CNN, the royalist trap and the propaganda time warp

5 12 2011

CNN is highlighting Thailand this week. It may as well be a paid advertisement for the monarchy and country as Thailand falls for the royalist propaganda trap that has captured so many foreign journalists in the past.

The centerpiece of the series of reports is advertised as a CNN exclusive interview with Princess Sirindhorn as she visits the rural “royal children.” Normally, at this time of the year, and with the king’s 7th cycle anniversary birthday, we would expect something on the king, but he hasn’t been active in rural areas for a very long time. So the birthday advertising this year features the seemingly ever-jovial Sirindhorn.

Readers can watch the report themselves, and as they do, consider some of these points. The report is said to come from the unknown “Nakhorn” province (hopefully CNN at least finishes the name of the province). It is a report stuck in a time warp. CNN gives us the new royal propaganda, which is the same of the old stuff. It could be from National Geographic in the 1970s.

The first is that the headline comment is plagiarized from that usually reserved for the king: “Revered in Thailand, Princess Maha Chakri Sirinidhorn uses her status to improve education in deprived communities.” Of course, there is no evidence in the report that Sirindhorn is really “doing” this. Like all royal projects, the Border Patrol Police schools cannot fail, get special attention and plenty of money spent on them. The report seems to think this a virtue.

The report misleads by implying that this all comes from the princess. In fact, these projects owe a great deal to the Thai taxpayer.

The headline itself is just syrupy: “Thailand’s Angel Princess,” where the hapless reporter fails to note that “Prathep” or “angel” is a part of the princess’ title. Nor does reporter Paula Hancocks ask why it is that the monarchy works on schools with the BPP. Later, there is no question raised as to why the princess is in an Army uniform and surrounded by fawning Army officers.

Of course, they can’t do a real story and explain the long link between the BPP, and we could never expect CNN to recall that the BPP were the royalist murderers of October 1976. Likewise, we couldn’t expect CNN to report the close links between the Army and monarchy that has buttressed both and worked against democratization, even resulting in dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries as recently as May 2010.

Even the good works completed by the team of doctors and dentists raises several questions, the most basic of which is: is it even necessary in modern Thailand or is this kind of charity an artifact of a previous era, maintained for propaganda purposes?

Perhaps most striking in this throwback propaganda is the claim that the princess is the one who has made education and health care a right for the children in the report. Of course, this is nonsense. The right to health care and education has been established for some time, in the policies of several governments and funded by the taxpayer. This amounts to a denigration of the work done by hundreds of others.

When it comes to the section of the report on floods, the report claims “she [Sirindhorn] has been directly involved in helping the country’s efforts.” Perhaps, but think of all the others that have done so much more. Why the royal posterior polishing?

With Anand Panyarachun’s new book and this CNN report it becomes clear that there is yet another major attempt to rehabilitate the monarchy’s image. While this recognizes the damage done to the monarchy in recent years – mainly by loopy royalists – it is startling that the means chosen is no different from last decade, the one before that or even before that. There seems little attempt to update the message or the medium. Sirindhorn may well be the most popular face of the monarchy at present, but the message hasn’t changed.

But really, shouldn’t CNN be better than this?



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