Category Archives: journalism

The first casualty

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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. Continue reading

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

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A court in Rangoon on March 5 sentenced three men who didn’t know each other to a decade’s imprisonment for a crime that they never committed – or rather, for a crime so nebulous that if any of them had ever used a computer he wouldn’t know if he had committed it or not.

The three, Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo, were accused of sending news about the September 2007 protests in Burma through the Internet. All were already in jail for other purported crimes.

The next day, police in Bangkok came to one of Thailand’s few outspoken and credible media outlets, Prachatai, searched the premises and arrested its director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. She is accused of having failed to patrol, censor and delete the comments that readers left on a news website.

The police have charged Chiranuch under the Computer Crime Act 2007, which is only an “act” to the extent that the assembly of handpicked military stooges that passed it could be considered a legislature. According to this law, the importing of “false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage” to a third party or the public or “is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” can land the accused a five-year jail term.

Now let’s compare that with Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law 2004, Continue reading

Free Jiew, support Prachatai!

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From Prachatai, more evidence of human rights in the sewer:

Police visit Prachatai office with search and arrest warrants for website moderator
Prachatai, 06 March 2009

On March 6, at 3 pm, seven police officers visited Prachatai office in Bangkok, showing a search warrant and an arrest warrant for Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Prachatai Director.  She is charged with the offense according to Article 15 of the Computer Crime Act.  She has refused to answer any questions, and is waiting for her lawyer. Continue reading

Censorship and madness in Thailand

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Last month a campaign group in Thailand opposing Internet censorship released a list of 1,303 new website addresses that, it claims, are among those a government ministry has blocked.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand notes with concern that most of the pages on the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology blacklist are being kept under wraps with the aid of the courts and a new cybercrime law.

The list includes chat pages on the sites of local independent media agencies like Prachatai and Fah Diew Kan, which are both subject to constant monitoring and police harassment, and a couple from The Economist. But by far the largest number of pages is from YouTube and other video sharing sites.

What the banned addresses have in common is that, predominantly, their subject matter is the royal family. Continue reading

Nargis can’t be exaggerated

Among the many responses to the unconscionable blockading of humanitarian assistance to victims of the cyclone that swept through Burma on May 10, perhaps the strangest, if not the most offensive, have been claims that journalists, diplomats and aid workers have exaggerated the death toll.

These sorts of charges invariably come up when large numbers of people are killed, disappeared or displaced. They have their origins sometimes in misunderstanding of what really goes on during crises of this sort, sometimes in enmity towards human rights or humanitarian goals. In any case, that they have come up again in the wretched aftermath of Cyclone Nargis is particularly odd.

Take an article that David Rieff wrote for the Los Angeles Times (Save us from the rescuers, May 18). For Rieff, exaggerated reports are all about numbers. And not just high numbers for that matter, but pretty much any numbers. If the numbers jump up suddenly, he reasons, they’re suspect. But even if they don’t, they’re still suspect, because those who make them up are prone to hyperbole and have vested interests.

What Rieff omits is that those ultimately responsible for the making of numbers, those who are most prone to hyperbole and those with the biggest vested interests are not the relief agencies against whom he rails or their proponents but the national authorities who obstruct the making of accurate tallies with which to obtain a better picture of what needs to be done. Continue reading

Lies online, again

After being stuck in time since Cyclone Nargis hit, the New Light of Myanmar and cohorts are now going back online. Catch all the “news” that’s fit to print.

What about Weekly Eleven?

News not fit to print at The Nation

From Prachatai:

News not fit for printing at the Nation: the incident of Chotisak Oonsoong: Pravit Rojanaphruk, 23 April 2008, Article

This article was submitted to the Nation on Monday 22 April 2008, but the newspaper apparently decided not to publish it, although the Bangkok Post ran a similar front page story on Wednesday. Mr. Pravit also asked for a reason from his supervisor and was told that a higher authority had made decision that publication ‘carries a certain risk’

Continue reading

With or without the US, torturers have their way

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(การทรมานในเอเชีย ไม่ต้องการตัวอย่างของสหรัฐ)

An article in the Asia Times this week linked a secret U.S. facility in eastern Thailand with the torture of people in the country’s south. According to Shawn W. Crispin, “Rights advocates monitoring southern Thailand’s conflict note a striking similarity between the torture techniques U.S. agents are known to have used against terror suspects … with those now in practice by Thai security forces against suspected Thai Muslim militants.”

That soldiers, paramilitaries and police in the south routinely torture their detainees is beyond doubt. Journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders have documented hundreds of cases over a number of years, although concerns for the safety of the victims, their families and persons recording their stories mean that many cannot be publicized. As the abused persons also hold no hopes of redress through the courts, they can expect no more than a small payoff in acknowledgment of wrongdoing with which, it is understood, their silence also is bought.

But have rights advocates really noted a “striking similarity” between these cases and what has gone on in Guantanamo? Isn’t it more relevant to talk about the striking similarity between the abuses in the south and what goes on in police stations all around the country? Or how about what goes on in the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Cambodia? Continue reading

Spot the difference

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That’s right, not The Nation is The Website You Can Trust.

And on the topic of satire, The Manager (ผู้จัดการ) has its own page: ผู้จัดกวน

Thailand’s real enemy is insincerity

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The Constitutional Tribunal pulls democracy out of the fire… or drops it in? (Source: Matichon, 30 May 2007)

Beware of news editors who write about “stakeholders.” The word may be popular among the staff of international development agencies, producing clouded reports about projects that they have never seen, but it is usually avoided by journalists, who are expected to be more straightforward.

The fact that “stakeholders” appeared no less than four times in a single Bangkok Post feature last week (Now it is time to move on) should set alarm bells ringing about the condition of journalism in Thailand. The unidentified writer praised the special tribunal that had dissolved the overthrown Thai Rak Thai party and advised everyone that its verdict should be universally accepted, serve as a lesson for unscrupulous politicians that they must play by the rules, and that all stakeholders should just cooperate and move on.

The same person could have written the editorial in the country’s second English daily, The Nation. Although the stakeholders were gone, in a few hundred words the author managed to cram in reconciliation, good governance, public accountability, and, in a final mind-numbing paragraph, political ideology, socio-economic status, effective citizenship, genuine democracy based on the rule of law, and “a conducive environment for sustainable economic and social development.”

Such writing is offensive because it denies readers the opportunity to think and react. It has the opposite effect of real journalism, anaesthetizing rather than awakening society. “The great enemy of clear language,” George Orwell said in his seminal essay on politics and English usage, “is insincerity.” Insincere prose is unpleasant to read because while the truth may not be obvious, the struggle to obscure it with nonsense is all too apparent.

Continue reading