Talk with the people – yikes, that would be scary – and the scars are far, far deeper. Go to the north and northeast and hear of the disdain for this regime and of the disgust for the ruling class’s actions. Hear the frustration and anger. It is as clear as the nose on your face. But none of that for Sheridan as he dusts of the ruling class’s posteriors.

What does Sheridan write of? An “air of apprehension.” From whom? None other than security czar and chief political repressor Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban who “says parts of Bangkok are still at risk of attack or violence. There is talk everywhere of the Red Shirt protesters going underground and perhaps embarking on a campaign of sabotage.” Well that’s from the government that wants to maintain emergency rule in parts where they face opposition.

Sheridan is swanned into Government House, which he says is “indefensible and insecure behind its long, low fence, nonetheless now serene within, behind its traditional pagoda exterior.” Here Sheriden seems to confuse Italianate architecture – some say Venetian Gothic – with something chinoiserie. More importantly, he seems to imply that Government House was under red shirt siege. It wasn’t of course – the occupation of the building for some 3 months was by the yellow shirted PAD, supported by the Democrat Party, including Abhisit Vejjajiva and several senior party members who are now ministers.

There he meets Abhisit and describes the man who presides over a regime with hundreds of political prisoners as “[i]mpeccably liberal… [who] ought to be a hero of Asian democracy.” This is puerile nonsense remarkable for the fact that Sheridan is not just uninformed but engaging in a propaganda exercise.

All the more revealing of this propaganda exercise is the fact that he compares new Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s rise to that of Abhisit. Sheridan knows the comparison is false, but refers to “parliamentary defections and legal manoeuvres.” Abhisit came to power on the back of a coup, royalist machinations, military interventions and money politics. We know that wasn’t the case with Gillard, and Sheridan does too.

As if living in a political Disneyland – or is it just the one night in Bangkok effect – he says that “[a]lmost no one blames Abhisit for the violence this year…”. We can only assume that Sheridan has left Australia and thrown notions of ministerial responsibility out the window. More to the point, millions in Thailand blame Abhisit. We assume he didn’t ride in a taxi anywhere or talk with a low-paid worker in his hotel.

But perhaps Sheridan is in love? He describes Abhisit as “slim, handsome, dark-suited, perfectly groomed in that English public school way – almost like a Thai version of his fellow Old Etonian and Oxford graduate, British Prime Minister David Cameron.” And he even compares him with Bill Clinton. This is seriously flawed, fawning journalism.

Sheridan then embarks on a commercial-like advertisement for Thailand and its economy, with his only source being the prime minister. Likewise, he buys and repackages the nonsense pedaled by the government on the so-called reconciliation plan, ignoring criticism by a range of reputable civil society organizations.

The stupidity of this kind of “journalism” is seen in Sheridan’s answer to his own question. He asks: “But how do the Thai people themselves see the incidents?” Good question. Maybe Sheridan would attempt to find out. Nope. He quotes Abhisit on it. He cites the whole of the regime’s propaganda word for word. He even seems to believe the royalist line that the protesters were a misled bunch of rural dolts.

One of his more remarkable statements is that there are “bodies to refine the electoral rules to ensure a fairer democratic contest and to recommend ways of redressing the northeast’s feelings of neglect.” This is bizarre. The major issue of the period since 2005 is that election results have been continually overturned by judicial manipulation and military-palace coup. Fairness would involve accepting an election result. The result is that the Democrat Party is opposed to elections that do not elect them to government. That’s Thai-style “liberalism.”

It is no revelation that Abhisit, like so many of his class “blames Thaksin for the violence and intractability of the conflict on Bangkok’s streets.” And, like them, Abhisit claims that Thaksin financed the whole event. This just shows how out of touch Abhisit really is. It is also a claim that has been made for months with no evidence produced so far. Sheridan, like some cub reporter who hasn’t done his homework, simply parrots the propaganda as fact.

Another useful question is put: “So what is Thaksin’s purpose?” Where does the answer come from. Not Thaksin but Abhisit. What about elections. Abhisit gives no hint and Sheridan doesn’t push the point. After all, Abhisit is a liberal; he just fears election results.

Finally, just to show how compromised this “journalism” is, Sheridan refers to “credible inquiries into the violence of March and April” and says that these “inquiries are being headed by credible people, and the respected Human Rights Commission is conducting its own inquiry.”

Now let’s get this right. There are several inquiries going on? One assumes that Sheridan means that led by Kanit na Nakorn, which has already been written off by many as a sham and the other by the Department of Special Investigation, a pro-government and highly politicized force that was a part of the government-military center that conducted the operations that resulted in the killings and injuries. The notion that the NHRC is “respected” ignores all of the statements and comments by truly credible human rights groups.

Abhisit does come up with something that is a revelation for PPT. He states that he thinks the military is committed to democracy. He even says they have been “politically neutral.” One assumes that this neutrality involves, for example, breaking up red shirt demonstrations and killing people while doing nothing – nay, supporting – yellow shirt occupations of Government House and the airports. That’s Thai-style neutrality.

Most of the rest of the article is un-researched and uncritical tripe, including the comments on the monarchy being “above politics.” PPT wonders why a “journalist” even needed to visit Thailand to write this uncritical pulp. Okay, we know why, but the Thai Embassy in Australia could have written this account. What the “journalist” does is give regime credibility and makes propaganda seem like something else. At least Sheridan maintains his record of support for nasty, authoritarian and murderous regimes in Asia.



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5 07 2010
Speaking with and for murderous regimes « Political Prisoners in … -Political Fund USA

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