The first casualty

redshirt-500

As troops and antigovernment protestors clashed on Bangkok’s streets again this week, a furious battle also played out in the media over casualties. Government spokespersons and army officers insisted that bullets had not been fired into the crowds. Their opponents said the opposite.

Soldiers had at times pointed their weapons at people, and some of the red-shirted demonstrators had been shot, but there were few reliable details of who was hurt, how, where and why.

Staff at the prime minister’s office blamed Red Shirts on motorbikes for a melee with local residents that left two dead. Other sources were less certain about the identities of the protagonists, but doubtful voices were drowned out as local outlets obligingly reported the official version. Meanwhile, emailed narratives of battles around the city had it that the Red Shirts’ rivals were in some areas backing up the army, but there was no immediate evidence to support this claim either.

What all this goes to show is not which side is to blame for the street blockades and bloodshed of the last few days, but how difficult it has become to believe Thailand’s media. Since 2006, when domestic news agencies and many overseas ones fell over each other to enthuse about the army’s latest power grab, the biases of newspapers, magazines and broadcasters have become more pronounced, their coverage more partisan, and their opinion-makers seemingly more sure of themselves even as things get less certain.

In normal times, the impoverished domestic journalism which has become a hallmark of Bangkok has made following current affairs there difficult; with the city under siege and a state of emergency declared, it has made following them all but impossible.

Blinded by seething hatred of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, many journalists have transformed him from the authoritarian bully that he is into a superhuman bogeyman on whom everything and anything can be blamed.

Thaksin obviously provoked his supporters to violence this week, as he has done in the past. There is no need for the point to be made repeatedly. What is needed is to situate what has happened in a meaningful trajectory with which to make sense of it and to figure out what might occur next.

But instead of offering useful analysis, most newspaper space has been taken up with headlines jeering at the Red Shirts’ failed putsch accompanied by content-free commentary that has at best been infantile and at worst shameful.

A columnist for the Bangkok Post shrilled that Thaksin was responsible for turning the city into a war zone and for the death of a young man whose brother she heard speak on television. Does Thaksin have a soul? she cried out theatrically. The paper’s main editorial was little better, branding the former prime minister’s crimes “heinous” and heaping praise on the incumbent, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power on the back of prolonged violence of the same type last year.

By the time the Post was published, the government had closed the satellite station that the protest organizers were using for increasingly vociferous broadcasts. Whether or not the shutdown can be justified, the same has not been done to the Yellow Shirts’ mouthpiece. It continues to churn out propaganda even as the leaders of last year’s Government House and airport takeovers run around on bail, while a number of their red-shirted counterparts have either been locked up or are in hiding. Perhaps the yellow-shirted bosses have not felt the need to go on the run because no one is actually chasing them.

And while the authorities have moved against their adversaries’ use of modern technology, they have also been working overtime against sources of news that might have filled some of the gaps, corrected some of the errors, and exposed some of the lies in the big media and authorized accounts.

The Prachatai website has been on the back foot since its director was hit last month with a volley of ambiguous charges over supposedly unlawful comments that readers – not the service itself – had posted. It continues to put out news and views that cannot be found elsewhere, such as a recent careful critique of the prejudiced and simplistic television coverage of the newest battles in Bangkok. But its weekly radio feature has fallen silent.

Many bloggers have been trying their best to keep abreast of things, but they can’t make up for the paucity of trustworthy periodicals and professional broadcasters. The bureaucracy has been fighting a war against them too, blocking the domestic audience from reading thousands of web pages since the start of this year alone on spurious grounds relating to the monarchy or national security.

A few foreign correspondents who have worked on and in Thailand for some years have filed informed and critical stories of what has been going on, but they are in the minority, and their reporting does not have much reach back inside the country where it would count the most.

During Thaksin’s time as prime minister, police and bureaucrats routinely harassed journalists and media advocates: searching premises, issuing warrants and making threats. He and his government rightly attracted censure for their efforts to intimidate and silence critics, and for their misuse of state agencies toward these ends.

But in Thaksin’s time there was at least a struggle for freedom of opinion and expression that extended across different parts of the media. Since 2006, it has fallen to small committed groups like Prachatai to keep that effort alive, often at considerable risk to those involved. None of the mainstream print and broadcast outlets can today be counted as defenders of the right to speak freely. This last week is proof of that.

“The first casualty when war comes,” U.S. Senator Hiriam Johnson once famously said, “is truth.” While both sides in the latest battle for Thailand’s future were arguing furiously about how many lives and limbs they had claimed, the first casualty went uncounted. Its passing is now more obvious than ever, its presence sorely missed.

Source: Bangkok’s first casualty of political war

Commentary on the red-shirts and what might come next:

Thailand’s democratic crisis, Tyrell Haberkorn (openDemocracy)

Thailand’s royal sub-plot, Andrew Walker & Nicholas Farrelly (Inside Story)

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13 responses to “The first casualty

  1. Pingback: New: Awzar Thi on the crisis of truth in Thailand « Political Prisoners in Thailand

  2. Pingback: “Never believe anything until it is officially denied” « Media war

  3. Pingback: Heat is felt by Propaganda players « Media war

  4. Awzar – great article !

    may I mention though that one famous journalist whom I admire, John Pilger, said :

    A venerable cliché is that truth is the first casualty in wartime. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty.

  5. Pingback: BKK News Feed Archive Q2/09/I

  6. Spies keep watch on group spreading lies

    Published: 20/04/2009 at 12:00 AM
    Newspaper section: News

    Security agencies are keeping a close watch on a group they suspect of feeding lies to international media outlets on the recent red shirt riots.

    Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said members of the group had left the country in recent days to disseminate a “different version of events and accounts” to the international media.

    Details of the group, which is believed to consist of about 10 people, could only be made public by the army and police chiefs, Mr Panithan said.

    The government would counter them by releasing its own information to the international media, explaining what is really happening.

    Mr Panithan said intelligence officers would need more time to uncover the whereabouts of Jakrapob Penkair, who is sought on charges of inciting unrest in connection with the rioting.

    Mr Jakrapob is one of the leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. He disappeared before other red shirt leaders gave up their protest on April 14 to avoid further bloodshed.

    The government has been advised to use only irreproachable evidence to disprove claims many had died in the riots.

    Mr Panithan said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had promised to lift the state of emergency when the time was right. There are still some concerns.

    The security situation is being assessed every 24 hours. Fewer soldiers and police are now being stationed around Bangkok.

    Security for leading figures, however, remains tight following the murder attempt on Friday on Sondhi Limthongkul, a leader of the UDD rival group, the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

    Mr Abhisit yesterday called a security meeting at Government House after his weekly television address. He was later driven home under heavy guard including army commandos.

    The prime minister’s motorcade was attacked twice during the red shirt protests, in Pattaya on April 7 and again on April 12 in the grounds of the Interior Ministry.

    Some of the prime minister’s guards were injured in the scuffles.

  7. The best online English-language eyewitness account of the protests and difficulties of reporting them so far:

    The crushing of the red shirts (Nick Nostitz/NM)

    And two more (related) items worth reading:

    Shawn Crispin on the propaganda wars (TJTS)

    Fonzi on Crispin (Bkk Pundit)

  8. THAILAND: With Censorship, Thais Turn to Websites and Foreign Media
    By Marwaan Macan-Markar

    BANGKOK, Apr 19 (IPS) – When the Thai government imposed an emergency law cracking down on rampaging red-shirted protesters on the streets of Bangkok, the military, in combat gear, was not its only weapon. The state’s censors were given liberty to silence critical media.

    By the weekend, this climate of censorship had spread beyond the capital and five neighbouring provinces where the emergency decree is still in force. Community radio stations sympathetic to the anti-government ‘red-shirts’ in northern and northeastern provinces were raided by the police and closed down.

    The information and technology ministry flexed its muscles, too, ordering Internet service providers to shut down 67 websites. That number may grow, warns a media rights activist, since “websites that were critical but not sympathetic to the ‘red-shirts’ have also been targeted.”

    The four-month-old coalition government, led by the Democrat Party, justifies such measures to prevent more violence and mayhem on the streets as was witnessed from Apr. 13 through 14 in the capital. Clashes between angry ‘red-shirts’ and troops at a number of street corners resulted in over 100 people being injured and reportedly two deaths.

    “The radio stations were closed because they were being used to incite violence,” Buranaj Smutharakas, Democrat Party spokesman, told journalists. “The right to free speech ends when it is being used to call for violence.”

    “Although the government has brought to an end the ‘red rampage’ in Bangkok, the situation remains fragile,” he added. “The government’s major efforts are to prevent [‘red shirt’] members from resorting to terrorism and [creating an] armed resistance movement.”

    Yet the act of censorship – beginning on Apr. 13 with the shutting down of the satellite news broadcaster ‘D Station’, the mouthpiece of the ‘red shirts’ – has inadvertently exposed the bias that grips local media. Mainstream print and broadcast media were not censored – they had portrayed the Democrat Party-led coalition in a positive light.

    “The newspapers were not under pressure from the government. They chose to do it because they like the Democrats and their backers, hate the reds,” a senior television journalist told IPS on the condition of anonymity. “So they have not to worry about censorship.”

    The mainstream television stations were under some pressure, he revealed. “My boss was told by a powerful person not to run pictures damaging to the military or to the government.”

    A respected media analyst faults the mainstream media for such one-sided coverage – where little effort was made to understand and explain why tens of thousands of ‘red shirts’ from the provinces and the capital responded to the protest call by the organisation leading the anti-government movement, the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

    “Reports about UDD rallies were not published, but when they were, it was more the negative aspect of the rallies,” says Ubonrat Siriyuvasak, professor of communications at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “The media needs to cover all colours of Thailand’s politics because that is their responsibility to society. They have to try and be professional and neutral.”

    “The biased coverage by the mainstream media has made UDD supporters grow very unhappy and frustrated,” she added in an interview. “These marginalised people have been left with little choice but to create their own alternative media space through community radio and websites on the Internet.”

    This, however, is not the first time where the alternative media has been a target of censorship, while the mainstream media remained untouched. Over 300 community and local radio stations were silenced by military operatives days after the powerful Thai army staged a coup in September 2006, ousting from power then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    “All northern community radio stations have been temporarily closed down after some were found to have provoked disunity among people and created misunderstanding about Tuesday’s military coup,” the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s largest English-language paper, reported during the week of the country’s 18th putsch. “Community radios are now seen as a significant threat to the [junta’s] authority as they could be used by supporters of the ousted prime minister to incite public resentment against the [junta].”

    The current round of censorship that targets the ‘red shirt’ media has parallels with the media policy of the country’s last military regime. Many of those who have been silenced were openly supportive of Thaksin, now living in exile as a fugitive for breaking conflict of interest laws, and wanted for corruption charges.

    But the silenced radio stations and websites also aired views that called on the coalition government to dissolve the parliament and call fresh elections, attacked the military leadership and the conservative bureaucracy, and demanded that senior advisers to the kingdom’s revered monarch resign for their alleged role in the 2006 coup.

    They were views that proved too much for the mainstream media to stomach. And the street violence engineered by the ‘red shirts’ a week ago – as part of a call by the UDD to stage a “revolution” on behalf of the poor – appears to have been the last straw for the Bangkok-based media powerhouses.

    Newspapers responded with screaming headlines, gloating coverage, and shrill commentary at the failed ‘revolution’ of the ‘red shirts’. The television stations largely marched to the same tune.

    ‘Red shirts’ have been seething at the “one-sided” coverage of the mainstream media. “The press in Thailand is with the government. It is like a business partnership,” said a 47-year-old resident of Bangkok who gave his name as Somchai. “They have let us down. They cannot be called a national media.”

    “We cannot trust the Thai journalists, because what we know is not reported,” added Salukjit Sangmuang, a businesswoman, who, like Somchai, had joined some 500 ‘red shirts’ at an open field in the historic part of the capital on Apr. 14 to come to terms with the defeat their movement suffered at the hands of the combat-ready troops. “We depend on websites and foreign media for the news.”

    This news blackout has even brought out a controversial figure to help get the story of the ‘red shirts’ on the Internet: Lt. Sunisa Lertpakawat, who has written two books that are fawning accounts of the fugitive Thaksin, despite her being an officer serving in the military.

    “What I have seen on Thai television about the ‘red shirts’ is not the truth. A lot of incidents have not been shown,” said the 34-year-old during a pause from video recording a scene of angry, weeping ‘red shirts’ at Sanam Luang, an open field surrounded by ancient temples and a palace. “The people are angry, because what the newspapers and television have said about them is not true.”

    (END/2009)

  9. The greatly increased foreign interest in Thailand since the coup has shone a bright light on Thai politics for the first time. The light has shown up the local press as the slaves of dark power. I suspect that this has always been the case, rather than something that arose with the 2006 coup.

  10. I tried to access FACT website (facthai.wordpress.com/) from the blogroll BP provides (their latest article “MICT admits 8,955 blocked websites (Thai)-ThaiPR”) – and what a surprise (NOT !) – the site itself is blocked too ! 🙂

    instead it is forwarded to : http://w3.mict.go.th/

    • Antipadshist
      Below is the blocked page text. Sorry can’t reproduce whole site.

      MICT admits 8,955 blocked websites (Thai)-ThaiPR
      25-04-09

      [FACT comments: Today’s press release from Thailand’s ICT ministry warns of penalties under the Computer Crimes Act and adds that MICT is currently blocking 6,218 websites affecting national security which includes lese majeste, 2,307 pornographic websites and 430 gambling websites, admitting to 8,955 blocked websites.]

      ก.ไอซีที พร้อมดำเนินการกับผู้ใช้อินเทอร์เน็ตสร้างความวุ่นวายในชาติ
      ThaiPR: April 24, 2552

      http://www.thaipr.net/nc/readnews.aspx?newsid=2C5C2D738347CFAAB6BC14B67E668391&sec=all

      ร้อยตรีหญิงระนองรักษ์ สุวรรณฉวี รัฐมนตรีว่าการกระทรวงเทคโนโลยีสารสนเทศและการสื่อสาร กล่าวถึงการดำเนินการกับผู้ที่เผยแพร่เนื้อหาที่ไม่เหมาะสมอันเป็นภัยต่อความมั่นคงของประเทศชาติบนเว็บไซต์ต่างๆ ทางอินเทอร์เน็ต ว่า “ผู้ใดที่จะจัดทำเว็บไซต์ใหม่ที่มีการเผยแพร่เนื้อหา ภาพ หรือข้อความที่มีลักษณะปลุกระดม อันเป็นเหตุให้เกิดความวุ่นวายหรือการจลาจล หรือเว็บไซต์ที่มีเนื้อหาหมิ่นประมาทบุคคลหรือสถาบันที่ส่งผลกระทบต่อความมั่นคงของประเทศชาติ กระทรวงไอซีทีจะใช้กฎหมายบังคับอย่างจริงจัง และเข้มงวด โดยที่ผ่านมากระทรวงฯ ได้ดำเนินการกับผู้ที่กระทำความผิดอย่างต่อเนื่องมาโดยตลอด

      นอกจากการจัดทำเว็บไซต์แล้ว การตั้งกระทู้ หรือโพสต์ข้อความต่างๆ นั้นต้องอยู่ภายใต้ขอบเขตของ พ.ร.บ.ว่าด้วยการกระทำความผิดเกี่ยวกับคอมพิวเตอร์ พ.ศ.2550 ด้วย จึงขอให้ผู้ใช้อินเทอร์เน็ตทั้งหลายศึกษารายละเอียดในพระราชบัญญัติดังกล่าวให้ดี ทั้งนี้ กระทรวงไอซีทีได้มีการสร้างความรู้ความเข้าใจในเรื่องนี้ โดยการจัดส่งพระราชบัญญัติว่าด้วยการกระทำความผิดเกี่ยวกับคอมพิวเตอร์ฯ ไปยังสถานศึกษาต่างๆ ทั่วประเทศแล้ว เพื่อให้ศึกษารายละเอียดและบทลงโทษต่างๆ ที่ชัดเจน”

      สำหรับความผิดเกี่ยวกับคอมพิวเตอร์ในเรื่องดังกล่าวนั้น เข้าข่ายการกระทำความผิดตามพ.ร.บ.ฯ ในมาตรา 14 (1) (2) และ (3) ซึ่งมีสาระสำคัญโดยสรุป คือ ผู้ใดนำเข้าสู่ระบบคอมพิวเตอร์ซึ่งข้อมูลคอมพิวเตอร์ปลอมไม่ว่าทั้งหมดหรือบางส่วน หรือข้อมูลคอมพิวเตอร์อันเป็นเท็จ ที่น่าจะเกิดความเสียหายแก่ผู้อื่นหรือประชาชน รวมถึงเกิดความเสียหายต่อความมั่นคงของประเทศหรือก่อให้เกิดความตื่นตระหนกแก่ประชาชน ที่เข้าข่ายความผิดเกี่ยวกับความมั่นคงแห่งราชอาณาจักรหรือความผิดเกี่ยวกับการก่อการร้ายตามประมวลกฎหมายอาญา จะมีความผิดตามมาตรา 14 ต้องระวางโทษจำคุกไม่เกิน 5 ปี หรือปรับไม่เกิน 100,000 บาท หรือทั้งจำทั้งปรับ ส่วนผู้ที่เผยแพร่หรือส่งต่อซึ่งข้อมูลคอมพิวเตอร์ตามมาตรานี้ทั้ง (1) (2) หรือ (3) ถือเป็นการกระทำความผิดตามมาตรา 14 (5) และได้รับโทษเช่นเดียวกัน

      นอกจากนี้ยังมีบทลงโทษตาม มาตรา 15 ที่บัญญัติว่า ผู้ให้บริการใดจงใจสนับสนุนหรือยินยอมให้มีการกระทำความผิดตามมาตรา 14 ในระบบความพิวเตอร์ที่อยู่ในความควบคุมของตน จะต้องระวางโทษเช่นเดียวกับผู้กระทำความผิดตามมาตรา 14 และมาตรา 16 ผู้ใดนำเข้าสู่ระบบคอมพิวเตอร์ที่ประชาชนทั่วไปอาจเข้าถึงได้ซึ่งข้อมูลคอมพิวเตอร์ที่ปรากฏเป็นภาพของผู้อื่น และภาพนั้นเป็นภาพที่เกิดจากการสร้างขึ้น ตัดต่อ เติม หรือดัดแปลง ด้วยวิธีการทางอิเล็กทรอนิกส์หรือวิธีการอื่นใดที่น่าจะทำให้ผู้อื่นนั้นเสียชื่อเสียง ถูกดูหมิ่น ถูกเกลียดชัง หรือได้รับความอับอาย ต้องระวางโทษจำคุกไม่เกิน 3 ปีหรือปรับไม่เกิน 60,000 บาท หรือทั้งจำทั้งปรับ

      ปัจจุบันกระทรวงไอซีทีได้ดำเนินการกับเว็บไซต์ที่เผยแพร่ข้อมูลไม่เหมาะสมต่างๆ ผ่านทางศูนย์ปฏิบัติการความปลอดภัยทางอินเทอร์เน็ต หรือ ISOC แล้วร่วม 9,000 URL แบ่งเป็นเว็บไซต์ที่กระทบกับความมั่นคง 6,218 URL เว็บไซต์ที่เผยแพร่ซึ่งข้อมูลเข้าข่ายลามกอนาจาร 2,307 URL และเว็บไซต์เกมการพนัน 430 URL

      อนึ่งกระทรวงไอซีทียังได้เปิดเลขหมายโทรศัพท์เพื่อรับเรื่องร้องเรียนและร้องทุกข์เกี่ยวกับการกระทำความผิดทางคอมคอมพิวเตอร์ และอินเทอร์เน็ต รวมทั้งการเผยแพร่ข้อมูลที่ไม่เหมาะสมผ่านเว็บไซต์ต่างๆ โดยประชาชนที่ต้องการร้องเรียนหรือแจ้งข้อมูลต่างๆ สามารถติดต่อได้ที่เลขหมาย 02-505-8898

      สอบถามข้อมูลเพิ่มเติม โทร. 02 568 2453 ทวิติยา

  11. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand CENSORED!
    Mon, 27/04/2009 – 07:38

    Three ISPs, including TOT ADSL, Kasetsart University and Buddy Broadband, have been blocking FACT since at least noon on April 25 and at least TOT was redirecting users via transparent proxy to a blank blockpage at Thailand’s ICT ministry.

    Will FACT readers please keep us informed if and when FACTsite http://facthai.wordpress.com is blocked by other ISPs. Please let us know by email: facthai@gmail.com. Please include your mobile number so we can call you back.

    We need to know if KU and Buddy and perhaps other ISPs are redirecting users by transparent proxy to http://w3.mict.go.th, as is TOT.

    The fact that THREE ISPs are now blocking FACTsite indicates that the blocking order did, in fact, come from MICT and is not just an ISP decision.

    This means that probably more ISPs will start to block FACTsite as the MICT ”request” is implemented by them. Some may be inefficient and not get around to blocking; others may simply ignore MICT’s “request”.

    It is HIGHLY unlikely that MICT sought a court order to block FACTsite. Therefore, we have a good basis for a court case. FACT would like to become the second legal website in Thailand after Midnight University!

    In any case, the first step is a letter of complaint to MICT and the three ISPs. We shall also get on the phone to all four on Monday.

    Can some FACT readers please let us know if FACT’s RSS feed is still sending to subscribers?

    Thanks for your help and support. FACT readers should use proxies and VPN till we get a new, mirrored website up. (This is the same way we’ll continue to post.)

    Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) has prepared a formal letter of complaint to send to Ranongruk Suwanachee, ICT minister, and the CEOs of the three ISPs:

    Freedom Against Censorship Thailand

    กลุ่มเสรีภาพต่อต้านการเซ็นเซอร์แห่งประเทศไทย

    April 25, 2009

    WITHOUT PREJUDICE

    Formal Letter of Complaint Over Website Blocking

    Cease and Desist Order

    It has been brought to our attention that, on April 25, 2009, the WordPress blogsite of Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)http://facthai.wordpress.com was inaccessible to subscribers of the Telephone Organisation of Thailand’s ADSL Internet service (2009.04.25 13:07; 2009.04.25 17:15; 2009.04.25 17:33; 2009.04.25 21:49), Kasetsart University (2009.04.25 14:32), and Buddy Broadband (2009.04.26 02:16). Our website was apparently accessible from many other ISPs in Thailand. Users of TOT ADSL, Kasetsart University, and Buddy Broadband attempting to access FACT’s website were redirected by transparent proxy to http://w3.mict.go.th, indicating that FACT’s website was blocked by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.

    Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is a non-political, non-partisan, public non-governmental organisation providing information on censorship issues in Thailand and worldwide. FACT is a network of more than 900 citizens concerned over censorship issues.

    I am FACT’s coordinator and registered owner of FACT’s websitehttp://facthai.wordpress.com.

    If the ICT ministry and/or TOT is blocking FACT’s websitehttp://facthai.wordpress.com, we require you to provide a copy of the court order authorising censorship of our website along with complete reasons for such censorship. If there is no such court order, the ICT ministry and/or TOT is actingillegally under the requirements of the Computer-Related Crimes Act 2007 and must immediately restore access to our website by all Internet users.

    Should you fail to provide us with the relevant court orders and reasons for blocking FACT’s website, we will take legal action against you.

    We expect your prompt reply and the removal of any block against FACT’s website.

    Sincerely,

    CJ Hinke

    Box 31, Udomsuk Post Office

    Bangkok 10261 Thailand

    http://facthai.wordpress.com

    telephone. +66-7-976-1880 email. facthai@gmail.com

  12. A further example:

    Planting the foreign media with a sinister plot (Thanong Khantong, Nation blog)

    Observe the charge against the Red Shirts: “They despised the coup.”

    The only way to read The Nation and the propaganda of its columnists is through the commentary of bloggers like BP and TJTS:

    Deconstructing Thanong Khanthong: Seeing Evil Conspiracies Everywhere that He Can’t Prove (TJTS)

    Thanong Watch (BP)

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