August 5, 2008

Thailand’s Media and Law Wars: the hijacking of state media.

Thailand’s Media and Law Wars: the hijacking of state media.

When you take up Sondhi’s Manager newspaper or watch ASTV “protest TV” you know what you are getting: the politics of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. I am not sure, but my guess is that ASTV is probably a first in history: a television channel dedicated to broadcasting ongoing protests and making those protests, and its stage entertainment and addresses, its full content. These outlets are private concerns, and while they probably violate every rule of objectivity (such as it is), they are not media instruments of the state.

Some weeks ago Prime Minister Samak indicated he would expand his weekly television address to a nightly show to answer his critics. That idea was dropped, but for the last two weeks “Truth Today” has been broadcast on a nightly basis on NBT, the national broadcaster.

The program is fascinating viewing. It is unashamedly pro-government. It declares itself against PAD and the Democrat Party (describing this as the party that works with dictators); it wages a relentless attack on the Constitution Court, the National Counter Corruption Commission, the constitution and the Auditor General.

Truth Today’s basic premise (also argued for in the pro-Thaksin paper Prachathat) is that the coup was illegitimate and therefore everything that has flowed from the coup is illegitimate, including the cases against Thaksin. The constitution is a child of a dictatorship. What makes the tv program absolutely fascinating is its decidedly politicised nature. It holds no punches, being hosted by leading members of the pro-Thaksin Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship, or the DAAD: Veera Musikapong (former Democrat Party member who led a defection from the party in the 1980s and who was found guilty of lese majeste for rather innocent comments), Nattawut Saikue (former deputy spokesperson for the Thaksin government), and Jatuporn Prompan (People’s Power MP).

Truth Today is firebrand television. Veera is one of the leaders of DAAD who moved protestors to General Prem’s (President of the Privy Council) residence in mid 2007, accusing him of being behind the 2006 coup against Thaksin.

The three presenters were also involved in the formation of the pro-Thaksin PTV channel that faced opposition from the coup group in 2007. They have now graduated to state television for an hour each evening, waging a war of accusations and argument in the manner of PAD.

Last night (August 3) the presenters launched an assault on the opposition Democrat Party as a party that supports dictators. The presenters discussed plans to try and appoint Democrat Party leader Aphisit as prime minister after the December 2007 election, but they noted that the numbers made it impossible for the Democrats to form government. They spoke of electoral fraud, and the unclear issue of excessive ballot papers (on that matter, no one has ever explained the party list vote of December which initially gave the the Democrat Party and the People’s Power Party 14 million votes each, in the end both got around 12 million). On the same evening Veera read an announcement of PAD, and paid especial attention to PAD’s professed support for democracy with the king as head of state. Ah, “we are on the same side” he declared.

The presenters have also spoken about Article 309 and the need to abolish it (this is an Article that Samak has reserved judgement on). It declares as legal all actions of the 2006 coup group. His reticence on that question may have something to do with when Samak served as Interior Minister after the massacre at Thammasat University in October 1976. Following that event he served in a government formed by the coup group and governed under a temporary constitution that had a very similar article (Article 29 of the 1976 Constitution basically states that all that the 1976 coup group did was legal).

Indeed, so common is this kind of article that to declare coup law as illegitimate is indeed to wage a war against the body of law of Thailand. That war is long overdue, and just as the embedding of the rule of law in the cases against Thaksin have found a strange handmaiden, so to one might reflect on the oddity of a government led by Samak being the one to launch a reform of Thai law (if indeed it goes beyond a mere consitutional amendment).

By the way, this evening’s episode of Truth Today (4th of August) ended with a reading of one of the king’s addresses on the role of justice. It seems that both sides support democracy with the king as head of state. Each is attempting to present itself as loyal to the monarchy.

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