Media, agents and reporting

20 02 2021

A couple of days ago, PPT posted regarding protest and violence. We were concerned that the single-minded, dare-we-say, middle-class, insistence on non-violence left protesters open to being picked off by the regime. And it has been doing that, seeking to repress. At the same time, we wondered why the state’s violence and its long history of murderous repression is so easily forgotten or dismissed in demanding that protesters behave as angels.

After reading a couple of reports in Khaosod, we are wondering if this kind of reporting-cum-normative demands hasn’t itself been manipulated by the state.

In that earlier post we linked to a video of military/police-looking men in plainclothes who infiltrated the protesters. Khaosod has a story on this which deserves very careful attention. Despite photographic and video evidence, the “police and the defense ministry maintain that they have no knowledge of the men in civilian clothes who were seen assisting security forces during a recent crackdown on demonstrators.” It seems that “assisting” can range from spying, informing, arresting and acting as agents provocateur.

Clipped from Khaosod

Khaosod saw “about 40 men wearing military-styled buzz cuts were deployed alongside the riot police, senior officials have yet to acknowledge who those men were, and what they were doing at the protest.” If the videos are added in, it looks like a larger group than that. The report states that the authorities initially denied their existence. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich flatly denied the military had anything to do with them.

Of course, this has been going on for some time – the regime has been doing it for several months – and it is a tactic used in other countries. But the mainstream media takes little notice.

Then there’s the report that states:

Several journalists who were covering the Feb. 13 rally near the Grand Palace told Khaosod English that officers ordered them to stay behind the police line while they dispersed the protesters. They also said police intervention was the reason why only a few reporters were able to capture the outburst of violence on that night.

“I didn’t see what was happening in the frontline,” said Sirote Klampaiboon, who was covering the protest for Voice TV. “All I could see was there were clouds of smoke behind the police and I heard several bangs. I was only let go when the police managed to take control of the situation.”

A photo widely shared on social media also shows members of the press being confined between rows of riot police facing each other in front of the Supreme Court building – a police tactic known in Western countries as “kettling.”

Despite this, it is the protesters who are harangued by multiple reporters in several op-eds. Interesting “reporting.”





Controlling media

19 02 2019

It seems that “fake news” is news that someone influential doesn’t like. A report on the military junta and “fake news” caught our attention.

The junta is reported as ordering “state agencies to issue immediate clarifications to counter distorted news in the run-up to the March 24 election.”

Deputy junta spokeswoman, Col Sirichan Ngathong said “[c]ertain pieces of information made available to people were embellished to give certain political camps the upper hand over their rivals…”.

The junta will use state agencies and its media resources to “prevent or curb distortion.” That sounds a heck of a lot like controlling the news for the junta’s party, Palang Pracharath.

With its own party running in the election and its head, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as that party’s candidate, having the junta and “government agencies are working together to maintain peace and order and related authorities will meet people to disseminate correct and accurate information” sounds a lot like manipulating the media and using state resources for political advantage. This manipulation is made clearer still when it is candidate-prime minister-dictator-general-prime minister Gen Prayuth who is issuing the instructions.

The Election Commission should be investigating. It won’t because it mostly acts on the junta’s instructions.

While on the EC, a reader wondered if the silent partner in Palang Pracharath, Somkid Jatusripitak hadn’t said just a little too much about the political manipulation of the junta when he was quoted in a recent Bangkok Post story (see the clip on right).

We guess the EC won’t be interested in that either.





Updated: Lies, incompetence or both?

22 12 2013

PPT is again confused by the local media’s unprofessional reporting. The same newspaper that has published op-eds screaming about the bias of the “foreign media,” the Bangkok Post, has a headline: “Women” outside PM’s house.  It claims:

…[a] group of anti-government protesters, mostly women and transvestites, many of them members of the Miss Tiffany’s dance troupe, converged outside the house of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Soi Yothin Pattana 3 on the road parallel to the Ekamai-Ram Intra expressway.

Led by well known gay academic and rabid yellow shirt Seri Wongmontha, the group said the demonstration would be “symbolic.” Tipped off wealthy locals “have parked their cars far from the area, amid fears that the protests might escalate.”

The Post reports:

As of 11am, the demonstrators, armed with whistles, hand-clappers and Thai flags, led by Seri and Ms Anchalee was moving past Pratunam area and gathered outside Ms Yingluck’ house in Soi Yothin Pattana 3.

Apparently, much of this reporting is biased nonsense. Rather than symbolic, the protest has been aggressive against police and seems to have more than a few protesters who are the shock troops and neither women and transvestites. Indeed, the Post’s own picture shows this:

Women

Another photo, tweeted by another journalist shows male protesters forcing police vehicles aside at 10.20 AM, well before the Post report (which mentions 11 AM) but doesn’t mention this aggression by non-women:

More women

Is this lies, incompetence or both? It’s certainly unprofessional.

Update: The Nation repeats the lie: “Only women and transsexuals – many of them members of the Miss Tiffany’s dance troupe – joined the protest, dubbed the ‘flower protest’, outside Yingluck’s residence.”





Mainstream media predictability

21 12 2013

With the anti-democratic movement making repeated claims that the international media is being biased and unfair in describing its opposition to elections, poor people voting and its elitist babble as elitist and anti-democratic (yes, we know it is circular, but what can we do?), the mainstream media is its usual agglomeration of unprofessional, biased sloganeering in support of the anti-democratic elitists.

But, really, how predictable is this unprofessional and biased industry of incompetent scribblers? (We do not speak of every journalist, for there are a few exceptions.)

A couple of days ago PPT stated:

Suthep already has precise figures for how many will attend: “If we base our calculation on three people per sq m, there will be about 1.73 million protesters who will turn out or 2.3 million people if we calculate it by 4 people/sq m…”. Expect claims of “millions” attending to be made in the uncritical mass media.

And, hey presto! The Bangkok Post obliges with a headline:

3 millionYes, the story is citing the anti-democratic movement’s further inflation of their rather precise figures, and the Post jumps for the top estimate and makes it a headline. Tomorrow will be see a cacophony of usually false claims by “journalists” regarding the size of the crowd. The mainstream media always over-estimates anti-democratic crowds and under-estimates the crowds of red shirts.

The bias is so pervasive that we almost never hear the anti-democratic movement complain about the local media.





Updated: Media bias I

26 11 2013

PPT has a series of posts to put up over several hours as the political situation in Thailand becomes increasingly chaotic. Several of these relate to media, politics and bias.

The Nation has published an editorial calling for Suthep Thaugsuban to pull back from his direct action and from “forcing the issue” on getting rid of the “Thaksin regime.” No doubt the author of the call thinks it a principled stand for democracy and “civil disobedience.” However, it is really little more than a debate amongst the activists on the street and the armchair supporters of that movement. It shows that Suthep is not necessarily in total control of the forces working against the government. It is also an example of the remarkably biased yellow-shirted “understanding” of recent political events. We illustrate this below.

It begins: “We have the chance to break a historic cycle of violent protest and usher in a new era of peaceful and principled politics.” The paper forgets that virtually every major protest movement in Thailand, from 1973 to 1976, 1992 and 2010 began peacefully. But for some reason the paper thinks Suthep’s protest is different:

The newspaper images from Sunday’s massive rally in Bangkok spoke loud and clear. People from all walks of life and every political hue shared one goal: to exercise their right to protest against an “unjust” government. The massive rally was one of the largest in Thai history, but the tens of thousands who gathered proved they could do so in peace, regardless of numbers. It was an especially impressive moment in Thai politics, proving that mass protests against the government don’t have to end in violence.

Of course, the so-far unspoken comparison is with the red shirts. The implication is that the red shirt protest was violent. It wasn’t. The red shirt caravan in March 2010 was undoubtedly the biggest peaceful demonstration ever seen in Thailand. Yet the Democrat Party refused to listen to this huge demonstration of solidarity and refused to call an election – the red shirt demand.

The editorial later refers to demonstrations leading to violence or a military coup. One of the false historical comparisons drawn on this is with “the People’s Assembly [it’s actually Alliance] for Democracy rallies against the Thaksin Shinawatra government eventually saw democracy struck down by a coup [in 2006].” What is unspoken here or conveniently forgotten is that the PAD efforts had essentially stopped long before the coup. The opposition to Thaksin was taken over by the palace and the military was required to finish off the elected regime.

The editorial continues:

It was also puzzling when Suthep said he would continue the protest even if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resigned or dissolved the House. His only goal now is to get rid of the “Thaksin regime”, though the rallies started as a campaign solely against the amnesty bill. Suthep should know better than to force the issue in this way, having experienced first-hand the violent political protests by red shirts in 2010.Democrat Party losses

As we noted above, in 2010, the Democrat Party was not interested in elections then and it is not interested now. There are two reasons for this. First, they simply don’t win elections. Second, there is a deep and long philosophical – if that is the right word – objection to elections amongst the opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra and supporters of monarchism. Whereas PAD rejected the notion of a fully-elected parliament, Suthep and the Democrat Party now appear to reject the very idea of electoral representation.

The editorial is right to observe this: “Our biggest challenge now is to learn from, rather than repeat, history.” It might just help the case if the editorial writers could understand history and break out of their blinkered, royalist vision of the past.

Update: A reader points out that the editorial quotes old supporters of PAD and represents a “nostalgia for 2008,” when PAD’s determination was seen through to the end, and resulted in a “judicial coup” rather than a military coup. The old PADistas and their media allies somehow see a judicial coup as “the rule of law” if not democracy at work.





Updated: Wishing away murder, election fixing and policy corruption

3 03 2011

A couple of days ago the Bangkok Post had an Alice in Wonderland editorial where reality is turned on its head and fantasy rules the day.

It began with the absurd notion that “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is a consummate politician” and that he somehow “illustrated” this when he “unofficially but aggressively kicked off” the Democrat Party’s election campaign. PPT isn’t sure that consummate is the appropriate description for a man who owes his position to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the military and the support of a troubled elite. And, we can think of several occasions in recent months when Abhisit has “unofficially kicked off” the Democrat Party’s campaign for a still unknown election date.

The Post repeats several times that a “clean, spirited election campaign and an honest vote” is expected or hoped for. It stresses the need for lawful campaigning and civilized and tolerant behavior and calls on the public to “reward good candidates…”.

All well and good, except that Abhisit, his coalition partners and the party’s powerful elite backers have already engaged in massive electoral manipulation. PPT won’t rehearse all the actions again, but we urge readers to look again at our posts on “fixing the election,” here, here and here. These actions, ranging from huge budget handouts to salary increases for officials and murder and repression, do not even include throwing out throwing out a constitution and writing another, so-called policy corruption, dispatching a couple of governments, a coup and manipulation of the courts.

Has the Bangkok Post no shame? Clearly not, for it then admonishes the media:

All types of media owe it to the country and the democratic process to cover the election campaign carefully – aggressively but honestly. The candidates’ speeches and statements must be checked for accuracy. But the public must trust the media to do this in an honest manner. Even the biased media – those well known to support this or that party – have a duty to stick to facts in reporting political movements.

We guess the Post doesn’t include itself in the “biased media” category but even this short editorial shows that it is remarkably partisan. Just look at this statement about the need for civilized campaigning: “In the past three years, the prime ministers and cabinet members have been intimidated or even assaulted when visiting so-called ‘opposition’ areas.”

Leaving aside the inability to acknowledge opposition areas without inverted commas, an unbiased and serious newspaper would mention that this behavior was also displayed by Democrat Party supporters in the south who repeatedly chased away Thai Rak Thai Party ministers. Mentioning this would have the Post standing on high ground. In fact, it displays its bias.

That bias is again clear when the Post states:

Most of all, the country truly hopes that politicians and their supporters will stick to the important national issues. There are plenty of important ones, including the economy, responses to international events, the constitution and more.

That might make some sense for the uninitiated, but as we know from yellow-shirted Senator Rosana Tositakul, this is no more than an attack on red shirts who do want to remember that their electoral choices have been summarily pushed aside by the elite that has placed the Democrat Party in power, together with all of the slanders, repression, imprisonments, “fixing,” double standards, and murders that have  accompanied that process.

Somehow Rosana and the Post think these are not important national issues and that the impunity of officials who murder protesters can continue to be ignored. The media and politicians have yet to seriously debate and investigate such crimes in a transparent manner. Perhaps the media should seriously investigate parliament and politicians instead of being mouthpieces for privileged minorities. Perhaps… oops, slipping into Wonderland ourselves… The media of the elite won’t do any of this.

Updated: A reader points out that we should note the promises Abhisit made and associated claims of vote-buying reported in the Bangkok Post.





Updated: Thongchai on the media

7 04 2010

PPT has been posting for some months on the bias seen in the mainstream media. Professor Thongchai Winichakul has a short article on this at Prachatai (7 April 2010). We agree that there is a “horrible lack of professionalism” and more.

Update: สำหรับฉบับภาษาไทย ดู Thai E-news: “ธงชัย วินิจจะกูล:สื่อไทยมีส่วนในการก่ออาชญากรรม”





Updated: More on parliament surrounded

26 03 2010

Update: After some limited media criticism, a fierce response from Peua Thai Party MPs, including a 2-day boycott of parliament, the government begun to reduce the huge military presence at parliament. Television news showed the troops withdrawing and razor wire and barricades being removed.

Part of the criticism today came in an extremely emotional statement in parliament by the one Peua Thai MP who showed up, spoke, and then left.As we mentioned below, the senate speaker also made a plea.

The government, which had earlier seen that images of the prime minister surrounded by military personnel was poor public relations, appears to have woken up to that fact that making parliament look like a military base in a war zone is probably not the best message. That said, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva seems not to care all that much, and in parliament was grim-faced in making statements defending his government and the military.

*

While much of the media has jumped to Abhisit Vejjajiva’s support, seemingly seeing nothing wrong with the huge “security” measures taken to “protect” parliament, Senate speaker Prasopsuk Boondej is reported in the Bangkok Post as saying that the government should review its security measures as the deployment of troops at the parliament affects the image of the country…”.

He says: “The deployment of soldiers and the setting up of cement barricades and barbed wire inside and around the parliament building compound without giving advance notice has inconvenienced senators trying to get to work…” (PPT added the emphasis). He argues that it was unnecessary “to station a large number of soldiers at the parliament.

He added: “In addition, there will be a meeting of senators on Monday and foreign delegates to the 122nd Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting will visit the parliament the same day. If they see a large number of soldiers, it could erode the country’s image”.

With Peau Thai Party members still boycotting and now heavily involved at the red shirt rally, the government sat in parliament virtually alone. PPT watched some of the session and it was handed over to a series of attacks on the red shirts and support for the “security” measures. Apart from allowing the Democrat Party to let off a bit of steam, it was a bit like watching one hand clapping.





Media bias

23 03 2010

A debate on media bias has now been going on for some time, and as regular readers will well know, PPT has made several comments on this in the recent past (for an example, see here). There have been some comments in the international press about this also. Now Simon Montlake in the Christian Science Monitor (22 March 2010) has a story on it that has also been taken up by Bangkok Pundit.

Montlake rightly observes that thousands of red shirts – interestingly, he accepts an official figure of 65,000 – paraded around Bangkok on Saturday and points out that “viewers of Thailand’s TV stations, the most popular source of news, were told that 25,000 attended. As usual, pictures of protesters were bracketed by statements from government officials. No airtime was given to ordinary protesters. And last week when protesters dumped blood at the prime minister’s office and home, pro-government media hyped up the health risks and the ethics of wasting human blood, while antigovernment media focused on the symbolism of Thais willing to shed blood for the cause.”

It is also accurate for Montlake to observe that “Thailand’s mainstream media faces fresh questions over its neutrality, which has already been tested by four years of political turmoil and polarization. Critics say bias is acute on free-to-air TV channels, which are all under government or military control.”

Supinya Klangnarong, “a free-media campaigner,” is quoted by Montlake as arguing that “the spread of new media is providing a check on the government’s control of the message, … [adding] mainstream TV channels no longer have the power to distort the facts as blatantly as they did in 1992 as they must compete with other sources of information, including images and texts spread via mobile phone and the Internet.” Supinya believes that the government “realizes that if they push too much control or manipulation, people will not believe it anymore…”.

PPT believes this is a premature judgment. For one reason, the government television stations have become little more than mouthpieces for items of propaganda that is now remarkably similar to that seen on ASTV. As one of Montlake’s informants, a “TV news editor, who declines to be named for fear of reprisals” says, the “government meddling in news coverage, which was also a hallmark of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s five-year rule, remains pervasive.” That editor adds: “It’s worse now…”.

A second reason for doubting Supinya is because while mobile phones are everywhere, they are limited sources of news, and while the internet is better, penetration rates in Thailand remain low. A third problem is that internet censorship has expanded exponentially under this government and the government also has officials working the blogs to post pro-government and anti-red shirt material. Even the English-language blogs see a suspicious rise in mole-like posting by particular commentators, often adopting multiple identities, who only appear in times of conflict..

While we usually agree and admire Bangkok Pundit, PPT has to say that we think BP’s account of media bias is trite. One of the major differences we have with Pundit is that we do not think that watching and reading is enough. In fact, early on in the current red shirt rally, PPT was also getting adjusted to the media’s coverage. Hence, when PPT went to the protest site expecting to see a dwindling crowd and a lack of interest, we were staggered by how different it was. The media was simply not reporting factually or wasn’t be permitted to do so. Worse, it often seemed like reporters were waiting for the sensational or hoping for violence.

Indeed, PPT has been to three red shirt events of late and none of them had any noticeable media interest. At Rajadamnoen, the media huddles around the red shirt leaders (is that because they get to sit in a cool tent?). PPT saw no attempts by the media to get around the very large area of the rally or any attempt to interview the protester in the street, apart from a BBC reporter. We know there have been some interviews, but all of these spots are stuck into hugely biased contexts. Context matters a heck of a lot. And, in a context of extreme bias, so does getting out and seeing what’s going on.

Worse, the talk shows on most of the mainstream television stations don’t even make a pretense of being fair, and government stations that Bangkok Pundit says was the best of the bunch last week is, in PPT’s perspective, now irretrievably biased if one takes any notice of the talk shows, which occupy far more airtime than the news broadcasts. And it was only a year or so ago that the Democrat Party-led government’s Sathit Wongnongtoey, said that he was going to create a true public broadcaster. That now seems like a nightmare rather than a dream.

The past couple of days has been a travesty for Thai journalism, which was once considered one of the best in Asia. Thaksin can be blamed for some of this, but the military-backed governments led by Surayud Chulanont and Abhisit Vejjajiva have ground journalism into the dust.

That said, PPT continues to appreciate those few journalists who hold out against a tide of repression, censorship and bias. In addition, we feel somewhat heartened by some of the expression of dissent that we see in some reports, often with the pictures not matching the words, as was clear on TNN reporting of Saturday’s red shirt caravan.