TIME adrift on a stormy sea of lese majeste

7 06 2011

TIME magazine has, over several decades, been one of the international outlets that has done much to raise the profile of Thailand’s current monarch with laudatory treatments that tend to reproduce official palace positions. In this sense, it is probably a cause for some praise when the magazine produces something on lese majeste.

Robert Horn has an article that headlines that it will explain the current situation and what lies behind the spate of lese majeste charges. He doesn’t, and says little that is new. However, PPT thinks he makes some serious errors and interpretations that need to be highlighted.

Here’s one:

… few royals have commanded as much reverence at home and respect abroad as King Bhumibol, who, with 64 years on the throne, is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Now 83 and ailing, King Bhumibol has earned genuine praise, admiration and love during the decades for over 4,000 development projects designed to help the poor, and for intervening on rare occasions to end bloodshed during civil conflicts. The monarchy, deeply entwined with the 700-year history of the Thai nation, has long been viewed as the sole unifying force in society.

Now this is straight out of the royalist playbook, and no serious journalist could make this propaganda point so blithely and with so little account given to recent history and historiography. PPT is shocked that such palace propaganda is still so easily cut-and-pasted into an important article.

Here’s another:

Government literature on Thailand will tell you that the King is above politics. No reliable information has been presented that proves otherwise. But like the monsoon-flooding waters of the Chao Phraya River — the River of Kings — that run through the country’s rice basket and down past golden spires of the old Grand Palace in Bangkok, politics have inexorably been rising to the level of the throne.

Goodness! Has all of the media commentary around the time of the coup and since been ignored or forgotten? Where would we begin…. The king is dragged down? Again, this is right out of the royalist playbook. Forget 1976, for example, forget the privy councilors made premiers, forget the tapes of palace intervention on the judiciary. Where do we stop? Horn even mentions one of the queen’s recent interventions….

Horn notes that since 2006, “the courts have seen more than 400 cases”. He then claims that one of these cases was of an “opposition political activist who called for the execution of the royal family…”. Again, this is royalist material. PPT has pages on this case, including links to the speech.

A further misrepresentation is the claim that:

Although The King Never Smiles is banned in Thailand, much of what it contains had already been written in Thai by Thai academics. They faced no censure for their work….

We think that Horn again accepts royalist nonsense as fact. If this was true, why work so hard to ban the book? Why is the book translated into Thai several times? More worrying is the lack of recognition of several cases – including Ji Ungpakorn, Sulak Sivaraksa, and many more over several years – of academics being harassed with the use of lese majeste or threats of it. What was he thinking when he wrote this?


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