PPT posted recently on a Time story and added this footnote:”Time refers to Abhisit [Vejjajiva] specifically as ‘Thailand’s elected Prime Minister’ and to the king as the ‘constitutional monarch.’ PPT suspects that this is an attempt to appease those – especially in the current government – who have criticized the foreign media. A bit of toadying to the powers that be? Both statements might be technically accurate, but it is clear that neither carries the true meaning inscribed in these positions by Abhisit’s rise to his position or of the king’s political acts.”
We now hear from Nirmal Ghosh that CNN correspondent Dan Rivers is leaving Thailand, for a plum position in London. Nirmal states: “The move is well timed; seldom have foreign journalists working in Thailand come under the kind of pressure that Dan has. The government of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, soon after taking office, took a dim view of Dan’s reporting on the Rohingya boat people issue in early 2009.” One of those reports is here.
This is one of the human rights issues that the Abhisit government was able to simply sweep aside. As Ghosh points out, “The government immediately denied the accusations, saying the images had been faked and were misleading. But CNN stood by the story. Last year, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva admitted there had been ‘some instances’ when boats had been pushed out to sea, and pledged an investigation. The Department of Special Investigation was put in charge, but so far no results have been announced.” We know that the DSI is a political force, so supporting the regime is its main task. It was also another case where Abhisit was able to lie and get away with it.
More recently, Rivers and CNN came under attack from yellow-shirted nationalists like Napas na Pombejra, who made patently absurd claims that CNN’s coverage of red shirt protests in Bangkok was biased against the government and Thailand. Her claims drew the support of the queen and large numbers of the Facebook-generation of yellow shirts. For Rivers, this created not just personal threats, but a boycott by the government: “it has been impossible since the storm over CNN …, for Dan to get interviews with government officials. Even Thais in the private sector have been wary.”
More ominously, it brought out the ultra-nationalist, right-wing vigilantes in search of foreign correspondents seen to damaging the nation. Ghosh adds: “Rivers was not the only foreign journalist under attack. BBC correspondents were and still are, also subjected to criticism and vilification, for their coverage of the clashes. The trend is not new; in 2008 many foreign correspondents were blasted in speeches by right wing, royalist ‘yellow shirt’ leaders; on one occasion a right wing radio host urged members of the public to attack then-BBC correspondent Jonathan Head if they came across him.”
The howling of the yellow-clad right wing, reinforced in public ways by a right-wing monarchy, should be shameful to all Thais. Sadly, they will consider that this move by Rivers is a “victory.”