Banning a tabloid

8 03 2017

Prachatai reports that “[w]ithout any explanation, Thailand has blocked access to the New York Post.” The tabloid seems an unlikely newspaper to censor as it usually only carries stories that are somewhat kooky, titillate or shock.

The speculation is that the tabloid carried stories on the monarchy that were disliked by either the palace, the king, royalist snitches or some civil or military bureaucrat who stumbled upon them when linking to salacious articles about murderous threesomes of a beauty queen eating pizza (both recent articles).

So we thought we’d search the site to see what they had on Thailand. The most recent stories are of a bear “dropped” from a helicopter and the coin consuming turtle. Then there’s stuff about a python biting a man’s penis as it slithered out of a toilet and the monks breeding tigers. None of this seemed likely to exercise the internet censors or cyber vigilantes.

Back in 2016, there was a story a bit like the one that caused a kerfuffle and denials about Pattaya’s sex trade, “Inside the Thai sex scene — where women are sold like meat.” Perhaps that got some attention. Or maybe a related story bothered a do-gooder, “Gangs of transsexual sex workers are attacking tourists in Thailand.” Yet that is also from 2016.

What about royal stories? We found these, and in feudal-wannabe-absolutist Thailand under the military dictatorship, any of them could have caused censors to spring into action, even if all of them are months old and some are from wire services.

One on the death of the last king seems unlikely to cause offense: Thailand’s king, world’s longest-serving monarch, dies at 88. Another story we found in our search of the period since early 2016 was headlined Thailand prepares to welcome its new kooky king, which, apart from the headline, is a standard report on succession.

It is possible that articles on the prince who is now king might be a reason for censorship. The first story, Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy, reproduces the infamous temporary tattoo photos from Munich airport, and has some interesting detail, any line of which may have caused consternation in a palace and regime that wants a more santitized “history”:

… the playboy prince has a reputation among his soon-to-be subjects for bizarre behavior, womanizing and cruelty to his many wives.

Taking a page from Caligula, Vajiralongkorn named his favorite pet, a poodle named Foo Foo, as an air marshal.

He even took the pooch to a 2007 reception hosted in his honor by US Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce.

“Foo Foo was . . . dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts, and at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses,” Boyce wrote, according to a WikiLeaks document.

“The Air Chief Marshal’s antics . . . remains the talk of the town to this day.”

But tales of the prince’s behavior exist mostly in the realm of rumor in Thailand. The nation has strict laws banning stories about the royal family.

But in 2007, the depravity of Vajiralongkorn’s court was exposed when a video surfaced of his third wife, Princess Srirasmi, a former bar waitress, walking around topless at her own birthday party while eating cake with Foo Foo.

When the dog died last year, it was given a four-day funeral.

Srirasmi has split from the prince after being booted from the Royal Palace in December. In a show of his cruelty, he recently allowed her parents to be thrown in prison for 2¹/₂ years for “royal defamation.”

His earlier two marriages were equally rocky. During his first — to his cousin — he allegedly fathered five kids with a mistress, then married the mistress. Later he dumped her, forcing her to flee the country.

Another story, Thailand’s new king used his poodle to spite his father, could also cause the censorship, beginning with this:

Family relations were a royal bitch for Thailand’s clown prince.

The country’s kooky crop top-sporting playboy prince adopted Foo Foo, the pampered poodle he famously named as an air marshal — all to spite his father, according to a report.

This report cites a 2015 New Mandala story by Christine Gray, commenting on a lese majeste case.

The New York Post also has an article on lese majeste, This is what happens when you insult the new Thai king. This story features video of a “woman accused of insulting the kooky crown prince of Thailand was publicly humiliated and forced to grovel beneath a portrait of the country’s late king,” during the early mourning period for the late king.

If Thailand’s “authorities” are trying to concoct a new hagiographical account of the tenth king, then the internet censors have a huge task ahead of them.





On the new king’s accession

3 12 2016

New Mandala has had quite a few insightful article of late. Each looks at aspects of succession, accession and the new king. To link to some of these:

Christine Gray, “Ritual and the demise of Thai democracy

Andrew MacGregor Marshall, “What next for the theatrics of Thailand?”

Paul Sanderson, “Henry VIII of Thailand

Kevin Hewison, “Thailand’s long succession

 





Following the money

17 10 2016

In an earlier post, PPT drew attention to France 24 and an AFP story that “follows the money.” The story noted that the dead king left “one of the world’s richest monarchies, with a multi-billion-dollar empire spanning property, construction and banks.” Some say the Crown Property Bureau is worth almost $60 billion and each of the royals is individually wealthy while also soaking up taxpayer funds. If there is a competition for the top spot, and there might still be, then there are plenty of spoils for the winner/s.

On this theme of following the money, there are a couple of other stories worth considering. One is a report at AP. It begins:

Thailand’s king, who died Thursday, was reputed to be the world’s richest royal and one of the wealthiest people on the planet.

It was a status that clashed with the carefully managed image of a monarch intensely concerned for his people’s welfare and one that Thai authorities were always anxious to correct.

But try as officials might, there was no escaping that Thailand’s monarchy, embodied for 70 years by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was a fabulously wealthy institution in a country where the widening gap between an affluent Bangkok and a poor but well populated countryside fueled years of political conflict.

The CPB “has estimated revenue of $2.5 billion to $3 billion a year, from which part of the royal family’s expenses are paid.” Huge amounts come from taxpayers, last estimated at 18 billion baht for 2016 (we can expect this to balloon for the funeral).

The story also makes this point: “The roots of the Thai monarchy’s enormous wealth lie in the privilege and power enjoyed in the pre-1932 era of absolute kingship.” That’s true, especially for property. However, the largely untold story is how the ninth reign was able to get it all under its control and was able to multiply its wealth so spectacularly. The closest thing we have to an account of this is Christine Gray’s mammoth doctoral dissertation Thailand – The Soteriological State in the 1970s.

The other article is a post at New Mandala, which has a swathe of articles following the king’s death. In Death of a monarch or an oligarch? T.F. Rhoden discusses the centrality of the monarchy for what he identifies as an oligarchy in Thailand. He says the king was the “top oligarch.”

 





Updated:Commentary on the recent and next monarchy II

16 10 2016

A few more interesting articles have come out since our earlier post.

New Mandala has two further posts worthy of attention. One is by Christine Gray who writes about the censorship involved in writing about the monarchy. She sees the end of the reign as a chance for positive change but also an opportunity for violence, more censorship and a broth of blood.

Another New Mandala piece by anthropologist Edoardo Siani and historian Matthew Phillips. Unlike the largely trite and treacly journalism of the last couple of days, reflecting decades of subservience to palace propaganda, this post makes some excellent and important observations that go beyond grief and tears.

An oddity in the media is from the SCMP, about the Sino-Thai response to the king’s death. Writing about ethnic Chinese almost seems a throwback to decades past. That said, the king was half Chinese and he played a role in ensuring the loyalty of millions of Chinese congregated around Bangkok. Some of the views expressed are not necessarily in line with the treacly reports mentioned above.

The prince continues to be the focus of most of the critical stories that have become available. A quite extensive story at the New York Times by Alison Smale and Thomas Fuller. Readers will know many of the details of the story yet they are put together in an informative manner, including details from the little German town of Tutzing, on Lake Starnberg, where the prince appears to prefer to reside.

We noticed the comments of former foreign minister Kasit Piromya on the queenly qualifications of the prince’s current spouse, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya: “She’s an air hostess, very lively, highly intelligent…. She can ski, she can bike. She loves music. She knows what is good wine in Italy.”

The Wall Street Journal had an earlier report we initially missed, on the prince. There’s much well-known stuff – maybe WSJ readers need background – but also some nuggets:

Some people familiar with the situation say he is familiarizing himself with the workings of the Crown Property Bureau, one of the country’s most important landowners and the holding vehicle for much for the monarchy’s wealth.

To say the least, that is certainly an interesting observation.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a very important “note” titled “WHAT’S GOING ON IN THAILAND? Confusion reigns as crown prince waits.” Well worth a read.





Commentary on the recent and next monarchy I

15 10 2016

Assuming that the monarchy continues in one form or another, there’s some interesting commentary sparked by the king’s death. (The end of the monarchy following the 9th reign has been a prophesy heard previously – clicking the link downloads a PDF considered illegal in Thailand.)

Of course, there’s lots of hagiography too, reporting much that has been said about the king previously. A quick look at any news source in Thailand shows only this kind of reporting. Claims that the king was above politics and a force for stability were criticized years ago, as can be seen in the PDF linked above.

Here is some of the more interesting material currently available:

France 24 has an AFP story that “follows the money,” with a story on “one of the world’s richest monarchies, with a multi-billion-dollar empire spanning property, construction and banks.” One estimate is that the Crown Property Bureau is worth almost $60 billion. PPT would add that each of the royals is individually wealthy and each of them sponges off the taxpayer as well, so this is a fabulously wealthy capitalist conglomerate. If there is a competition for the top spot, then there are plenty of spoils for the winner/s.

The king’s unauthorized biographer Paul Handley has an op-ed at The New York Times. His conclusion is:

This is a bleak backdrop for the end of King Bhumibol’s reign. He was the model of a great king — modest, earnest and selfless, with his attention focused on the neediest. But he has left Thailand, as well as his heir, in the same situation he inherited all those years ago: in the hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals who rule however they want. And those King Bhumibol cared about the most — the Thai people — must suffer the consequences.

We are great fans of The King Never Smiles, but we are not convinced that the modest, earnest, selfless stuff isn’t buying palace propaganda (see the story above). We do agree that Thailand is currently in the “hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals,” we’d just point out that that was not the situation when the late king came to the throne. It was the Democrat Party’s founders, the old princes and other diehard royalists who used the death of the new king’s brother to overthrow a civilian regime. This was the first successful royalist coup.

Over at New Mandala, academic Lee Jones has an article called “The myth of King Bhumibol,” writing of his “weakness” of the king and identifies him as “a divisive and negative force for Thailand’s politics and democracy…”. We agree on the latter points but are not sure about the “weakness.” We think it better to view the monarchy and military as partners in anti-democratic rule.

Also at New Mandala, Nicholas Farrelly has an assessment of the king’s legacy. His view is of the king as a product of palace propaganda and image-making. He concludes: “But in late moments of reflection he [the king] may have regretted that his country became so ill prepared for mature leadership transitions and that his own charisma had been so regularly mobilised against the political wishes of the Thai people.” We doubt he regretted this. He considered Thais as children requiring discipline and direction and he provided it, for a while.

And, in another New Mandala piece, anthropologist Christine Gray writes about talking about monarchy. She writes about the past failures to challenge reporting and scholarship that was too accepting of palace propaganda. She makes an interesting point when she says “it seems tacky to criticise the dead” and then says it is necessary. She’s anticipated a ever stronger line on social media that argues that “now is not the right time for criticism.” It seems it is never the right time to be critical of the monarchy.

Along the same lines, Peter Symonds at WSWS has some useful observations. On not being truthful, he observes:

The king’s death was greeted with a wave of nauseating accolades from heads of state and political leaders around the world. US President Barack Obama issued a statement declaring that Bhumibol was “a tireless champion” for economic development and improved living standards. The UN General Assembly and Security Council stood in silent tribute. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Bhumibol’s “legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights.”

The international media followed suit, focussing on the outpouring of grief among the king’s supporters. The phrase “revered by the Thai people” appears in article after article, which either gloss over or completely ignore the Thai monarchy’s staggering wealth and its support for the country’s long succession of military coups and abuse of democratic rights.

The tabloids are also at work. The Mirror has been at it and so has the Daily Mail. The New York Post has a story titled “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” It reproduces some of the lurid stories about the crown prince – the Post might say clown prince. Srirasmi is mentioned. There’s other critical commentary, including by a former Australian ambassador to Thailand.