Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The treatment of outspoken pro-democracy journalist Prawit Rojanapruk should dispel any illusions that Thailand is on the road to “political reform”.
Last week he was taken to a military camp by the junta and held incommunicado, without charge, for a number of days. He was blind-folded on the journey and was not allowed to know where he was going and what would happen to him. He was locked up in a small windowless cell. This is what happens to critics of the junta when they are dragged off for “attitude changing sessions”. The unlucky ones are then stitched-up with serious charges like lèse-majesté. Fortunately this did not happen to Prawit this time.
His treatment, and the treatment of others, amounts to intimidation, mental torture and a gross abuse of human rights. Prawit was not subjected to physical torture, but others have been.
Yet despite all this, Prawit’s employers, the Nation Multimedia Group, pressurised him to resign after his latest experience. This supine moral cowardice on the part of The Nation beggars belief. Yet it should not surprise us.
The Nation started out in the 1970s as a supposedly radical alternative to the conservative Bangkok Post. By the mid-1990s it had degenerated into a tabloid type newspaper. After 9/11 it adopted an extremist pro-war and islamophobic position, supporting Bush and Blair’s illegal wars in the middle-east. Today it is just as conservative as the Bangkok Post when it comes to its political position on the Thai political crisis, except that it might be more trivial in its reporting. The only redeeming factor was Prawit Rojanapruk’s articles. That has come to an end.
The Bangkok Post has always been royalist and conservative newspaper. It allowed itself to be used by fanatical royalists, who lied when they claimed that its front page photo depicted students carrying out a mock-hanging of the Crown Prince in 1976. In fact the photo depicted the mock hanging of two electricity worker trade unionists who were murdered by police for putting up anti-dictatorship posters. Although the Bangkok Post never made the claim about a mock hanging of the Crown Prince, at the time it never attempted to counter the lies put out by the royalist extremists who were using its front page photograph. Over twenty years later I was asked to write an article about the 6th October 1976 massacre by the paper. It decided to cut out all mention of the role of the monarchy in my article, although I was quoting respected academic articles on the matter. At that time, like many others, including my father, I mistakenly believed that the paper had deliberately spread lies about the mock hanging. The truth was only subtlety different. The owners of the Bangkok Post tried to sue me for libel for my expressed views.
Today nearly all the mainstream press in Thailand, with the possible exception of Kao Sod, perpetuate the myth that Prayut and his gang are trying to “reform” the political system. They report his arrogant shenanigans without condemning them. They use the official and dishonest titles of junta appointed committees without comment. They practice self-censorship and are too weak and cowardly to vigorously criticise the junta. They could make a stand in favour of democracy like other newspapers have done in other countries. But it is doubtful whether any of the business people, who are the owners and chief editors, actually support democracy. Like most of the Thai middle-classes they are much more likely to be wary of empowering ordinary workers and farmers in such a democracy. By their actions they are supporting the continued destruction of freedom.
The seeds of resistance to the junta, like the recent student led protests on the anniversary of the 19th September 2006 coup, will not be nurtured by Thailand’s press.