Updated: Junta election and the junta media

2 03 2019

A veteran reporter at the MCOT state media outlet has been sacked “after hosting a debate in which young voters voiced broad opposition to the military government.”

Of course, this action is in line with the junta’s control of state media, its political prickliness and its penchant for censorship. But it also suggests that the junta and The Dictator are concerned that their expected election victory is not going to be as clear cut as they had planned.

Orawan Krimwiratkul said she was dismissed “because her employer said she was biased.”

The Dictator seems to have been miffed by the questions asked of students and their responses:

The questions were: Do you agree with Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s decision not to debate his opponents? Do you agree with the 2017 Constitution allowing 250 senators to elect the prime minister? Do you agree that a 20-year national strategic plan is necessary for Thailand? Do you agree that Thailand can either be fully or half democratic so long as it improves the livelihood of the people?

The overwhelming majority of students disagreed with all four statements.

According to MCOT, Gen Chatchalerm Chalermsuk, a member of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly, is the chairman of the MCOT board. Another director, Jirachai Moontongroy is listed as Permanent Secretary, The Office of the Prime Minister. Most of the other directors, while listed as “independent” are state officials or have held several junta-allocated positions.

The continuing comments by reporters that the election might be free and fair are farcical.

Update: After some time thinking and meeting, MCOT president Kematat Paladesh “has “explained” that the events involving Orawan were a “miscommunication.” He said that she was not meant to be fired but just removed from the hosting the next episode of the show. That’s quite a “miscommunication.” Sounds a bit like a cover up.

Media unfreedom

25 06 2010

Democrat Party Minister Ong-art Klampaibul, with a former career in journalism before politics, has recently been “assigned to supervise the operations of state-owned media, namely the MCOT and the Public Relations Department.”

The Bangkok Post interviewed him. Amongst other things, including statement about independence and freedom, the major point made concerns so-called media reform. The minister states that “media reform” is not easy to solve because he sees it as “a problem that has grown for 5-6 years.” That’s not accurate when one thinks of the debates on media reform previously, and even the way in which constitutional provisions were ignored in some media in the past. He says: “We want to be a good democratic government. If the media criticise the government within the scope of the law, we will accept it.” Of course, as an element of the media blocked by the government under its emergency decree, PPT thinks this is horse manure. The current government has done more than any recent government to censor and close various media, and has been selective in this. The “law” is whatever the government decides it will be, as under the emergency decree.

Ong-art adds: “Problems emerge when the media criticise not only the government but also other parties, especially our major institution. There are hundreds of problematic situations and the problem was not handled right when the wrongdoing started. The problem was allowed to expand.” So it looks like, as expected, media reform means protecting the monarchy and its favored government. More of the same censorship and repression.

The longer this government maintains power, the more Orwellian its language and policies become.

The Monarchy and National Security

15 01 2010

Prachatai recently reported that Abhisit has set up an “Advisory Committee on National Security Cases Involving the Monarchy,” for the purpose of “advising the police, DSI and ICT Ministry on the careful, appropriate and fair conduct of lèse majesté cases.”

PPT asks: whose nation, and whose security? Does silencing dissent, and causing other citizens to be afraid to speak really make Thailand more secure? Or might it have the opposite effect?

Read the Prachatai piece here, including a link to the MCOT release: 13 January 2010, “Abhisit Sets up Advisory Committee on National Security Cases Involving the Monarchy”

Rumors of the king’s demise

15 10 2009

First post: The Nation (14 October 2009) reports that the stock market was down 2% “on profit-taking.” The Bangkok Post (14 October 2009) reports that, according to Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) president Patareeya Benjapolchai, the “deep decline in the … SET … composite index on Wednesday was only a minor correction…”.

Normal stuff. But look further down in these very short reports. The Nations says: “There was a panic in early trading due to rumours, but the market rebounded…”, while the Post again cites Patareeya: “Investors should not be too worried about rumours. From what I’ve seen today, there was no special incident affecting the stock market…”.

So what is this about? The king and his health of course, as the Bangkok Post (14 October 2009: “King in good health”) reveals that “rumours of his deteriorating health rattled the country’s stock market.”

In one of the longer of recent reports regarding the king’s almost month-long hospitalization, the palace has had to explain that the king is “in good health” but then appears to contradict this by adding that he “must stay in hospital.” He has has a “lung infection, fever, fatigue and loss of appetite.”

Worries about succession and political stability are likely to be high on the agenda for Thailand pundits.

Update 1: Also available as: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์ and as อัพเดท: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์ and อัพเดทๆ: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์

Update 2: The SET index on Wednesday tumbled 15.20 points, or 2.04 per cent, to close at 731.47 points on concerns over the king’s health. On Thursday, the stock exchange has plunged further on further rumors regarding the kings health. At the close of trading, stock prices recovered some ground. The index was “off about 5.6 percent at 690.4 after touching a six-week low of 670.72, wiping away 10 percent, or $18 billion, of the market’s value in two days. The baht currency, also hit by strong selling, was trading around a two-week low of 33.59 per dollar.” (Reuters)

The Nation (15 October 2009) reports that “shares dropped 5.3 per cent in value Thursday.” It cites Chaiyudh Jiwangkul, an analyst at Country Group Securities, who says: “This is the second day the market has been hit by rumours…”. Chaiyudh adds: “This panic started abroad, not at home, but when locals saw foreign investors selling they have followed suit…”. PPT is unsure whether to believe this. We know that the rumors were circulating in Thailand and were exceptionally strong within the business community and that they are exceptionally jittery.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post (15 October 2009) reported that the SET index had fallen below 700 points as rumours spread. The SET has a “circuit breaker” is activated by a 10% decline. SET officials said: “The market would like to warn investors to closely follow announcements from relevant agencies. They should not panic about the rumours …”. They said there had been “a huge sell-off already.” The usually nearly invisible Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij “called on investors to be careful when considering rumours and information relating to the bourse.” He added that the government had “no plans to support share prices.” Meanwhile, the “Royal Household Bureau said on Wednesday night His Majesty’s general health was good but he needed more time to fully recover from a bout of pneumonia. Another bulletin is expected tonight.”

Update 4: PPT just did a quick search via Google News and found some 220 reports on the stock market plunge and the king’s health. Included are all the major business outlets (Businessweek, Reuters, Bloomberg, Forbes, AFP and so on). The rumors are now news. Most of these reports are in the past 2-3 hours (of 1:30 p.m. GMT on 15 Oct).

Update 5: The Nation’s State has a round-up of the blogs on this topic. The Times (15 October 2009: “Thai stock market plummets amid rumours King Bhumibol has pneumonia”) has a useful account of the unfolding of this story.

AFP’s report (15 October 2009: “Thai stocks plunge on concerns over king’s health”) has some analysis. One unnamed brokerage source commented that the king’s health is a “major concern,” adding: “The king is a key institution for political stability in Thailand so the market is closely watching his health…”.

Maybe they should also be watching out for the crown prince. He has been in Europe and if the king is seriously ill he’ll need to be in Bangkok.

While the AFP story captures some of the fear, that fear is a part of a larger royalist project. As Kevin Hewison, a Thai politics researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is reported, “From school and in the media, people are told that the monarchy is central to what it means to be Thai.”… “The monarchy is a large part of the way many people believe Thailand operates at the moment…”. That’s true, but Thais have had a while to get used to the idea of the king’s passing. Massive grief will be seen and demanded but political turmoil is unlikely. Scenarios for turmoil would have to involve meddling with succession or a usurping of the throne. The military will be on alert, and may already be, but other political groups seem unlikely to make political advantage in the short-term. Longer term, though, may be another matter.

It is clear that the palace – the Royal Household Bureau – is handling the reporting of the illness very badly, allowing rumors to develop and intensify.

Update 6: Worse, the Thai News Agency (MCOT) reports (and here) on stock market declines and rumors without mentioning the obvious. They blame red shirts and Map Tha Phut and by doing so make the rumors seem more important. Meanwhile, The Nation (16 October 2009: “Baht depreciates after stock sell-offs”) seems unable to even mention the rumors on the king’s health in some of its stories. This is as much as they can say: “The baht gained in early-morning trade yesterday after dropping the most in four months on Wednesday following rumours – which were denied – that shook the stock market and the currency.” No one from outside could possibly understand its long report on the sudden decline of the baht, unless of course they had access to the nearly 300 international and local reports that mention the cause of the rumors. Terrible reporting that makes the newspaper look just plain silly.

Elsewhere, The Nation (16 October 2009) reports the latest Royal Household update, and PPT quotes the entire report in the newspaper: “His Majesty was able to take more food and had been receiving medication and rehabilitation, the 26th Royal Household Bureau statement said yesterday.” Even this short statement is confusing for previous reports had the king off medications.

Update 7: If you are tired of reading, try this video from France 24.

Update 8: Reuters (16 October 2009: “Thai King not in danger, health improving: princess”) reports that, for the first time, a member of the royal family has commented on the king’s health. Princess Chulabhorn, in Germany, said: “Physical therapy is needed to help him stand up and walk which would need a little time. That is why he needs to continue staying in hospital, but doctors say there is no danger…”. Apparently the comments in Germany were shown on Thai television. She added: “He now can eat normally and quite a lot, compared with initially, when he had to be fed intravenously.” Bangkok Pundit has some useful comments.

Final Update: Reuters (16 October 2009: “Why the Thai king’s health can panic markets”) has some comments on why the king’s health matters for investors. It seems to be about foreign investors, and yet the local business community is equally spooked by considerations about politics and succession.

Jom Petpradab’s statement on media freedom

11 09 2009

Prachatai (11 September 2009) has produced Jom Petpradab’s statement ( in some reports his name is rendered Chom Phetoradab) on media freedom and the threats posed. Jom is the journalist who did the live interview with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on 6 September on MCOT. He begins: “Thai media, freedom of speech, and freedom to information are under threat in Thailand by a government that is robbing the people of their rights and freedoms.”

Well worth reading in full.

PPT’s earlier post on this case is here, where we comment on the Democrat Party and its minister Sathit Wongnongtoey and their determination to keep the media under control.

At last, some support for media freedom

9 09 2009

At last! The Bangkok Post finally has an editorial that supports media freedom (9 September 2009: “Minister fires before he aims”). This might be its third try on the MCOT-Thaksin interview in the Post’s opinion columns, but this editorialist has seen the threat posed by Democrat Party Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey. Sure, it could have been made broader, noting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s authoritorian slide, but we need to give kudos when it is due.

Yes, the “government’s response to the rather bland interview with fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra is disappointing.” Yes, Minister Sathit “clearly put pressure on the interviewer who worked with state-run MCOT.” And yes, this “is a terrible example to the country, and yet another poor message to all friends of Thailand overseas.”

More importantly, as PTT has been saying in recent posts, the “minister’s attack on the programme reveals a two-faced policy on freedom of the press by this government, and most previous ones.”

Sathit’s claim that the Thaksin interview endangers peace “does not hold water.” It is true that Sathit is not acting as a minister who should ensure media freedom but as a partisan censor “… and faithful Democrat Party member…”. And, as the Post notes, this is not the first time.

The MCOT is “not an arm of the government propaganda machine. Its TV and radio stations should present news and information based on the interest of the public.”

PPT doesn’t agree with everything in the editorial, but we are pleased that, at last,serious attention is being given to this government’s media manipulation.

Normalizing authoritarianism by opposing press freedom

7 09 2009

In our original post, PPT had the headline: Opposing press freedom or normalizing authoritarianism? We now have the answer. Read our update below.

Often in reports in the press it is the detail that tells the real story. The Bangkok Post has two stories that seem on the face of it, supportive of a free press. Look a little closer and the real story is both different and sinister.

The Post’s first story (7 September 2009: “Govt vows not to interfere in MCOT inquiry”) seems to suggest that the Democrat Party-led government is taking a hands-off approach to the MCOT interview with Thaksin Shinawatra. The MCOT is a company that remains majority owned by the government. The Thaksin interview was splashed across the front pages of Matichon and Thai Rath newspapers.

The story asserts that the “government will not interfere in the MCOT’s investigation into Chom Phetoradab’s interview with fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on FM 100.5, PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey said on Monday.” Sounds good, but here we are in the territory occupied by Sathit, who is on record as opposing press freedom. For just one of PPT’s examples, go here.

Sathit says the matter is internal to MCOT. But, as the Post reports, the interview has “upset Mr Sathit, who is in charge of the state media.” More significantly, Sathit “said although the MCOT had the right to invite outsiders to host programmes on its stations, the government should have the means to prevent such things as the Thaksin interview from happening again.” PPT has added the emphasis here.

What’s the big deal for Sathit? Sathit says an “interview with Thaksin could have a bad impact on the country because he usually speaks negatively about the Privy Council and about the justice system…”.

Then regular Bangkok Post columist Veera Prateepchaikul (7 September 2009: “Thaksin’s interview and press freedom”), recognizing that Sathit “is fuming and appears to want blood,” urges a temperate response, warning that he “should tread warily. Any hasty over reaction might only put him deeper in hot water.” Veera even appears to support media freedom when he says that “Thaksin’s interview was nothing new and cannot be seen as a threat to national security or to the government.” Further, there “is nothing wrong with the airing of an interview with Thaksin, even by a state-run broadcaster…”.

Veera tells his readers that the “main issue of the interview was Thaksin’s offer to hold peace talks with the Democrats and all his other opponents. He said he was ready to talk with all parties at any time to settle their conflicts… [and that] Thaksin rejected the allegation that he smuggled a huge amount of cash and valuables out of the country in 30 boxes and said the money from his sale of Manchester City football club was funding his new investment in diamond mining. He also denied he owns a private jet plane.”

Then Veera adds, “Sathit and the Democrats may not like the notion that Thaksin was given free airtime by state-run media, they simply cannot order that someone be held accountabel by the MCOT and be sacked – at least, not without facing a backlash from media organisations and groups advocating freedom of expression.” As PPT has been pointing out, there’s not much chance of that in today’s political situation.

But Veera has advice for the government minister: “In order to prevent a repeat of such an embarrassing incident, what Mr Sathit can do is ensure the MCOT reviews its policy of allowing non-staffers to moderate political programmes.”

After Sathit’s intervention, the journalist involved in interviewing Thaksin – Chom Phetoradab – has said he will resign. Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for these links (and more on this story).

This is just another form of censorship and is in line with the current trend of embedding authoritarianism. That a journalist advocates it in this manner suggests just how “normal” covert and “legal” forms of repression have become.

Update: PPT would have liked to have been wrong on this story, but a whole bunch of those pressing for increased repression have confirmed our view that authoritarianism is being normalized in Thailand. The Nation’s story reinforces the trends in the Post story set out above.

The Nation has this headline: “MCOT told not to broadcast Thaksin’s remarks” (8 September 2009). Multiple offender against press freedom, Minister Sathit of the Democrat Party “has told MCOT, the state-run media company under his supervision, not to allow fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s comments on air again, saying they were a threat to peace.” He went further, saying that the Thaksin interview had a “direct impact” on the “country and could worsen the current political situation as the ex-leader made negative comments against Thailand, the Privy Council and the justice system.”

A group of senators, all of them hard line People’s Alliance for Democracy activists, have added to the calls for censorship, criticising the “state-funded TV Thai for broadcasting a special report about Thaksin’s diamond mining business in Africa.” Most of the senators calling for repression are those who have never been elected. For example, “appointed Senator Sukanya Sudbantad, former dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Communication Arts, said the station was supposed to present unbiased content but an evaluation committee had found a lack of neutrality in TV Thai.” Another appointed senator – appointed by the military junta’s government – Prasan Marukapitak “expressed concern the report about Thaksin could cause public confusion.”

Then appointed senator Somchai Sawangkan decided to go for broke, saying that “the report indicated the station had become a tool for Thaksin’s propaganda campaign.” This is so ludicrous as to hardly warrant a comment when the station is run by Thaksin opponents like Kirkkiat Pipatseritham and Thepchai Yong.

Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul, who was once considered a representative of civil society organizations, said she “saw no benefit in allowing an exchange of arguments and accusations on air.”

Heaven forbid! Debate on the air waves. That would be a travesty.

We apologize for our cynical comments here, but it is difficult not to be totally amazed by the brazen anti-democratic statements of these parliamentarians. Recall that we cited Veera above as saying that there “was nothing new” in what Thaksin said and that his interview was not to be “seen as a threat to national security or to the government.”

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