Rapping the military junta

5 11 2018

The mammoth number of views received by the ประเทศกูมี video – more than 28 million – has caused more international attention to the nature of the military dictatorship and its rigged election.

IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report states that there is an “increased likelihood of NCPO [junta] intervention in Thailand’s political parties…”. Perhaps Jane’s has missed the fact that the junta has been doing this since 14 May 2014. Oddly, the report also believes that “civil activities raises protest risks.” We don’t see any greater “risk” – we might say “hope” – of this than at any time over the past couple of years. The report sees the rap video as evidence of considerable dissatisfaction with the military’s rule. That is true.

Prompted by the rap, Hawaii Public Radio has a short report on the junta and its repression.

CNN has a longer look at the rap’s impact, quoting Dechathorn Bumrungmuang, one the group’s co-founders: “Our main goal to set up this group is just like our name, Rap Against Dictatorship. We want to use rap songs to fight against dictators…”. CNN notes:

Under [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha]’s watch, hundreds of activists have been arrested and prosecuted, political activity has been banned, and the sphere for robust public discourse has all but disappeared thanks to draconian laws that restrict online expression and increase surveillance and censorship.

Even the usually politically timid commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak sees that the “song taps into collective and pent-up anxiety and frustration. Its lyrics are a litany of political ills and social injustice Thailand is afflicted with.”

Al Jazeera has a video report that takes up many of the same issues and is well worth viewing. Interestingly, it also shows anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban campaigning in Bangkok. The junta continues with its double standards.





In charge of censorship for the rigged election

25 10 2018

The Bangkok Post is blunt in its short report on the junta’s appointment of anti-democrat Buddhipongse Punnakanta as the new government spokesman, replacing Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

Buddhipongse was a core member of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. He was only appointed as the prime minister’s deputy secretary-general for political affairs just over a month ago.

The Dictator declared that the reassignment “has nothing to do with politics.”

The Post disagrees, observing that Lt Gen Sansern will “slip into the background to control all government-run media and enforce censorship rules in the lead-up to the expected 2019 election.”

The Post might have added that the junta is hoping that having an anti-democrat leader as its spokesman will have electoral advantages in Bangkok and among the timid and anti-democratic middle classes.





Facebook and geoblocking for the junta

1 09 2018

The Online Citizen has a post from Andrew MacGregor Marshall titled “Why is Facebook helping dictators?

He begins by noting Facebook’s “public relations campaign to counter accusations that the platform enables dangerous disinformation and hate speech,” and observes that in recent days “Facebook took some of its boldest steps yet to counter misuse of the platform, removing 18 Facebook accounts, one Instagram account and 52 Facebook pages in Myanmar, followed by almost 12 million people. Among those banned was Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces.”

Meanwhile, he notes that Facebook works with Thailand’s dictators: “Facebook continues to pander to dictators by also blocking genuine news about their activities and atrocities. While it continues to do so, Facebook cannot genuinely claim to be promoting truth and cracking down on disinformation.”

In particular, he refers to Facebook having agreed to geoblock a particular video of the soon to be king in Germany. This made it “inaccessible to anyone resident in Thailand. ” Why did Facebook do this? It says that “Thai authorities [the military junta] had produced a court order claiming the video breached the draconian lèse-majesté law — which prohibits any content deemed insulting to the monarchy — and so it was obliged to geoblock the post.”

Marshall continues, saying that “Over the past month, the Thai authorities have escalated aggressive efforts to geoblock content deemed embarrassing to King Vajiralongkorn. Twelve of my Facebook posts have been geoblocked this month alone, and posts by several exiled Thai dissidents have also been affected.”

While 2018 data is not available, Facebook posts on what it calls “Content Restrictions Based on Local Law.” It states this:

When something on Facebook or Instagram is reported to us as violating local law, but doesn’t go against our Community Standards, we may restrict the content’s availability in the country where it is alleged to be illegal. We receive reports from governments and courts, as well from non-government entities such as members of the Facebook community and NGOs….

The recent data for Thailand is in the graph appended here, drawn from the Facebook reports. It seems there’s been a spike since King Vajiralongkorn took the throne.





Constructing the junta’s digital Panopticon

17 05 2018

Anyone who has watched the junta’s boot grinding down political activism, one of the most noticeable and distasteful of its repressive efforts has been to establish vigilantism supporting military hired spies who police the internet for content the military dictators feel is threatening. This usually means online lese majeste although the junta has also bee watchful of its own egos and has also policed the Thai world for political dissidents.

It seems that its “successes” in political repression and censorship have prompted the military and the junta to seek to construct a digital Panopticon. Initially devised by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, the idea was to construct a prison where the inmates could be observed without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The idea was to impose order and passivity because the inmates cannot know when they are being watched meaning they become motivated to act as though they are being watched at every single moment.

The junta wants all Thais and others in Thailand to believe they are under surveillance all the time. In other words, the whole society becomes, in everyone’s mind, a political prison.

An editorial at the Bangkok Post states that the junta “plans to recruit civilian so-called ‘cyber warriors’ … it needs to ensure they target the right groups of people.” The military dictatorship is hiring and training another 200 cyber spies, with a goal of having 5,000 by 2023. Such a massive spying mission is in the hands of the Minister of Justice – of which there is little – ACM Prajin Juntong.

The plan announced by the junta “leaves room for worries on whether they will be mainly used as a political tool to suppress freedom of expression and hunt down political dissidents.” Fascists will be fascists.

And, as the editorial notes, “a cyber security bill has been drafted pending approval by lawmakers. If enacted into law, it will allow the authorities to take broader control of online activity, including snooping on individuals’ personal computers.”

Another Bangkok Post story refers to the military – not a regular, civilian ministry – is developing ways of tracking tourists, investors and migrant workers, among others. Such tracking is used in other countries but it is only in the darkest of authoritarian regimes that it is the military doing it.

Be very concerned at how broadly the military has defined its role in Thailand. It has seeped and oozed into every arena and level of civilian administration. Even if a junta party doesn’t “win” the junta-granted “election,” the military thugs will be everywhere. The Panopticon is in place.





An anonymous Bangkok Post

16 05 2018

In the fallout following the Bangkok Post’s sacking/transfer of then editor Umesh Pandey, the Bangkok Post’s management first tried character assassination via other outlets.

That seemed to produce little positive for the tycoons’ press. So they have now tried statements of “integrity” and “autonomy.”

The statement is signed “The Editors of the Bangkok Post.” The problem is that this statement is effectively signed by an anonymous group. There are no names and when one goes to the company’s website (at 07:00GMT) there’s no indication of who might have the position of editor or editors.

Anonymous statements of integrity and autonomy are meaningless when there’s zero transparency. It does, however, say much about the Post as a company.





Bangkok Post capitulates on free expression

14 05 2018

This morning the Bangkok Post had an editorial on press freedom: “Censorship must go.”

Presumably this editorial was approved if not written by editor Umesh Pandey.

Prompted by the suspension of Voice TV, the editorial said things like:

Censorship by this regime began the day of the coup — May 22, 2014. At that time, martial law was in the hands of the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). The junta closed hundreds of community radio stations and effectively shut down all Thai broadcasting, as well as many foreign stations repeated locally. Eventually, all national broadcasters were allowed to resume, including Peace TV. Since then, the pro-Thaksin station, fronted by the top names of the red shirt movement, has been shut for various periods by the intrusive NBTC. By 2015, Prime Minister and junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha made the unconstitutional decision to give the NBTC the power to censor and ban any radio or TV broadcaster.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not in the constitution to protect parroting of the government line, repeating what official spokesman say or reprinting government or big-business press releases. Such publication and broadcast needs no protection. Extraordinary laws protecting the media and citizens’ speech are necessary to protect the opposition, dissidents and unpopular voices and views. One needn’t agree with a single word or opinion by Peace TV to disagree with government-approved decision to force it off the air.

By the time of the editorial was being read locally, Umesh was gone as editor. We are not saying that this particular editorial is the reason he’s been removed from his post. However, Umesh managed to improved the Post as editor, making it more like a real newspaper and being more critical of the junta than under his predecessor and re-establishing the Post as a newspaper that was worth reading.

Social media commentary suggests the Post’s owners and directors have been pressured by the military dictators to get rid of Umesh and this more critical reporting. Then again, perhaps the fabulously wealthy tycoon owners and directors prefer a newspaper that is junta-friendly. It isn’t the first time the Post has buckled on freedom of expression.





Calling out the NBTC

12 05 2018

It has taken a long time but two journalists’ associations have finally called out the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

The Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcasting Journalists’ Association have opposed the NBTC’s decision to shut down Peace TV for one month.So far so good, but then it all unravels for the associations and their apparent support of media freedom.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the station, associated with the official red shirts, has been closed by the junta’s NBTC, and the associations have been very reluctant to speak out.

This time, the NBTC revoked Peace TV’s license for “content of some programmes on air between March 26 and April 9 deemed inciting conflicts by the telecom regulator.” In making the decision, the junta’s lapdog regulator mentioned its boss’s Orders.

Nothing new in any of that as far as we can tell.

But finally recognizing the obvious, the two press associations “said the reference to the junta’s two orders to take action against Peace TV had jeopardised the NBTC’s credibility and showed that it had allowed outside influence to compromise its independence.”

“Jeopardized”? Really? The NBTC’s credibility was shot, trampled on and buried years ago.

The associations “also said the temporary closure was in violation of press freedom protected under the constitution.”

Well, yes, but it is the junta’s constitution and the junta can do anything it wants.

Then the associations supported violations of press freedom by suggesting that “[i]nstead of closing the station, the NBTC should selectively ban the programmes in question…”.

It seems the associations favor selective media freedom.