Updated: Some news reveals and some riles

18 06 2015

The mainstream media in Thailand has been both controlled by the military and has seen self-censorship on behalf of the military dictatorship. At the same time, there has been repeated displays of uncritical and, frankly, lazy reporting. In this post, we look at a few recent English-language reports that illustrate these trends, while concluding with examples of some recent opinion pieces that break the pattern.

To begin with, is the quite lazy and stupid report at the Bangkok Post of “the 12-billion-baht embezzlement scandal of the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative…”. This report begins: “A large number of US$1 million banknotes and €1 million debentures were found and seized yesterday from three safes belonging to Supachai Srisuppa-aksorn, a key suspect…”. This is so ridiculous that even 30 seconds of internet searching would have shown a reporter that the photographs (showing uncut “bills” and “debentures”) and claims were ludicrous. Despite this, this report states: “[t]he DSI was still verifying the seized land title deeds, and authenticity of the banknotes and debentures.” On the latter, the so-called super police might also be directed to the internet.

If this report is jaw-droppingly stupid, so is the claim made by National Legislative Assembly (NLA) chairman Pornpetch Wichitcholachai, cited at the Bangkok Post.  He has “sacked his personal specialist, Ratthanan Hiran-amornpak, after the man was arrested and charged with cheating investors of about 27 million baht.” We assume he is a personal assistant.

Pornpetch “said he appointed Mr Ratthanan his personal specialist because he had the qualifications required, but did not know about his criminal background.” Ratthanan was arrested for “cheating the public by luring them to invest in Wall Street Capital Group, a firm running a money exchange business, and promising a high return.” Such scams are reasonably common and often involve high-ranking officials and well-connected “entrepreneurs.” The report states that “[b]ackground checks revealed that Mr Ratthanan was formerly Pol Lt Col Piyachai Sadao, a chief investigator at Muang Khon Kaen police station…. He was dismissed from the police force on Jan 15, 2009 following a disciplinary investigation.” After that “bad luck” he changed his name.

We guess that in the rush to get his trotters in the public trough, like NLA colleagues he defended on nepotism, Pornpetch appointed friends, relatives or associates to “advisory” positions. Such associations often define one’s own failures and foibles.

More politically interesting is an editorial at the Bangkok Post where we are unsure if the editors are making a political point or being deliberately dull. Readers can decide. Here are two excerpts from the editorial:

It’s true that the Myanmar press of today has more freedom than, say, a decade ago under the thumb of the properly dreaded State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). It is true that foreign journalists have comparative freedom to work inside Myanmar. Yet, half a dozen years ago after being promised actual freedom of the press, Myanmar took two timid steps forward and a giant step back. Authorities browbeat, harass and threaten Myanmar journalists to encourage pro-regime stories and prevent honest reporting….

It is disappointing to see Myanmar backslide in this fashion. The country made real progress in several years of reform. President Thein Sein should end the repression and restart democratic reforms.

By not referring to the control and restriction on the media in Thailand when writing on Myanmar is the criticism implicit? Or is the editor wearing political blinkers?

And yet the Post can be less perplexing and sometimes quite useful. For example, the op-ed by Atiya Achakulwisut on the military dictatorship’s determination to hold onto power is a revealing piece. She begins:

Whether the new elections are held in August 2016, 2017 or 2020, the polls are losing their game-changing power as the military regime turns all roads to its advantage…. The Thaksin-Shinawatra camp must have seen how the powers-that-be have now strengthened their position to extend way into the future.

She believes that The Dictator, self-appointed “Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha must have spent years reviewing the failures of past coups to plot how to make his own a success…”. To be honest, we think this is giving too much credit to Prayuth and our guess is that he had his people review the 2006 coup and its “failure,” which was also repeatedly noted by other anti-democrats.

Tellingly, she says that it is “obvious the former army chief is acting with ulterior motives alongside every move implemented in the roadmap.” This is evidenced by his manipulation of “choices”: “Reject the draft charter, which is seen as an attempt to enshrine a ‘guided democracy’ doctrine, and they will probably not see a new poll in two years — even longer if the drafting process keeps on going…. Meanwhile … approve it, with the hope that the highest law can still be amended one day, the results will still be the same.”

She’s correct to observe that the upcoming election – whenever it is finally decreed that it can be permitted – will mean “no meaningful changes in government politics or public policy.” Even if a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party were to miraculously win an election, “it will be hamstrung by the reform and reconciliation agenda imposed by the charter and the so-called national reform steering assembly…”.  That’s been the junta’s plan all along.

She’s also correct to note that “[p]olls will become more of a ceremony than anything else.” More than this, under such circumstances, the new elections that would follow the approval of the charter will lack content and meaning. As she says “it does not matter…. People will feel they are exercising their freedom to choose. Politicians will be able to claim legitimacy if they win…. But the government will have to act in line with a limited role that the military regime is now carving out for it.”

Atiya “can see no way out for people who don’t want to live under authoritarian rule.” That is the way it will be and the military’s guns and the wealth of the royalist elite will ensure authoritarianism. She says: “there is no escaping the possibility that the country will come under guided democracy for the next several years.”

The Dictator has a scenario in place that is simply I win, you lose in all circumstances. For “Prayut and the military regime, it looks increasingly like a win-win-and-win situation.”

With a generally cowed and lazy media, this scenario is indeed likely.

Update: A reader points out to us that Atiya’s column could be seen as a statement of victory for the junta. We are not sure that that is a reasonable reading, but we do note that another op-ed, with a similar interpretation, is at the Bangkok Post. Nattaya Chetchotiros, who has often written anti-democrat material, writes: “Political pundits are certain the draft charter is doomed and will derail the roadmap, enabling the regime to continue its rule and postpone the new poll until a new charter is in place.” There seems to be a media trend that acknowledges the “failure” of the puppet constitution writers that allows the military to retain its political position. That acknowledgement appears more as an acceptance rather than anything more noble.


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