Update: Overcoming PR failures

25 07 2021

In many countries, the vaccine rollout has been mired in secret or opaque contracts and quite a few governments have been providing only sparse details about strategies, contracts, and plans. In Thailand, this has been made even more opaque because the AstraZeneca vaccine is produced by the king’s Siam Bioscience, which means that almost no information has been produced and critics repressed.

It has only been in the past week or so that AstraZeneca has released some information, although this also remains vague on details, with the most recent reported in the Bangkok Post.

Vaccine

In essence, the company appears to confirm production problems at Siam Bioscience. It does this when it states that the  company “is ‘scouring’ its global supply chain to try and boost Covid-19 vaccine supplies to Thailand and Southeast Asia…”. It adds: “We are hopeful of importing additional doses in the months ahead…”.

Siam Bioscience, “a first-time vaccine maker,” is said to have “not commented on reports of production shortfalls or delivery timelines.”

So if the monarchy/regime bet that the production of the vaccine would boost the monarch hasn’t worked, and the king and his family have been pretty much invisible for much of the current virus trouble. But, his birthday is upon him and he has to be seen to be doing something.

Out of the blue and from an unlikely source, with the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy using Facebook to “announce” a huge royal “donation.”

Of course, the “Academy” also came out of the blue to order a replacement Chinese vaccine to make up for the AZ shortfall. It on-sold the vaccine, but as Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Twitter has shown, the Academy’ has been demanding displays of royal loyalty from those being vaccinated.

But this is small chips compared with its most recent “announcement.”

The Bangkok Post reported that the “Academy” posted that the king had “donated more than 2.8 billion baht for procurement of medical supplies and equipment to support efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A couple of things come to mind. First, usually the Royal Household Bureau makes such announcements or through a Royal Gazette proclamation, so this one strikes us as being unorthodox. Second, the amount is large., but, if our shaky math is right, this “donation” would be about $85 million, amounting to only about 0.12% of his vast fortune (on our figures) or about double that if the usual figure for the king’s wealth is used – $30-35 billion.

On Facebook, the “Academy” claimed that “the the monarch donated the money to hospitals and medical facilities so they can buy medical equipment to deal with the pandemic…”.

If this report is in any way accurate – and often taxpayer funds are claimed as royal funds – then it seems  making up for the PR failures of the recent past is rather expensive.

Knowing the truth, though, is pretty much impossible.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has had a couple of very useful posts on virus politics at Secret Siam. In particular, related to our post, he points to a Prachatai post in Thai on the king’s “donations.” That article points out that the original “Academy” post was soon removed. It also points out that the figure is not very different from the previous report on royal donations.





Targeting Facebook on anti-monarchism

5 07 2021

About three weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.” We assume he got his orders from higher up because the DES immediately ordered dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours. Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling or pornography sites. But the real target anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Three weeks later and not much has happened apart from the regime getting ever more twitchy, again suggesting that there’s very high-level pressure on them.Facebook-Dislike-Button

As Thai PBS has reported, the regime has resumed its battle with Facebook, over the content it still deceptively claims is “fake news” when they mean sites that provide information about the monarchy:

These accounts – all operated from overseas – are registered to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, his discussion page Royalist Marketplace – Talad Luang, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Suda Rangkupan, Pixel Helper, DK Ning, Aum Neko, and Kon Thai UK. Several of the account owners are wanted in Thailand for lese majeste.

Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is flustered, saying: “Despite negotiations, Facebook has refused to follow orders to block eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”.

He demanded that Facebook “show responsibility towards Thailand’s issues and comply with the country’s regulations, given the fact that Facebook has many users in the Kingdom.”

There’s two things to note here. First, the minister demands that the whole of Facebook follow royalist norms and the regime’s illegitimate use of draconian laws. In other words, he seems to be going beyond the usual demand for geo-blocking of popular anti-monarchy  sites. Second, he seems to be threatening Facebook with exclusion from the Thai market, which would require that the regime descend further down the Chinese road and come up with state-approved, state monitored social media platforms.





Facebook and monarchy panic

25 06 2021

About two weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.”

DES sprang into action, ordering dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours.Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling sites and more significantly, anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Two weeks later and not much has happened.

Now DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn “has threatened legal action against Facebook for refusing to close the accounts of users deemed to have disseminated fake news and criticised the monarchy.”

Most of the sites he’s worried about are anti-regime and anti-monarchy.

The regime’s latest tactic in shutting down anti-monarchy sites is to have local courts – fake courts? – rule them illegal. This then permits a “legal” censorship, with DES sending demand “letters to the internet service providers and Facebook in Thailand to make them comply.”

The big concern is for social media accounts that spoof and report on the monarchy: those associated with Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, which have yet to be shut.

Minister Chaiwut lamented: “Despite the negotiations, Facebook has still refused to follow orders to shut down eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”. He seemed to threaten Facebook’s existence in Thailand: “As there are many users in Thailand, Facebook must also be responsible for the country’s issues, as well as comply with Thai regulations…”.

Watch this space.





Updated: The anti-monarchy virus

5 06 2021

Seemingly worried that the nation lacks herd immunity, the royalist regime is increasing its efforts to prevent infection by the anti-monarchy virus. The latest effort involves enlisting the royalist courts to ban eight social media pages.

The Ministry  of Digital Economy and Society which only seems to work on banning free expression and thought, has had the courts order these pages closed “because their content allegedly violates the Computer Crime Act.” We assume it is not “alleged” as they have been banned.

The Ministry “announced that the Facebook pages of Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Royalist Marketplace, Suda Rangkupan, ป้าหนิง DK, Aum Neko, KTUK and Pixel HELPER will be removed.” The Nation report says “[t]hese pages carried politics-related content and were critical of the Thai government.”

This is not entirely accurate. They have been banned for their anti-monarchy content.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Ministry describes these sites as having “posted fake news…”. Some might suggest that these sites do sometimes post rumors and guesses about the monarchy. But that reflects the medieval secrecy associated with a monarchy that gulps taxpayer funds, regularly intervenes in politics, has an unsavory reputation, and has a nasty, symbiotic relationship with the military.

Thai PBS gets the reason for the ban right, adding that the Ministry “summoned internet providers to acknowledge a court order to block or delete eight Facebook accounts, groups and fan pages, known for their criticism of the Thai monarchy.”

The court order apparently also applies to “[a]ny new or other accounts related to the same users, providing similar content…”.

This is one step in a process of getting Facebook to take down these pages. In an increasing ly authoritarian capitalist world, it seems likely that Facebook will fold. In seeking to enforce royalist silence on the monarchy, a “working committee has also been set up to pressure platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to ban accounts which feature content which violates Thai laws…”. You see the issue here. A mad or medieval regime can have all kinds of regressive laws and thus pressure the huge internet businesses.

In Thailand, the Ministry announces that it “…

© Shutterstock

now gives importance to prosecuting violators to the fullest extent of the law…”. The court order requires ISPs “to remove or block information posted by the individuals on websites and social networks, along with their passwords and IP addresses, from their computer systems.”

The Bangkok Post story cites Sunai Pasuk of Human Rights Watch, who “called the court order a censorship order instructing Facebook to ban critics of the monarchy. That will put a chokehold on people’s ability to express themselves as well as on the social media platform’s open space…”.

The royalist regime believes such a chokehold will prevent the anti-monarchy virus from spreading further.

Update: Prachatai reports:

On 2 June, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society (DES) Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn invited Internet Service Providers to acknowledge a court order to restrict access to or delete computer data of 8 allegedly illegal users on Facebook within 24 hours. Four days on, the pages of the targets remain accessible.





Me, me, me

29 04 2021

Readers might be interested in a story at Yahoo News/The Daily Beast that uses the Secret Siam work of Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Titled “Thai Princess Shuts Down Koh Samui Beach For Private Vacation as COVID Surges,” the article refers to Princess Sirivannavari’s “less than impeccable timing” as she “decided it’s time for a diving vacation.”

Using Marshall’s reporting, it states that the “brilliant at everything” (our words) Princess has taken off to:

the island paradise of Koh Samui … as the country reels under a virulent third wave of the coronavirus, a disastrous vaccine rollout marred by cronyism, a complete shutdown of the pivotal international tourist trade, and a political crisis that has resulted in a jailed anti-monarchy and pro-democracy campaigner being desperately ill after a 42-day hunger strike.

Of course, she’s already jumped the line and had her vaccine.

The report adds that “Sirivannavari has been gaily sharing images from the holiday on her private Instagram account, which have been published by subscription newsletter Secret Siam.”

It cites Marshall as reporting that:

orange flags bearing Sirivannavari’s royal crest have been raised around the island and that there is a heavy security presence with five naval vessels anchored off local beauty spot Crystal Bay. Sail Rock, between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, widely regarded as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, has been completely closed to all other boats, with local diving companies told to stay away during her trip.

Readers may recall the kerfuffle regarding her earlier trip to the islands, her great love for the islands, even wanting one named after her, and her political bet that celebrity royals can flaunt their prestige, wealth and power without much pushback in royalist Thailand.

Naturally, the lese majeste law and having an authoritarian royalist regime in power supports her chosen lifestyle.





Updated: Mafia regime

26 04 2021

The monarchy-military regime is a mafia regime. We at PPT may not be very worldly, but we can’t think of another regime that has a convicted heroin trafficker as a deputy minister and as a major powerbroker in a ruling party.

Thammanat

Clipped from Khaosod

A Bangkok Post report alerts us to the centrality of convicted drug trader Thammanat Prompao to the Palang Prachachart Party’s electoral profile and successes. Thammanat has been assigned by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan to destroy coalition partner the Democrat Party’s electoral base in the south of the country.

The party mafia is using state funds to do this by appointing Thammanat “to supervise a national centre for Covid-19 coordination” with “particular attention to the southern provinces of Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket,” all Democrat Party strongholds..

The Democrat Party leader “said the move may be designed to pave a path for the PPRP to eat into the Democrat stronghold in the future.”

Crooks have big appetites.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Secret Siam also has a post on the regime’s mafia links. This story relates to the regime’s coalition partner, the Bhum Jai Thai Party. Well worth reading.





Violence and double standards II

3 03 2021

As there was a couple of weeks ago, there’s again some banter about protesters and violence in the mainstream media.

With 22 protesters arrested and some 30 officially reported as injured, two-thirds of them police, Khaosod says some activists are again questioning “tactics” and especially the idea of a “leaderless” protest.

Meanwhile, the Thai Enquirer has a completely different story, while sounding like a throwback to the Cold War, writing of “pro-Marxist” protesters and blaming “Free Youth leaders” for violence. It says that Free Youth’s advice to protesters speaks of its “violence” for telling protesters in advance to “wear face mask and running shoes but no jewelry, necklace or contact lens and to cover their face with disguises…, [recommending] protestors … bring security helmet, gas mask, thick gloves, first aid kit and other protest equipment.”

As far as we can tell, that seems pretty standard advice to protesters since last year.

In the two reports there’s only one photo of a protester being aggressive towards police – throwing a plastic water bottle. There are quite a few photos of police firing weapons, which tends to suggest that Thai Enquirer’s claim that “photos and videos of confrontations will only support the government and police claims that the pro-democracy protestors are violent when the majority of them are not” is not quite correct. But this kind of advocacy is naive and dangerously close to supporting a regime with decades of anti-civilian violence in it DNA.

A little bit of fishing around produces a report of a journalist arrested and charged, and evidence of the authorities’ use of rubber bullets. PPT watched the protest on livestreaming and there was very little violence in evidence. That may be because the police again restricted the activities of journalists or it may be that those doing the livestreaming were in the wrong place when there was violence elsewhere. That said, there was plenty of ducking and diving when the police fired off their weapons.

It is also noticeable that social media has shown pictures of people in plainclothes throwing items at protesters and video of plainclothes police and military dressed like protesters:

As Andrew MacGregor Marshall points out at Secret Siam, these were mostly “soldiers sent by the palace supposedly to protect royal buildings.”

It is noticeable that in the mainstream media’s reporting, there’s almost no information on what the protesters wanted and why they marched. Prachtai fills the gap:

The protest, which was called by the activist group Free Youth movement, now known as REDEM (Restart Democracy), started at the Victory Monument before marching to the 1st Infantry Regiment to demand that prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha move out of army housing, as he retired from the army in 2014. The group also said that electricity and water bills for the army housing are paid for with taxpayer money.

The 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Close Bodyguard, was also one of the army units recently transferred to King Vajiralongkorn’s personal control. The group is therefore demanding that the control of the army units be transferred out of the King’s control.

REDEM also calls for the monarchy’s power to be limited, for the military to stay out of politics, and for universal state welfare.

These demands are aligned with those made several months ago. The emphasis on the king’s arguably unlawful control of military units is not discussed in the mainstream media.





Secret Siam

19 01 2021

Secret Siam is a new paid subscription blog by Andrew MacGregor Marshall. PPT readers may be interested. Here’s his blurb on the new venture:

Why should I subscribe?
Thailand has been convulsed by an unprecedented uprising against the monarchy and military by a new generation demanding democracy, equal rights and freedom of speech. It’s a 21st century struggle being fought on social media as well as the streets of Bangkok, and it reverberates far beyond the country’s borders. The kingdom has become a key battleground on the front lines of global resistance against authoritarianism.

The escalating rebellion is a new chapter of an old conflict. In 1932, a bloodless revolution ended centuries of absolute monarchy in Siam. It was heralded as the dawn of democracy in the kingdom, but royalists never accepted defeat and have been fighting ever since to restore the primacy of the palace. It’s a struggle that has defined the destiny of modern Thailand, plunging the kingdom into a cycle of coups and confrontations it has never managed to escape. It’s still being fought today.

Most analysis of Thailand barely mentions this at all, because telling the truth about Thai politics and history is illegal. The country has the most draconian lèse majesté law in the world. Expressing anything less than unquestioning adulation for the monarchy can get you jailed for years. Most journalists and academics understandably prefer to steer clear of the subject as much as possible.

This means much of what is written about Thailand is misleading or inadequate, because to explain what’s going on you need to address the role of the monarchy in the kingdom’s turbulent history and politics. So that is what I will do in this newsletter. I hope to make Secret Siam the best resource for anyone who wants to get the full uncensored story of what is happening in Thailand. I will not be ignoring the elephant in the room. This newsletter is about the elephant in the room — the monarchy and its role in the long conflict that has destabilised the country for decades.

I’ll be covering all sides of the conflict — not just the antics of the palace, the military and politicians, but also the plans and strategies of the protesters. And although I will focus mostly on current events I will also be regularly writing about past chapters in Thai history, to show how old events are still influencing the political drama today.

The newsletter will be useful for analysts, journalists, investors, academics and diplomats, but above all it is aimed at everybody who cares about Thailand and wants to stay updated with the most comprehensive and accurate information available.

What’s included in the subscription?
Although I will be sharing content free from time to time, to receive most issues of the newsletter you will have to pay for a subscription. It’s $5 a month, or $50 per year. The reason I am charging is because a lot of work goes into my journalism on Thailand, and this is the only way I can make it financially sustainable.

Subscribers will receive at least two newsletters in your e-mail inbox each week. Every Monday, I will share a comprehensive roundup and analysis of the events of the previous week, with links to recommended articles published elsewhere as well as my own commentary. Every Friday I will publish a detailed original article focusing on interesting aspects of Thai politics, history or culture.

When there are major breaking developments, I’ll aim to publish updates and analysis in real time as events unfold.

Subscribers can also access the entire archive of past articles at the Secret Siam website, and you can post comments in the discussion area.

So if you think Secret Siam sounds interesting, please consider subscribing!





Maintaining the monarchy’s secrets

12 12 2020

As lese majeste charges pile up, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta – one of Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee men – seems to think that the best way to douse the flames of anti-monarchism is to cut off sources of information.

That’s about what we’d expect from a rightist with a track record of censorship for the monarchy. His last effort was against Pornhub, where Buddhipongse declared “that the decision was not related to a clip featuring an important Thai personality that was posted on the website.” Everyone knew he was talking about the king and his former wife, the latter having been treated loathsomely by the former, and that the clip of her near naked was the reason for the ban.

This month, Buddhipongse is seeking to censor critics of the monarchy and those who provide information on the monarchy that the regime and palace would prefer remained secret.

DES claims to have sent “evidence” to police and to be seeking “legal action against social media platforms that fail to remove URLs deemed inappropriate.” The PDRC minister said “the ministry has asked the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to take action against a total of 496 URLs which violated the Computer Crime Act and security laws between Oct 13 and Dec 4.”

Marshall

Of these, “284 URLs are on Facebook, 81 on YouTube, 130 on Twitter, and the rest on other platforms,” with DES identifying “19 account owners — 15 on Facebook and four on Twitter…”.

The ministry is after “Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who faces 74 court orders to block 120 URLs; Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who faces 50 court orders to block 66 URLs, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who faces 194 court orders to block 439 URLs.” This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Pavin

Um, that’s already 631 URLs…. Something is wrong with the numbers, but let’s just say that the regime reckons these social media activists are lighting the fire under the protesters, so dousing them, they mistakenly think, will put out the anti-monarchism. In a sense, to mix metaphors, the DES and the regime are trying to put the horses back in the barn after thousands of them have bolted.

This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Somsak

The ministry’s public cyber vigilantes are continuing to report anything and everything. Last month alone, these royalist screenwatchers reported, via the “Volunteers Keep an Eye Online” webpage, 11,914 URLs. Of these, even the ministry could only deem 826 of them “illegal” while the pliant courts found 756 were to be blocked. The ministry and police must be inundated with work for the monarchy.

Buddhipongse is furious that the social media platforms don’t follow his orders, with Facebook blocking 98 of the 487 links he wanted blocked. Twitter removed 8 of 81 URLs. YouTube is far more pliant, blocking all 137 links the ministry flagged.

It is deeply concerning that these social media giants take seriously court orders from a judiciary that is a tool of the regime in political cases and on the monarchy’s poor PR. All the same, the information and the monarchy’s secrets are out there, and the regime will not be able to sweep it away.





Updated: Palace PR at full throttle III

23 11 2020

It may be that the current palace PR effort is about to be undone (again).

Royal critics Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew McGregor Marshall have both has posted pictures they he says are from phones that once belonged to Consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi. Andrew McGregor Marshall has confirmed the existence of the photos. Many of the hundreds of photos are said to show her naked. Both imply that that the leaking of the photos is a part of a continuing conflict between Queen Suthida and Sineenat.

In the past, the leak of naked photos of the crown prince’s/king’s women have indicated some kind of “partner crisis.” The king has displayed a penchant for erotic images of his women and PPT has previously seen photos of former wives Yuvadhida Polpraserth and Srirasmi and of current queen Suthida. Of course, the video of a naked Srirasmi has been widely circulated.

Pavin and Marshall, who don’t always see eye-to-eye, have begun leakeding some of the tamer photos this information with the latter claiming he’s had them for some time and initially decided not to make them public on moral and ethical grounds. It seems that several news outlets also have the photos, so it may be that they racier photos will come out sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Marshall has posted links to German news media suggesting that the king’s troubles there are not over. One is an Ardmediathek video report and the other is a 2DF video report. Interestingly, Deutsche Welle reports that “Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn may be expelled from Germany if he issues decrees from his Bavarian villa, the Bundestag has said.” The report clarifies that the king has diplomatic immunity when he is in Germany, meaning that the “German state has very little power to prosecute the Thai king, despite recent threats by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.” Rather, Germany would need to expel “the king from Germany as a ‘persona non grata’…”.