The creation of palace propaganda

7 09 2018

Remember those kids who were rescued from the cave, several of whom were stateless, as were their families. A wonderfully uplifting story. But even at the time, we expressed some reservations about the uses being made of their predicament and rescue for state and royal propaganda (here, here, here, here and here).

Readers might recall the picture of what we now learn are royal volunteers for the king, all decked out in the king’s new uniform, cleaning up. Now there’s also the claim that these very same volunteers fed 4,000 people a day at the site of the rescue mission, although we have to say we didn’t see them during the endless broadcasts from the site at the time. We are thinking that the claim is a belated capturing of the event for the king.

But even if they were there, the propaganda value for the palace is being wrung out of the event. After all, it is a chance for the new king to be portrayed as a wonderful chap, in Thailand and internationally.

A story about the “royal sponsored” celebration of the rescue reminds us of how palace propaganda is made.

The young footballers have been lined up and spruced up so they can be seen to show “their appreciation to His Majesty the King and all people involved in the mission.” In Thailand just thanking “all people involved in the mission” cannot be permitted. The top royal has to get in on the act, whether he’s directing the getting in or the junta is doing it in his name. They proclaimed: “We all appreciate the concern and kindness of His Majesty the King…”.

It seems they were then uniformed up in the new king’s favorite gear: “Wearing yellow shirts and baseball caps, the boys recounted their ordeal and the moment rescuers found them.”

These seem like nice kids and their story is a great one. But that makes them fodder for palace propaganda.

We highlight this because we think that it won’t be very long before the international media will be using the same kinds of lines applied to Bhumibol for Vajiralongkorn. We are looking out for the first use of “revered.” Remember how palace propaganda is made because many have forgotten how it was made for Bhumibol.

 





Boosting and boostering for the monarch

5 09 2018

Many observers, us included, were struck by the cult of personality that was constructed around King Bhumibol. A rather colorless, unemotional and intellectually dull man surrounded by sycophants, he was manufactured into something that royalists describe as “earned moral authority as a unifying and rallying symbol for the country.”

Many of those same royalists express the view that this “barami” attached to the man and not the position of the monarch. In making this point, they ignore how the adulation of the now dead king was carefully manufactured and was indeed attached to the position. To ignore this is to misunderstand what royalist restorationists have been doing since 1932: recreating a monarchy that transcends any constitution and reduces constitutional constraints on the monarchy’s political and economic power.

In fact, the new king has done much to further that project, being rather more energetic on these matters than his father had been in the last years of the previous reign.

Meanwhile, the military junta has been aggressive in subserviently supporting the king’s political and economic moves and in promoting him in ways that have been both repressive and bombastically propagandistic.

PPT has commented on the propaganda several times, here, here, here and here.

Reuters has a report that exemplifies the efforts being made to build a revised cult of personality for the king. It has a story about what it euphemistically calls “volunteers” who are pictured “cleaning up a clogged Bangkok waterway … wearing yellow foulards and blue hats, [who] are part of a volunteer program started by … Vajiralongkorn…”.

It is reported that 4 million have “volunteered.”

Clipped from the linked Reuters story

The blue and yellow is the new uniform for royalist Thailand.

Reuters states that the “Volunteer Spirit” scheme, “officially began in 2017, [and] has created a new army of civilians who have pledged allegiance to the king and are boosting the image of Vajiralongkorn ahead of his formal coronation at year-end.”

We haven’t seen any announcement about coronation, but The Dictator has long stated that the junta’s rigged election can only be held after coronation.

It is observed that “the deep relationship between the monarchy and the military helped facilitate a smooth royal transition following his death in October 2016.” In fact, that “smoothing” began well before succession.

It also cites unnamed “some observers” who believe that the king “may be seeking to distance himself from the military, which has been in power in Thailand since a 2014 coup.”

Really? Anything is possible, but there’s no evidence for this rumor, and why a military-trained king would want to do this is an open question. We recall an early attempt to promote the king as a kind of democrat. At the time we thought that a rather wild guess. If anything, that sort or guess looks even weaker today.

The author then was David Streckfuss. He’s also cited in the Reuters report, and his view seems unchanged by events since his earlier piece. Referring to the “volunteers,” he states:

If the monarchy is … to distinguish itself from the military and attempt to bring Thailand into a democratic constitutional monarchy, then we might look at this effort by the new monarch as creating an alternative power base….

Again, we see no evidence for this. Indeed, this effort has, as far as we are aware, full junta support. Every member of the junta has the new uniform in the cupboard.

As the report notes: “Vajiralongkorn however is thought to have a good working relationship with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

But, then, the king is erratic and idiosyncratic, known for becoming enraged by perceived sleights to his “dignity.” The junta bosses have to be on their toes in privileging the king. As far as we have seen, he has been satisfied in getting all that he wants. But in all of the secrecy associated with the palace, there are plenty of rumors and guesses.

As far as we can tell, the “volunteers” are in line with previous efforts to promote monarch and monarchy and reinforce and transition the cult of personality to the new guy.

The report seems to confirm this, but goes back to the absolute monarchy, citing Sulak Sivaraksa. Sulak, who disliked the now deceased king, has an affection for the new one not least because he credits Vajiralongkorn for getting him off a lese majeste charge. He compares Vajiralongkorn to Vajiravudh’s paramilitary force founded in 1911, the Wild Tigers. Sulak doesn’t mention it, but Vajiravudh nearly bankrupted the country and set the scene for 1932.

Boostering for the king, Sulak gets drippy with syrup, saying the king “wants the monarchy to serve the people, to protect the people, to do well for the people…”. He reckons the “volunteers are able to do things that the government might otherwise not be able to, because of their royal backing…. If the government asked them they wouldn’t do it…”. In a final bit of posterior polishing, Sulak declares: “The volunteer program is one of the great successes of the new king.”

The “volunteers” are trained in much the same way as other “volunteer” corps raised by the previous king:

Volunteers have to register with the palace and go through an initiation process that involves lining up and bowing in front of the king’s portrait before being given their yellow and blue uniforms – colors associated with former King Bhumibol and Queen Mother Sirikit, Vajiralongkorn’s mother.

Once they put on their new uniforms, the volunteers do a military-style salute to the king’s portrait and, in a completely new tradition [sic.], they must line up and salute the king’s portrait every time before starting a community activity.

It is all a bit North Korean, but not all that different from the palace propaganda for Bhumibol. Just a little more militaristic, reflecting the new guy’s training and mindset.





Propaganda for the junta and monarch(y)

29 08 2018

While PPT was posting of Fascism and academic accommodations to it and for it, a couple of interesting stories appeared in The Nation and Khaosod that seem to reflect on the issues of academic (un)freedom, indoctrination and propaganda.

With the so-called succession crisis seemingly never really materializing, royalism and royalist propaganda for the king has moved into an even higher gear, fertilized by the junta’s fervent monarchism and anti-republicanism.

Khaosod’s story is of blunt force propaganda inflicted on students at Thammasat University by junta and royalist university administrators:

Eight people, six women and two men wearing yellow neckerchiefs and blue baseball caps, marched on stage with the precision of a military parade. Taking turns speaking over the next two hours, they described the benevolence of the Chakri dynasty in bringing peace and happiness to the people of Thailand.

The propaganda for the monarchy began with the shameful groveling of “rector Kesinee Withoonchart …[who] prostrated herself on the ground before it [a portrait of the king].”

The propagandists, “drawn from the armed forces and police” are “volunteers” in the pay of the state and are known as “Volunteers Unit 904. The number 904 is derived from the former radio call sign of the king before he was king.”

Endless palace and junta propaganda wrapped up “with people being asked to stand for a song newly written for the new king and the traditional royal anthem.” The message seems to be that the population will now endure double doses of forced erect standing that Fascists mistake for obedience.

This gross effort concluded in an entirely appropriate manner: “a question-and-answer session saw no takers from the audience.” Fascists and royalists – many of them combining these proclivities – mistake this for orderliness and attention to hierarchy.

The Nation has a more on propaganda, this time for the junta’s Deputy Dictator, the Watch Man, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. Like magic, a “new Facebook page has been created to support and defend Deputy Premier and Defence Minister Prawit …, who has been embattled with damaging scandals recently.” It seems this page is to support “Uncle Pom’s Lovely Side.” We are unsure which side that is, but we guess it is his right side.

The creation of the page is more or less an admission of guilt because of its need to manufacture “messages in support of Prawit, news reports in favour of the ruling junta, and video clips defending Prawit against allegations.” The syrupy propaganda reckons the dumpy general is “a reliable man who has been trusted by the armed forces for over five decades, and also a former commander well loved by his colleagues and ‘brothers’ in the Army.” No recommendation at all! But is does suggest that the Army is at work creating the page.





New king, old king, same story

29 07 2018

On Saturday evening, The Dictator and his junta buddies got their best uniforms on to hail the king on his birthday.

As far as anyone can tell, the junta, the military it represents and the monarchy continue their anti-democratic partnership that has crippled Thailand’s political development for about six decades.

More than this, though, the birthday presents an opportunity to celebrate the presumed defeat of the anti-monarchism of the period before the coup.

This is why the birthday celebrations seem so familiar. Nothing much seems to have changed since the old king: new king, old message. Perhaps the only change is that no one (yet) has to listen to the rambling of he who must be obeyed.

If readers think back to all the talk and words printed about a succession crisis and how much Vajiralongkorn was hated, feared and the wrong person for the position, the wonder is that it never really happened, and that (maybe) there was more hope that there was a crisis than there really was a crisis.

Now all the monarchy stuff and the propaganda just feels so familiar. Heck, even some Puea Thai Party supporters are praising the new king as a great king.

As in the past, the media are required to provide the outlet for palace propaganda, whether coming from the palace directly or just manufactured by royalists. Looking just at the English-language efforts of The Nation and the Bangkok Post, we see little different from years gone by, except for the fact that they have had to stretch a bit to fit the new king into the palace narrative.

in one item, The Nation wishes to advertise the king’s alleged sympathy for the downtrodden. Of course, this theme was long-term propaganda fodder for the past king, pointing to royal projects (publicly funded since the 1980s). In the new story, which will be recycled year after year, readers are told that a poor village in the northeast (no coincidence that its oppositional heartland) has “a new life thanks to a Royal initiative.” It is added that the villagers owe everything to “the efforts of one very special individual…”. No prizes for guessing that its King Vajiralongkorn.

Apparently the then crown prince visited in 2000, and immediately ordered things done that miraculously changed the villagers fortunes. All of the “innovations” mentioned in the article and attributed to the crown prince-now-king sound exactly like those attributed to his father.

The point is to tell one and all, but especially the monarchy’s political base in the urban middle class, that the “results of this royal project, one of the many models that exemplifies His Majesty King Rama X’s resolution to fulfil the wishes of His Majesty the late King Rama IX and work for the benefit of all Thais.” That the villagers troubles inconveniently arose from royal-sponsored dam projects is overlooked.

The rest of the article is the usual story of how grateful every villager is and how successful the royal projects have been. Royal magic works wonders: “Every time we think of the royal graciousness, we shed tears of joy. Wherever Their Majesties visit, prosperity comes to those areas.” How could it be otherwise?

The Bangkok Post takes a different tack, inventing the new king as a great sportsman. According to this tale, the new king has followed the old king “on several paths including sports.” Who knew?

The story claims the king “was once known as the ‘Football Prince’ but is now renowned for his involvement in cycling.” Of course, he’s been a great sportsman since birth: “The King’s love for sports is obviously in his blood through his late father, a great athlete and patron of sports…”.

“Great athlete” seems to mean that the former king won a medal skippering a dinghy. That victory saw Bhumibol proclaimed “king of sports.” Now it is Vajiralongkorn’s turn. (Just by “chance,” when Bhumibol won his medal, he shared first place with none other than his eldest daughter.)

Vajiralongkorn is said to have been talented at every sport he’s tried! But now he’s a “major supporter of Thai cycling” since he headed the Bike for Mom/Dad stuff. Most sporting associations seem to be headed by serving or past generals. So a quote from president of the Cycling Association of Thailand Gen Decha Hemkrasri is quoted: “”We have enjoyed success thanks to enormous support from [then] HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn…”.

And so the story goes on.

The Nation also gets into reporting congratulatory messages (perhaps message is a better way to put it) from other royals and global leaders. Apparently His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to send message of congratulations to King of Thailand His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 66th birth anniversary.” We’d have thought there’d be more than this – after all, Vajiralongkorn is head of state – but maybe the story was run on Brunei based on the length of the title.

In short, nothing has changed and the same palace propaganda – with the help of junta repression – is ensuring that the new king get the reverence his father had and that the international media repeatedly says he lacked. That will change too, unless the erratic Vajiralongkorn has yet another public meltdown.





When the military is on top XXV

28 07 2018

It started out as a cave rescue that miraculously succeeded. It now seems that that rescue has become fodder for the propagandists of the military dictatorship.

The dictators want to control everything. But controlling also means constructing narratives that promote the military-monarchy coalition. We have previously posted on the palace’s efforts at milking propaganda value from the rescue. The Economist mentioned the junta’s efforts to bask in the limelight.

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post reported that the junta had moved to establish a “creative media” committee, “led by the culture minister, is set to be appointed to screen projects to recollect the story of the 13 Wild Boar footballers in flooded Tham Luang cave.” As far as we can recall, the most creative aspects of the military dictatorship have been its lies, although they are now so blatant that the creatively level is about zero.

It seems that the new committee “is to examine all the projects and ensure producers comply with Thai laws during their work…”. We wonder then, if Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who made this point means that all the other filmmakers don’t follow the law?

Wissanu reckons that more than a dozen companies are lining up for the rights. We think he means that the junta simply wants control over the production to ensure that it gets plenty of credit.

The junta is particularly keen to ensure that the rescued boys, their coach and their families don’t talk to producers and foreign journalists. We also noticed that the junta’s minions carefully choreographed the religious ceremony for some of the boys this past week.

Managing the projects” for those rescued will be an all-junta affair, with Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat “pick[ing] the committee members himself before informing the deputy premier of the final member list.” At the same time, the junta is considering making “its own version of the story, crafting out the work itself or hiring private companies to do the job…”.

As explained in another report, the job of the junta’s committee is to “look at the proposed projects’ accuracy and will safeguard the intellectual property rights of the boys and coach, the rescuers and the agencies involved, and protect the image of Thailand. It will also be concerned about the impact on film locations.” In other words, the junta wants control of the narrative. So much so that not only considering its own version of the story, Wissanu says the junta “wants to be a co-producer on the Thai movie productions…”.

This all fits with the junta’s existing policy where film projects qualify for a 20% investment return “if they promote national interests and offer a positive image of the country.”





Thailand’s new uniform

26 07 2018

Under the previous king the rule for dress became yellow. If you weren’t wearing yellow, doing anything public or with government officers became more difficult. Yellow became a sign of loyalty. That’s why the People’s Alliance for Democracy chose the king’s birth color – they were saying and displaying their royalism and their loyalty.

Even opponents wore yellow before they became red shirts.

Under the new king a new uniform has emerged. We mentioned this in a previous post. There it was associated with the cave rescue.

Reading the news regarding the dam tragedy in Laos, we noticed that Thailand was preparing and sending aid. Sure enough, the persons doing the preparation were in the same uniform. The people wearing the royal uniform are regularly described as “volunteers,” although officials get into their loyalty kits as well.

As far as we can recall, the initial push on a new uniform for the then crown prince was Bike for Mom in 2015. Then it was the queen’s color of sky blue, with touches of yellow.

From Khaosod

A couple of months later, it was Bike for Dad, and then the king’s yellow dominated, featuring blue.

If one looks at the standards for the king and when he was crown prince, the combination of these colors is seen. It now seems that Thailand’s displays of loyalty is to be regimented in this way going forward.

Of course, having “volunteers” doing good works dressed in the king’s colors gets him lots of credit, and that’s exactly what the palace propagandists intend.





Making royal propaganda from the cave II

15 07 2018

While PPT refrained from commentary on the remarkably uplifting cave rescue, we have said a few things about its use for palace propaganda purposes (here, here and here). Our point has been to point out that the kind of royal propaganda is nothing new, but that this is an opportunity for the palace to boost the image of the new king in ways that are not all that different from his father. Royalism is so deeply embedded in the military and bureaucracy that there is a constant search for opportunities to make the monarch look good, kind, generous, loving of his people, etc.

The latest efforts have involved both a familiar pattern and one that strikes us as somewhat new. The familiar involves the promotion of the former Navy diver who died in the cave and providing a royally-sponsored funeral ceremony. If academic Serhat Unaldi referred to something called “working towards the monarchy,” this propaganda exercise kind of reverses the process, allowing the monarchy to gain credit from the death of someone considered popular, a hero or worthy in other ways. Such actions are not always simple and cynical efforts by the palace but invariably bestow considerable credit on the monarch.

Governor Narongsak

The less familiar involves something we noted in our first comment on the efforts in Chiang Rai. In that post we observed the dress of Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. Initially in the search, he appeared in a “loyalty” outfit. Appearing appropriately loyal is required in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship. At the time, we thought he might be wearing a sky blue Snoopy cap,along with a yellow scarf.

In fact, the cap bears the king’s rather childlike cartoon figures which also recently appeared on shirts. He wasn’t the only one wearing the outfit in the early days of the cave drama. Narongsak seemed to ditch the outfit as the search became very serious and he handled himself commendably. So did others.

However, after the huge elation following the successful rescue of those in the cave, the blue caps and yellow scarves are back in big numbers. As hundreds showed up to volunteer to assist in the cave area clean-up, it seems that they were all provided with these symbols of loyalty. Remarkably, the regimented volunteers all managed to show up in very similar yellow shirts.

This “uniform” was also on show in some of the very early pictures that came from the boating tragedy in Phuket where 48 persons seem to have perished. It seems that the idea of associating monarchy with a tragedy saw the “uniform” ditched.

The Bangkok Post has a some pictures from Chiang Rai following the joyous outcome there. The “uniform” is de rigueur. We clipped one of those here.

Way off in the distance in the photo is the picture of the king that the volunteers are saluting, all lined up in their identical outfits. It is clear that there’s a palace propaganda effort underway. Yellow and sky blue are the kings chosen colors.