“Journalism” in the parallel universe or reporting for The Nation

1 01 2013

Sometimes it is as if the journalists at The Nation live in a parallel universe. As an example, read the latest year-end assessment by three journalists – Somroutai Sapsomboon,
Kittipong Thavevong and Samudcha Hoonsara. Their view seems to be that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is lucky to have retained her position. Their headline is: “Yingluck enters 2013 a survivor.”Nation logo

They are writing about a premier who won a landslide election in July 2011 and retains a popularity in surveys that is well above that of opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. So how is it that these journalists can begin their report with: “Thanks to powerful supporters, the PM has made it [survived] despite the brickbats”? They obviously don’t mean the electorate is considered amongst those “powerful supporters.” The norm in an electoral democracy is for a premier to maintain the broad support of the electorate and the confidence of parliament. Yingluck has both.

They go on to tell readers that Yingluck “has survived more than 15 months in office despite repeated attacks from critics and opposition politicians on her alleged ignorance, lack of political experience, and tendency to stay adrift of key issues.”

The point seems to be that there hasn’t been a military or judicial coup to oust yet another elected government. They seem to think that the real forces in politics, in the elite, the military and the palace would have or even should have chucked her out by now.

But these “journalists” refuse to give Yingluck any credit for her political “longevity”: she can only survive “thanks to support from many experienced and influential politicians behind her,” including “her brother Thaksin.” This statement is not one that expresses another norm of electoral politics – leaders have teams of advisers and have to deal with fractious issues. The Nation team seems to think that one-man politics (and “man” is probably the right term) is somehow better than working as a government and through parliament, for Yingluck is criticized as “invisible politically” and for insisting that “hot issues” are “matters for Parliament…”.

Worse, according to this set of “reporters,” Yingluck “needs much support and assistance … from experienced politicians and advisers in order to survive.” Her “political crime” seems to be that she has “trusted aides” and has advisers who “prepare her statements and often updates her on current affairs.” The idea of a Thai premier being advised and updated by experts and experienced politicians seems somehow anathema.

Of course, this is sour grapes journalism. The idea that Abhisit had no advisers is ludicrous when, say, Chuan Leekpai taking a significant role in dealing with major challenges for the Democrat Party and Abhisit. Thaksin relied on trusted advisers including Pansak Vinyaratn. And, we can hardly refer to earlier premiers like Chatichai Choonhavan without mentioning his group of advisers at Ban Phitsanulok.

When the report mentions Abhisit, it is a to make excuses for him and to criticize Yingluck for not (yet) having to face determined street politics. Abhisit “faced open shows of hatred … [and] was harassed often by small groups of red-shirt protesters in public.” And, of course, “Abhisit’s government was severely interrupted by the red shirts’ street protests in 2009 and the unrest and riots in 2010, which paralysed Bangkok for more than two months and led to more than 90 deaths under a government crackdown to end the stand-off.”

All of that excuses Abhisit’s politicized rule and the military- and palace-backed repression that caused a huge electoral backlash for an illegitimate government. Yingluck is seen to have only faced “a protest in November by the Pitak Siam group, which lasted less than one day. The protest was easily subdued, thanks to an efficient and swift crowd-control operation by the police…”. The reporters conclude: “She will need to try harder and be more hands-on in government affairs to silence the critics and reassure the dubious public.”


The parallel universe near The Nation building

This is nonsensical stuff. Rather than being praised for avoiding huge street politics and heading a popular and elected government that doesn’t kill and maim street demonstrators and locks up few political opponents, it is as if the journalists are saying her “cooler” approach to politics is somehow unfair when compared with the hapless Abhisit and his authoritarian approach to politics! The “public” is not dubious about Yingluck and she remains ahead of Abhisit in all polls of leaders.

The Nation and several of its journalists operate in a parallel universe that has a deep yellow tinge to it. Yingluck has done more than simply “survived.” As academic Kevin Hewison recently explained, the political cooling has been a successful political strategy: “The underlying rationale for all this has been a determination that the Yingluck administration should remain in place for a full term and gain re-election.” Another academic, Duncan McCargo, notes that: “Yingluck has gradually gained in stature, [and]… an extended term of office for Yingluck Shinawatra now looks increasingly probable.” For once the “ivory tower” seems fairer, more realistic and rational.



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