Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Interview with Marwaan Macan-Markar, Thailand based correspondent for the IPS news agency and chairman of the FCCT

Question : There is a debate going on in Thailand about the coverage by the Foreign press of the political events. Parts of the Thai elite is accusing the Foreign press, especially the big international TV channels, of being “irresponsible” in their coverage and of being on the side of the Reds. What do you think of this debate ?

Maarwan Macan-Markar :
First of all, what i find interesting is that they only focus on the Anglo-saxon medias. The two mains broadcast outlet that they have been critical of is CNN and the BBC. In a way, it tells us that there are the kind of medias that the Thai elite watches, where they get their news from : the english language medias like the BBC and CNN, and even some english language newspapers published in Britain : Times, The Economist and others....
When you talk about foreign medias coverage in Thailand, i think it is much more broader and much more complex than that. You are from France, there are German journalists, there are Japanese journalists, I am from Sri Lanka... So I think it is dangerous to assume that all foreign journalists follow a certain line. And it is not true.

Question : Do you think that this kind of issue is also in other countries. Yourself, you are from Sri Lanka. Did it happen in Sri Lanka that, at some points, the Foreign press was accused of being on the Tamil Tigers side or on the Cinghalese side ?

Maarwan Macan-Markar : It did happen in fact. I am familiar with this kind of criticisms levelled off by certain segments of a country towards international press coverage. And Sri Lanka certainly has seen a thread that has run the course of a 25 years conflict. It came to a head last year during the final month of the government troops on the Tamil Tigers, so much so that a lot of international medias were accused of being pro-LTTE. I, myself, when I was in Sri Lanka, wrote for a newspaper called The Sunday Leader, which has been a strong voice of dissent and disagreement.
My former boss was killed last year just outside the newspaper office. So, Sri Lankan journalists have paid a heavy price for offering an alternative narrative to the government narrative.
What you see in Thailand is much more interesting. In other words, very few Thai journalists have been accused of being voices of dissent. It seems like the government is targetting the international media and how the international medias reported the anti-government Red shirts demonstrations in Thailand.

Question : There seems to be anger and bitterness from parts of the Thai upper class vis à vis the Foreign medias. Where do you think this feeling is coming from ?

Marwaan Macan-Markar :
I think, partly, it is just the problem in Thai reportage. This recent phase of the Red shirts demonstrations started gathering momentum in January this year, when there were a lot of activities happening in the North-Eastern part of Thailand, which is the heartland of the Red shirts. I, myself, made many visits to the North East since February chronicling the growing momentum of Red shirts political sentiment, following some of their meetings, doing a story on the opening of Red shirts schools.
So when it all came to a head in March when tenths of thousands of Red shirts protesters arrived in a caravan of Red to Bangkok, which was an historic occasion, I was not surprised by this. What happened is the Thai medias refused to cover the story. The Thai medias were more interested in the Bangkok view, the metropolitan view of things. There was very little coverage by Thai medias of reporters going to the provinces to understand why people are angry. I think the basic job of a journalist is to demonstrate a level of curiosity.
And if you hear that a segment of your country is expressing some anger and resentment, it is only important that you go to those places and try to understand the anger. You do not have to take sides. Understand and explain the anger. And that is what a number of Foreign journalists have been doing.
So we had followed the story coming up to March. And then, of course, since it was all in Bangkok from March to mid-May, we had a better understanding of what happened. So partly, the anger stems probably from being shocked at what was happening in their country. That was the elite's reaction.
Now, had they been exposed to the realities happening in the provinces, I think the anger would not have been as stark as what we are seing right now.

Question :
Do you think that among the Thai medias, there is a problem of self-censorship and a problem of censorship by the management ?

Maarwan Macan-Markar :
Well, I am aware that the broadcasting channels were under some pressure to toe the government line. In fact, some of the mainstream Thai TV stations, not the cable channels, admitted so. The print medias is very free in this country. I think it is very free, very vibrant. Thais can be very proud of the space for freedom of expression and it is reflected in the print medias.
But if that is the case, the question need to be asked of why one did not see the kind of vibrant coverage, critical coverage that one woud expect at such time. For instance, Thai Rath, which is the largest circulation Thai language newspaper, was very progressive, very informative, was doing a lot of stories that cut accross the Thai political spectrum, from articles that were sympathetic to the Red shirts to those that were sympathetic to the government.
There were other newspapers less so. But the general impression created in this country, leading up to this, is that there was a level of self censorship, there was a level of disguise them (i.e. demonstratrors) as nuisances or disguise as trouble makers or sometimes dismissing them as buffaloes and stupid, which is very derogatory. I think that metropolitan biases did come out.

Question : The english language daily The Nation had played a very important role in May 1992, because, when the Bangkok Post was self censoring itself, The Nation stood firm and reported the news and played an important role against the pro-military government of general Suchinda Kraprayoon. Then, after 1992, a new TV channel, ITV, was created because there was an awareness that there was a problem with the coverage by the Thai TV channels which were reporting too much the government line. Now The Nation is completely one-sided. It is tied by its ownership. And Thai PBS channel, the former ITV, is not doing a very balanced reporting. How can we explain this change from progressive standing in 1992 to conservative standing in 2010 ?

Marwaan Macan-Markar : I think it is a bit more complex than that. The Thai medias who are critical of the Red shirts and not critical enough of the government also reflects a certain animosity towards Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime minister. The Nation openly admits that they suffered a lot during the five-and-a-half years term of Mr Thaksin. They felt they were persecuted. And I think the anger that emerged at the time, the hostility towards Mr Thaksin in a way shapes their coverage. Because they feel that the Red shirts are pro-Thaksin supporters and therefore they don't want to give any leeway for Mr Thaksin to come back.
About Thai PBS, it is interesting that the Red shirts demonstrators i spoke to, during the protests, gave the impression that, of the Thai broadcast medias, the one that was most fair to them was Thai PBS. At least, this channel gives their voice, their stories.
But i think, if we look at whatever bias there is in the Thai media coverage, most of it is shaped by this hostility towards Mr Thaksin, because he was no friend of free expression, he was no friend of Thailand independent press ; he applied a lot of pressure and crackdown and crushed some of these independent voices. And that resentment still bubbles under the surface. And i think that shaped the way in which the news agenda was set in covering the recent protests.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thaïlande : derrière la normalité, la répression

Par Arnaud Dubus, Bangkok

Officiellement, le calme et l’ordre sont rétablis après les manifestations des «chemises rouges» réprimées dans le sang il y a un mois. La Thaïlande a presque retrouvé son sourire. L’homme du moment est le colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, un beau gosse qui remplit les fonctions de porte-parole du CRES, l’organe militaro-civil qui dirige la Thaïlande sous l’égide du décret d’état d’urgence. Dans les centres commerciaux de la capitale, qui ont survécu à la vague rouge, les minettes de la bourgeoisie bangkokoise se font prendre en photo aux côtés de cet officier au visage poupon, lequel sert de porte-voix au régime du premier ministre Abhisit et de Suthep Taungsuban, le sulfureux vice-ministre en charge de la sécurité.
Des assassinats Sansern, qui affiche un sourire béat en permanence, sauf quand il lit, sérieux comme un pape, les communiqués du CRES, a vu exploser son fan-club sur Facebook. Les Bangkokoises apprennent avec
ravissement qu’il taquine la guitare. Mais derrière cette Thaïlande du sourire retrouvé et du retour à la «normale», une campagne sourde de répression est en train de se dérouler dans les provinces rurales. Une campagne qui n’est pratiquement pas rapportée par les télés ou la presse, tout occupées à s’apitoyer sur les débris fumants du Central World, l’immense mall luxueux incendié, et les menaces que fait peser la crise sur l’économie.
Les «chemises rouges», revenues dans leurs provinces après l’assaut des militaires contre leur camp retranché dans le quartier commercial huppé de Bangkok le 19 mai, ont peur. Bien que la presse se montre discrète, sauf
le courageux site internet d’informations Prachatai* constamment bloqué par les autorités, les informations sur des assassinats commis contre les «chemises rouges» en province commencent à filtrer. Un garde du corps
d’un leader rouge a été abattu la semaine dernière de quatre balles dans la ville de Nakhon Ratchasima (nord- est). Un cuisinier a connu le même jour le même sort à Sisaket (nord-est). Un autre «garde rouge» a été abattu à Chonburi (à 100 km à l’est de Bangkok). «Guantanamo thaïlandais»
Confronté aux critiques des organisations internationales de défense des droits de l’homme, le gouvernement a réagi en faisant publier la liste des 417 personnes arrêtées depuis le 19 mai, avec leur lieu de détention et l’inculpation dont ils ont fait ou vont faire l’objet. «Le gouvernement donne l’impression de fournir des informations, mais en fait il ne vise pas la bonne cible. Notre inquiétude concerne les personnes détenues sous l’égide du décret d’état d’urgence, lequel n’exige pas qu’une personne arrêtée soit inculpée», dit Sunai Pasuk, chercheur pour Human Rights Watch.
Cette organisation et Amnesty International lancent un cri d’alarme sur le sort des personnes détenues secrètement dans des camps militaires. «Nous ne voulons pas d’un Guantanamo thaïlandais», dit l’universitaire Vishnu Varunyou. Hormis 21 leaders et militants rouges détenus sous l’égide du décret d’urgence dans les camps militaires de Petchaburi, de Saraburi et dans le camp de la police des frontières à Pathum Thani, près de Bangkok, on ignore l’identité et le nombre des personnes détenues dans des camps. De surcroît, la Fondation Miroir, une ONG thaïlandaise, a reçu 77 plaintes pour disparition: un fils, une mère ou une grand-mère qui n’ont pas été revus après l’assaut du 19 mai contre le fortin rouge de Rajaprasong. Une autre organisation, Union for Civil Liberties, n’a recensé que cinq disparitions.
«La Thaïlande commence à prendre des airs d’Indonésie sous Suharto», analyse le blogueur britannique Yvan Cohen**, expert de la politique thaïlandaise. Il évoque la répression sourde qui a frappé les militants
démocratiques indonésiens de 1966 à 1998 et la notion de «liberté dans la responsabilité» prônée par le régime suhartiste, qui n’est, ni plus ni moins, qu’une manière élégante d’habiller les contraintes imposées par un régime autocratique. La presse, dans sa majorité, est aux ordres, sauf le site Prachatai, le quotidien de référence Matichon et le brûlot populiste Thai Rath, ce dernier étant acquis aux «rouges». Des journalistes étrangers sont convoqués par le CRES pour livrer leurs informations et montrer leurs vidéos au gouvernement. «J’en ai marre d’être appelée par des officiels du gouvernement», lâche une journaliste indépendante. Certains vétérans, qui ont vécu la répression qui a suivi le massacre des étudiants de l’université Thammasart, le 6 octobre 1976, disent avoir l’impression de revivre cette époque noire.
Face à cette dérive inquiétante, le premier ministre Abhisit Vejjajiva garde son sourire de jeune premier et parle de «réconciliation». «Le gouvernement ne parle que de réconciliation, mais tout ce qu’il fait va dans la direction
opposée», assène l’ancien sénateur Jon Ungphakorn.


© 2009 Le Temps SA et Libération SA

Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview of Aela Callan, Thailand-based independent journalist working for Al Jazeera

Question : Parts of the Thai elite have accused the foreign medias, particularly the big international TV channels to be on the Red side. What is your comment on this ?

Aela Callan : A lot of Thai medias, and as you say particularly the elite, have levelled a lot of anger against possibly CNN and BBC the most in the wake of the Red shirts crackdown. I think that the accusations that both channels are biased in favour of the Red shirts are somewhat unfounded. When you have a look at the coverage that we spread, not only accross that week of the crackdown but also in the many months leading up to, i think both sides were represented in coverage. I think perhaps the difference is that time which was devoted to the topic : Al Jazeera, for one thing, has a lot more time devote their coverage to, because of the way that our broadcasts are set up. In every bulletin, for instance, you would see a government spokesperson and a Red shirts spokeperson.
Then coverage from our correspondents out in the field, what was happening on the ground, and then analysis from reporters and various experts as well.
Perhaps, the international broadcasts of CNN and the BBC did not have as much time to devote to the Red shirts topic. Our bulletins tend to go around the world, depending by regions, so from the Middle-East, Asia, America and Europe. So in Asian bulletins, particularly, we devoted rolling coverage and we had pretty much hours and hours of coverage on the day of the crackdown.
And before that we did comprehensive coverage what the issues were. And perhaps that is the reason why Al Jazeera has not received such intense criticism.
I also tend to think that Al Jazeera has not been tarred with the brush of the western medias. Thai are very defensive about western medias interfering or western attitudes interfering. We saw when there were suggestions that maybe the United Nations should broker some sorts of peace talks between the government and the Red shirts. That was vehemently rejected by the Thai government and, in not so many words, they were saying : we can handle our own issues. In Thailand, there is very much the sense that Westerners don't understand their issues. They don't understand the way the conflit is unfolding.
I don't buy that argument. I think western journalists, in particular those that have worked here for many years, have a very solid understanding of what the issues are. Thailand does not have a free and fair medias. Most of the television stations are state owned. And therefore, you have a situation where the Yellow shirts supporters watch Yellow shirts TV, ASTV, and the Red shirts supporters watch the Red shirts TV, P-TV. And then, you have the state run broadcasters and the military run broadcasters, such as Channel 11.
So, if they don't like the view that is being portrayed on one of those stations, they just don't watch it. To have western medias coming and present views that are perhaps different to their own, they have no concept really that this is reporting without fear or favour. These are just the facts that journalists are seeing on the ground. Then they feel that they have no recourse perhaps to complain about this. And it is not something they are necessarily used to seeing. They are used to an environment where the government can interfere in what is being broadcasted. They are used to an environment in which people just won't watch the other side's point of view.
So I think that has been something that Thailand has grappled with during this crisis, but also in previous crisis. We saw in the Songkhran riots, twelve months prior, that the same accusations of bias were levelled against various sections of the medias.
This is not to say that the medias is above criticism in any way whatsoever. We welcome that. That is part of a functioning democracy... is the role of the medias. And if anyone says your coverage is biased, they are entitled to do that.
What I think has been very destructive in the way Thailand has responded to the international medias is the singling out of certain journalists. And the Thai medias allowing letters to the editor for example to be published that say : “this journalist or that journalist should be kicked out of the country. If you see them in the street, harm them”. I think that it is incredibly dangerous, and that is something that i would hope the Thai government and the ministry of Foreign affairs are keeping a very close watch on, because not only is that damaging to those reporters involved, but that makes the situation unsafe for them here in Thailand.

Question : Did you yourself experience pressures or intimidations or strong advice about the way you should report from one or the other side ?

Aela Callan : Absolutely not. We were never contacted by any government official or Red shirts offical saying : this is how you should cover the story. What I did experience, particularly in the wake of some of the pictures we have shown of Red shirts, was a backlash, and not necessarily against myself or other correspondents, but mostly against the cameraman, which to me seems to be a very interesting reaction that the Red shirts, when they did not like what we were broadcasting in terms of showing armed members of the movement... You know, when we heard about these Black shirts, we had not necessarily seen a lot of photos or videos of them. And when we got videos of them, we broadcast it as did the other stations. And one of the accusations that has been levelled against CNN is that they did not actually aired that footage. Well, they did.
I think the reaction of them trying to hunt out the cameraman who had taken that video was, for me, quite disturbing. A because our crew works on the ground under very difficult circonstances. They, unlike the correspondents, are the ones who have their face visible to the public. So that was a concerning situation for me. I am not sure why they wanted to actually target the cameraman, but that indicated a trend towards a sort of anti-medias sentiment.
Then, on the governement's side, we also tended to experience these broad brush accusations that we have got it wrong. For example, after the crackdown, we went to a government press conference in which we were handed a dossier entitled : “misconceptions of the foreign medias” - which from the outset tends to indicate that the government did not agree with what was being said. And they wanted to point out to us what we got wrong. If this would happen in a western country such as France, or England, Australia, anywhere, there would be widespread outrage. You would have seen the medias get up and leave the press conference.
But here in Thailand, it was very much viewed that this was quite normal behavior, that is was OK for the government to tell the medias what they should have been saying. Certainly from the government's side, since then there have been a lot of moves made not to try to influence our coverage, but certainly to gain an idea of what...before something is released. A lot of PR spin is going on. And it is hardly surprising because both sides, in the wake of this conflict, are very much trying to win the hearts and minds of the Thai public. This has now become as much as a media war as it was a war being fought on the street.

Question : Do you think that the role of the foreign has been particularly important in this political crisis, because the Thai medias either censored themselves or were censored by their editor-in-chief ?

Aela Callan : Absolutely. To a huge degree, self censorship goes on in Thailand. Particularly, the role of the medias, in terms of either being a government mouthpiece or a mouthpiece of the Red shirts, depending on which station you watch... So the foreign medias, while I think we did not get it right at every instant, have been crucial in demystifying what is a very complex political situation. But also to make it accessible to the masses. In fact, given the fact that a lot of criticism have been levelled at the international medias, it does indicate one thing : Thais are looking to the international medias more for their news. And that is hardly surprising, given that when we saw the uprising on April 10th, when we saw the crackdown on May 19th, a lot of the Thai television stations in particular resorted to playing soap operas and music video clips. Anything but what was actually happening out on the streets and the killing that was unfolding.
Therefore, a lot of Thais did go particularly to the internet, to new medias forms – twitter, facebook -, but also the foreign TV stations to find out what was going on.
Also, interestingly, in Thailand, because of the strong lèse majesté laws, the fact that you are not allowed to speak openly about the monarchy, a lot of Thais, when they would meet you on the streets as you are covering this, would say : what is the real story ? What is going on that you know that we don't. So there is very much the perception that Thais know they are being censored. (...). But there is also very much the perception that the international medias should still be painting Thailand in a positive light. The Land of Smiles has a reputation to uphold. And many Thais don't like it when you are broadcasting images of the battles that are going on on the streets.
In Thailand, I never felt out on the streets that this is a situation of danger, I certainly felt hostility. And I certainly encountered people who would like to tell you their version of events. And, you know, the country just remains deeply divided. It is deeply fractured. And that is not going to heal itself quickly. Thais know this. So they know foreign media is going to be around, although because Bangkok's geography attracts a lot of free-lance journalists. A lot of people from all over the world come here. And the story is accessible. It is colorfull. It looks good on TV. It looks good on Front page of the newspapers. And, so it is going always to attract a lot of attention. Because you have the great irony that the Land of Smiles has resorted to warfare on the streets. So, it is always going to receive a lot of attention. Some of it will be good. Some of it will be bad. But I hope the way we continue to report it is balanced. And i would argue, we tried to put both sides over, we tried to simplify it for international audiences to be able to digest. Some people are not going to like that, but, you know, we will cope with that.

Interview of Pravit Rojanaphruk on the “coverage controversy” of the Thai crisis

Pravit Rojanaphruk is a political reporter for The Nation daily.

Question : Some people in the elite accuse these medias, these TV channels of being pro-Red. What do you think ? Do you think it is a fair accusation ?

Pravit : I should say they are more sympathetic to the Red shirts than the majority of the Thai medias. And this partly has to do with the fact that majority of the Thai medias were against Red shirts from the very beginning. The majority of the Thai medias supported the 2006 coup d'Etat which ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, who is one leaders of the Red shirts movement. So from this regard, we could see why the foreign medias cover this crisis differently from the medias. I would not blame the foreign medias for being more accomodating, more sympathetic, or at least more understanding of the Red shirts.
As much as we wanted to criticize foreign medias, we should also ask what is the standing or the position, political stand of the Thai mainstream medias. And it must be admitted that an overwhelming majority of the mainstream Thai medias are anti-Red shirts and pro-government and pro-Yellow shirts.

Question : Why is that so ? Because of censorship by the government or is it an inclination because many of the journalists were born in Bangkok and they feel more sympathetic to the Yellow shirts ?

Pravit : I think it is the later, more than the former. Virtually all Thai medias are based in Bangkok. No important newspapers are based elsewhere. No national television is based outside Bangkok. So we have to start to understand that the situation is very Bangkok-centred. What we are seeing is that a lot of the staff who are working for the mainstream medias are very Bangkok-centric. Not just by the sheer fact that they are based in Bangkok, a majority work here and are born here, and if they are not born here, they grew up here and came for university here. And so their views tend to be Bangkok-centric again. And what is the problem about being Bangkok-centric ? I think this is one of the story not much touched by the mainstream Thai medias if at all. The fact that Bangkok is more than two times larger than the second largest city, which is, i believe, Chiang Mai, says a lot. All the elite universities, except for one or two, are all based in Bangkok.
So we have this very huge disparity, not just in terms of economics and social opportunities, but also political between Bangkok and the rest of the country. What we have been seeing is that a number of foreign journalists, so called foreign correspondents, have actually ventured out of Bangkok to interview Red shirts and in the North or the North-Eastern region of Thailand, while the majority of Thai medias are really concentrating their story on Bangkok and whatever voices they allow for rural people to speak is very limited.

Question : There seems to be an hyper-sensitivity of parts of the Thai elite to any foreign overview, foreign judgement on the situation in Thailand. Why is that so ? Where do you think it comes from ?

Pravit : Because they feel as if they have the control or the ownership of what Thailand is supposed to look like in the eyes of the international community. And of course, what happened leading up to May 19th is that the foreign medias were mostly very critical of the Thai government. And I think they were very unhappy, because they are part of the elite who is on the other side of the Red shirts movement. So while they tought they could control much of the Thai mainstream medias, they realized they could not control the foreign medias. And so they wanted to argue that what the foreign medias presented actually is not true.
I would not go that far. I think there is no one in Thailand who could on behalf of the whole country. And this is because Thai society is much more complex and diverse. Bangkok is not everything that Thailand is. And so a lot of this elite, who are strangely enough mostly foreign-educated, now claim to be able to speak on behalf of all Thai. And I think this is a fallacy, it is inacurate.
And so I think what they wanted to say is that actually the foreign correspondents portrayal of Thailand is not reflective of what the Thai elite think, again what the Thai elite think - and not even all the Thai elite, I would just say the majority of the Thai elite. Because there are some elite who are also sympathetic and understanding of the Red shirts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jon Unphakorn on the Thai Press coverage and Prachatai

Jon Ungphakorn, former senator and Magsaysay award, speaks about freedom of the Press in Thailand and about Prachatai website.

Jon Unphakorn is the founder of the Prachatai information website. He is now no more directly involved with the website.

Question : What kind of troubles and annoyances Prachatai is getting from Abhisit Vejjajiva's government ?

Jon Ungphakorn : Prachatai has had many problems, not just during the present Abhisit's government, but ever since the military coup d'Etat in 2006. After that there has been several cases where the police asked Prachatai for information about people who posted on the web board of Prachathai.
At present, the manager of Prachatai, Jiranuth Premchaiporn, is being charged and the case has been sent to court under the computer crimes act. She is charged with allowing content on the web board which endangers national security or causes undue alarm or is libelous material. This is because she was in charge of screening the postings on the web board, but there were so many postings that the one she is charged with, she did not noticed. It was on the web board only a few days, then it was removed. But she has been charged for having that material on the web board of Prachatai.
More recently, there is another case where the police in the provinces in the North-East are investigating an article which appeared in Prachatai whether it contains materials which is lèse majesté ; a complain against this Prachatai's article.
So Prachatai is having problems regarding freedom of expression ever since the 2006 coup. But it has never before being officially blocked. But during the recent events in Thailand with the demonstrations of the Red shirts and using the emergency decree that the government announced, Prachatai was listed as one of the website that had to be blocked.
This is despite the fact that Prachatai does not belong to any political group and is an independent media which published all kinds of opinions. It does not censor people people according to their opinion.
It was blocked together with a number of medias that belong to the Red shirts side, the UDD medias. So it was an independent media which is, of course, critical of many governments ; its role is to act as a watchdog on medias freedom and a watch dog on human rights and so on. It has always been critical of any government. But for the first time, it has been blocked by the Abhisit's government.

Question : We know that Thai TV channels are controlled by the government or the military, but concerning the written thai press, i would like to get your opinion about the quality of coverage by the Thai newspapers and magazines ?

Jon Ungphakorn : Most of the mainstream medias are owned by people who would be against the Red side. So most of the mainstream medias tend to be more pro-government than to be pro-Red. And many of the medias are so anti-Thaksin and anti-Red that they do not question the government use of the emergency or even the role of the government in the large number of deaths among the demonstrators during the recent violence.
The one newspaper group that i think is doing quite a good job of questionning the government, showing videos that give a different perspective from that of the government is the Matichon Group. They are starting to uncover many facts that the government does not like. And they have been criticized by the Democrat Party's spokesman for being biased.
On the other hand there are some newspapers like Thai Post which is very anti-Thaksin, which have been even trying to persuade the government to take a very hard line against the Reds all the time, almost inciting the government to use violence against the Red side or at least to get rid of the demonstrations as soon as possible.
On the whole i would say that the mainstream medias sympathize more with the government, but that the Matichon Group is showing some independence in this respect.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Interview with Michaël H. Nelson on the media coverage of the Thai political Crisis (Part two)

Question : What would you say about the Thai newspapers. The Thai TV channels are closely controlled by the government or the army, but the Thai newspapers are supposed to be more free and supposed to deliver a higher quality of news. What do you think about their coverage ? Is there any newspaper which has been quite balanced about the events ?

Michael H. Nelson : First, about the newspapers, yes they are formally much freer than the TV stations. However, newspapers also have certain background and certains owners, and, in the case of The Nation newspaper for example, I was told that the owning journalist has talked about his stance towards Thaksin at an earlier stage. I was told that this Nation's executive put the alternative in the following way : he said at that point of time we have a choice between free journalists or of hating Thaksin and we have chosen to hate Thaksin. And this choice would determine how they would report in the following years.
So they simply have chosen not to follow their professional ethics but to take a political stand and become a political mouthpiece.
The Bangkok Post has always been quite conservative, they have now moved into the staunchly conservative or even right wing position. They are owned by the Central Department Store group, which is very close to the Palace ; it is an establishment newspaper. They have been extremely one-sided in their reporting. But we must also not forget... I have just mentioned these two English language newspapers, but both of them have also their Thai language newspaper. The Nation has Krungthep Turakit, a business paper, and Kom Chat Leuk, a paper for the masses ; and the Bangkok Post has Post Today newspaper, which is even more right wing than the Bangkok Post actually is. So you will not read anything nice, of course, in the Bangkok Post or The Nation about the Reds. When the Reds were on their way to come to Bangkok in March, the Bangkok Post called them “rural hordes”.
The Thai newspapers are a mixed bag : the Thai language newspapers which are not owned by an English language paper are a different lot. Many of them are on government line. Others, you mentioned Matichon... Matichon is comparatively open in its reporting, although in 2009 they also had some challenges and they lost ; they kicked out two of their journalists who had kept writing positive things about Thaksin and the Reds. So that was clearly in breach of their purported professional and neutral position towards reporting.
But since i buy Matichon everyday, i can fairly say that this is the only paper i can relatively trust, because they report fairly widely, they have a broad range of columnists, from very right wing to left wing to people in the middle. So you do get quite a lot of news and interpretations. But one must also say Matichon is an intellectual newspaper with a very limited circulation. People in Thailand take their news from TVs. Very few people read newspapers. That is the reason why the government domination and propagation of their stance by their own TVs and radios is so important. That is, as soon as people only watch ASTV of the Yellow shirts or they watch only government's channels, they have a very distorted view of the political world.
The I said Matichon is far too small in circulation, its mass-based sister publication Khao Sod has a bigger circulation, but of course it is a mass-based paper stand and they have less news about politics and more about crime and entertainment. There is one mass-circulation Thai Rath which is also more in the Red shirts political direction, which is important because Thai Rath is by far the biggest mass-circulation paper in Thailand. They react to their readership and their readership take news from what the journalists write. But as i said it is also a mass-circulation, so you would not have that much news and it is rather more limited.
But it was quite interesting, if i can say this, on the day after the 10th of April – the first crackdown of the government in Khok Wua intersection, there was a very strong contrast, an indicative contrast about reporting. The Bangkok Post had the entire front page covered by a group of soldiers carrying a wounded soldiers. So the 10th of April was only about soldiers being attacked. While Thai Rath newspaper had a front page that, at the top, had a huge picture of the turmoil. What could not see as a reader what really happened, one could only see there was chaos and turmoil, which was the situation. And beneath that picture, they had four smaller pictures ; two pictures on the left hand side showing Red shirts victims and two more pictures showing military victims. So this was a very balanced front page which was in very stark contrast to the Bangkok Post.
One more indication. Yesterday, I bought a special publication of the Nation Group's Kom Chad Leuk, the mass circulation, about the events about Rajaprasong intersection. And this is an utterly disgusting and unbelievable piece of distortion. Because in that issue, they basically have a lot of pictures about soldiers and about injured soldiers and dead soldiers. You have, as far as i can remember only one picture of injured or dead Red Shirt, one of those in the temple. You have nothing but the soldiers who are under attack, who are trying to go on the offensive. And you have a lot of pictures showing Red shirts violent or rioting. But you don't see the Red shirts as victims of the soldiers or anybody else. So, in the German context, that would be a rather neo nazi approach to propaganda. But here in Thailand, in the present circumstances, this is quite ordinary.
And this is the direction in which these publications are going. A previous publication by Naew Na newspaper, a mass-circulation as well, was titled “Red terrorists burn Bangkok”. So we can see how these events are framed in the mind of Bangkok people. The demonstrations, the protests, the political issues, completely disappear behind the violence, the rioting, etc... It is always only the Reds who are at fault.

Question : You have been studying thoroughly the Red publications, the newspapers, the magazines... I know this is a study in progress and you are very cautious to make any comments about it, but I would be interested to know what kind of historical references, either from the Thai history or the Asian history or the Western history, are these publications using.

Michael H. Nelson : You are right, i have to be very cautious because i don't know that much. I have been collecting these publications for quite some time and i have a huge pile up in my room. These journals include many three sources. One is “The Voice of Thaksin”, the second is “Truth Today” and the third is “Tbai Red News”.
Your question is a little bit academic, i would say. Simply because these publications are not directed at academics. They are directed at a mass audience who are protesters of the Red shirts movement. These people are not interested about academic debates about Asian or Thai or Western history, these people are interested in political views by their leaders. So you have their main leaders, like Veera Musikapong, Jatuporn, Nathawut, Weng, Jida, writing their columns in these papers which mostly consist of attacks against the government. You had a long serie running about the monarchy in Burma which was finally deposed. So i am not sure whether this was the hint to what might happen if the conditions would be right in Thailand.
You had at one point one publication that was “Truth Today” having the front page headline : “The New Thai State”. So i thought to compare the New Thai State to the New Politics of the Yellow shirts. And I was utterly disappointed because this article, which was on two large pages, had a very thin content. So the New Thai State that the establishment so much fears has basically two elements . First : we think that the Thai parliamentary system works ; the Yellow shirts and to a large extent the establishment say : the Thai parliamentary system does not work and therefore we don't have to accept the outcome of elections. The Red shirts say : there might be problems, but the parliamentary system essentially works and therefore everyone has to accept the outcome of elections. So that is the main difference.
The second difference is about the role of the Thai monarchy. The Red shirts, in some of the references, they have dared touching upon the monarchy, which is a daring and dangerous thing because we have lèse majesté laws in Thailand that threaten high jail sentences to everybody who, even remotely, criticized the monarchy and especially the royal family. So what they did was... they said : we are in favour of the Democracy with the King as Head of State – this is the formula used in the constitution and by the establishment as well. But then they continued by saying that they want a monarchy that is modelled along the lines of the United Kingdom or Japan. In other words, they want to reduce the monarchy to a symbolic role. Because they assume that the monarchy and the Privy Council had an important role in the coup d'Etat of 2006. So that event brought many people brought many people in upcountry area up against the monarchy, so they would like to make sure that the monarchy will not any longer, from that perspective, a political player in Thai politics. Thus the reduction to a symbolic role.
But this is precisely what the establishment can never, ever accept. Because, as one writer in this tradition said : if the Thai monarchy is ever reduced to a symbolic role, it means it has been abolished. So this is a very strong statement. And this is partly what led to accusations of the Red shirts wanting to abolish the monarchy. Mainly or partly because from the perspective of the establishment, the monarchy is an essential part of Thai identity altogether. Reducing the monarchy is a traitorous activity because it means that the nation is in great danger of disappearing altogether. The monarchy is the central piece of the Thai soul and the Thai nation from that perspective. So trying to reduce the role of the monarchy to something like what we have in the UK or Japan or other European countries, to the proponents of the traditional Thai monarchistic ideology, this is a crime, a serious crime.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

“The soldiers might have acted just out of an emotional impulse”

Michaël Nelson, a sociologist from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies of Passau university in Germany has been an acute observer of the Thai political scene for several decades. He is currently a visiting researcher at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science. Among others, he is the author of Central Authority and Local Democratization in Thailand, a landmark study on the bureaucratic polity in the countryside and the evolution of the relationships between the centre and the periphery at the time of political reform and decentralization (Studies in Contemporary Thailand N°6, White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 1998). Dr Michaël anwers our questions on the medias coverage of the Thai Political Crisis. Interview by Arnaud Dubus.

Question : There has been a big debate in Thailand on the coverage of the Red Shirts demonstrations by the Foreign press. Many Thais in Bangkok find the Foreign Press “totally irresponsible” in their coverage. Yet, if we look at the reports, some are of course dramatized and exaggerated, but the basic facts are there – even if in a simplistic manner – and the voice of the Reds is taken into account by these foreign medias. So why such an anger by the Thais against the foreign medias coverage, especially the coverage by the big international TV channels ?

Michaël H. Nelson : Maybe the crux of the matter is what you have just mentionned, that they have given a voice to the Reds, while the mass-medias in Thailand have tried very hard to cut off the voice of the Reds and to replace it by the voice of the governement.
So these people that are so much against BBC or CNN might merely think that these medias do not present a view of the governement, of the elite, and therefore they are wrong. And it is not only the view of the Thai elite and some Thais right wing commentators and middle class people, it is also the view of many foreign observers, because we must not forget that one of the most nasty article against CNN was written by Andrew Biggs who happen to have been working as an Australian at the Nation newspaper, a right wing paper, for many years.
An the other hand, there are also Thai observers who are grateful for having those such as BBC and CNN, because they fell oppressed by the facts the Thai mass medias, in particular the TV channels who are mostly in governement's hands, have been turned from State governement TVs into propaganda tools of the governement.

Question : Do you think that there is also an element of cultural behavior in the sense that there seems to be a sort of preconception among parts of the Thai elite that Westerners are not fully able to understand the behavior of Thai people and the Thai culture. And so there should not be any interference, because anyway, there are not Thai and they can not understand ?

Michaël H. Nelson : Well, they are quite ambivalent about this, i think. That is, if a totally ignorant foreigner says something nice about Thailand, they will be very happy about this. They know he is ignorant, they know he knows nothing, but since he speaks nicely about Thailand or nicely about this governement, they accept it and they will give him front page coverage, they will give him place for interviews, etc... So never mind if he is ignorant, since he gives a positive voice to Thailand, he is accepted.
Then in those cases where they know they are confronted with a person who knows something that does not share their opinions, they reject it. It takes often quite strange forms. For example, you have this general reaction that there is an article published in a foreign newspaper or by some foreign TV crews, and then the commentator will say : see, these people from far away, perhaps even not having been in Thailand, write something about us. How can they understand us, since they are so far away and since they are foreigner ? How can they write anything good about us ?
But they will never dare saying anything if they know that that person, who has said something critical about their country and their politics, has been here for 15, 20 or 30 years. Normally they don't quite know what to say any longer because they can not say that this person does not know anything, that even after 20 years he is totally ignorant about Thailand, how can that be ? Maybe that person knows even more about Thailand than themselves. Because if that person happens to be, for example, a political scientist who have been studying Thai politics empirically and theoritically for decades, this person surely knows a lot more about Thai politics than most of his critics.
But of course, it is a different kind of knowledge, because that person was not born in Thailand. So, as a Thai you have a different connection to what your society is. But precise, concrete, accurate knowledge about how politics works... all that, a foreigner who has studied about Thai politics might know much better than those Thais who criticize him.

Question : But would you say that the kind of “rational logical” analytical framework that we are using in the West is not always completely suited to analyze Thailand, in the way that we give rational motivations to the Thai people. For instance, when i discuss the Pathum Wanaram Temple's incident, some foreigners tell me “But why would the soldiers have shot the people in the temple, because they had not interest to do that ?”. My point is that often the behavior or the actions of Thai people won't have rational motivations. And so it is a bit difficult to analyze them in rational terms.

Michaël H. Nelson : I am really not sure about this, because i happen to be a sociologist and sociologists talk much about motivations of people rationality and all this. We would normally differentiate between rational behavior, emotional behavior, routinized behavior.
One point in this context is rationality is directed towards a goal. So you can have very different goals and you might look at behavior in a way that it appears non rational because you use your own goals in interpreting this behavior. But if you use other goals, that is the goals of the Thai actors, then that behavior might be completely rational in the sense that this behavior is a mean to achieve their goals. It is only that we don't understand their goals.
As for your example with the soldiers. I have not talked to any of those soldiers. One might say that the soldiers were in a specific situation. Many of them were probably quite stressed. Many of them were widely emotional against the Red shirts. They might have acted just out of an emotion impulse. They might have seen all these protesters as bad, people whom they must fight. One observer has quoted them as having shouted from the BTS station : “you are all bad, we will all kill you”.
So they have a goal. They say “Reds are all bad”. And they want to relieve their emotion. By pulling the trigger and shooting bullets into people, they relieve their emotional anger, they relieve their political anger, etc... So this would still be an emotionally rational behavior in that sense.

(to follow...)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

For Thai Police, Double Standard is the Bottom Line

C'est un de ces incidents idiots qui arrivent régulièrement aux farangs qui pilotent des motos dans Bangkok : l'embuscade. Revenant de l'Alliance française, sur ma platinum 150cc made in China, je me positionne sur la voie de droite au feu rouge Sathorn-Rama IV, histoire de virer plus court et de griller mes concurrents qui se sont placés sur les deux voies les plus à gauche. C'était un traquenard : un policier souriant avance au milieu des voitures et me fait signe de me garer près du petit bunker vitré de police sur le terre plein central.
“Bien sûr, Monsieur l'agent Jerason”, je dis après avoir déchiffré son nom sur sa plaque de poitrine. “Ohoooooo ! An phasa thai dai duei” (oh, tu peux lire le Thaï), lâche t il avec un sifflement admiratif. Dans la petite casemate, un officier à lunettes me prend en charge. “Il va falloir payer l'amende”, me dit il, l'air désolé de devoir appliquer la loi aussi impitoyablement. “D'accord, je dis, pas de problèmes”. Ma réponse provoque sa perplexité. Il s'attendait à une résistance. “Il faut payer”, répéte-t-il. “Oui, je suis tout à fait d'accord, d'ailleurs Monsieur le Premier ministre Abhisit a dit qu'il fallait suivre strictement la loi”, je réponds. L'officier sent qu'il doit y avoir anguille sous roche. “C'est quoi ton métier ?”. “Journaliste”, je réponds. “Hmmmmm, journaliste. Montre ta carte” - il regarde la carte de plastique violette, puis dit : “C'est bon tu peux y aller”. “Non, non, il faut appliquer la loi. C'est très important, comme l'a dit Khun Abhisit. Sinon, les gens vont croire que je suis une chemise rouge”, j'insiste. L'officier et l'agent éclatent de rire. “Vas y. Faites attention à la circulation. Dès que le feu est vert, tu peux virer au plus court”.

Pas de chances : j'ai grillé le feu rouge de la place clichy pensant qu'à une heure trente, aucun policier ne pourrait me voir. Un officier était en faction et me fait signe de m'arrêter en pointant vers moi un doigt impératif. “Feu rouge grillé. Ton compte est bon, mon coco. Suis moi au poste”. Je le suis, après avoir garé ma moto. Le commissariat est à deux pays.
Là un officier me prend en charge. “Bonjour, officier Pourron”, je dis poliment en lisant son nom. “Tu te fous de ma gueule, ou quoi ? On n'a pas gardé les cochons ensemble”, lance l'officier Pourron avec mauvaise humeur. Ca s'engage mal. “On va t'enlèver quinze points de ton permis. Et tu as de la chance, car normalement c'est suspension pour six mois”. “Monsieur l'officier, suspendez mon permis, je suis pour l'application de la loi dans toute sa rigueur. Comme l'a dit le président Sarkozy. Sinon, ils vont penser que je fais partie de la “racaille” de banlieue qu'il faut “nettoyer au Karscher””, je réponds. “Hmmmmm, tu fais quoi dans la vie pour être aussi malin ?”, s'enquiert l'officier Pourron. “Journaliste indépendant. Voici ma carte de presse. Tout est en règle”, dis je en montrant ma carte 2010. “Journaliste. Ah Ouais, Monsieur fait le malin et en plus Monsieur est journaliste. Et bien, tu vas passer la nuit au poste, mon coco !”.

Arnaud Dubus

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Le Rouge et le Jaune : foire d’empoigne au FCCT

En octobre 1986, il y eut un débat mémorable au Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), lequel était alors situé dans la superbe penthouse vitrée de l’hôtel Dusit Thani. Michaël Vickery, expert du Cambodge ancien et khmérophone, présentait son livre « Cambodia 1975-1982 » aux correspondants étrangers. C’était la première fois qu’un expert, qui avait eu un large accès à la République Populaire du Kampuchéa, parlait devant la presse internationale, laquelle était frustrée par le « régime de Phnom Penh » dans ses tentatives pour visiter le Cambodge post-khmer rouge. Il y avait là, Michaël Adler, un américain francophone du bureau de l’AFP à Bangkok, Paul Wedel, à l’époque chef du bureau de UPI, le caustique Jacques Bekaert, correspondant pigiste du Monde et chroniqueur au Bangkok Post, et bien sûr tout ce que Bangkok comptait de Sihanoukistes, Ranariddhiens et autres courants du FUNCINPEC. Salle comble. Débat vif et passionnant. Et un interlocuteur d’une très grande culture, très clair, mais engagé passionnellement auprès du « pauvre Cambodge injustement puni par la communauté internationale ».

Une autre soirée, tout aussi mémorable, épique même, a marqué la vie du club mercredi 2 juin. Le théme du débat tournait autour de la façon dont les médias étrangers avaient couvert les événements de ces deux derniers mois à Bangkok. Dominic Faulder était le modérateur et le panel était composé par quatre Thaïlandais, l’écrivain compositeur Somtow Sucharitkul, l’architecte Sumet Jumsai, le directeur de la rédaction du quotidien The Nation Pana Janviroj et le député du parti Démocrate (et étonnant guitariste de blues) Kraisak Choonhavan (député de Nakhon Ratchasima).

Au départ, plusieurs reportages télévisés sur les « événements » ont été diffusés : France 24, BBC, CNN et Al Jazeera. « Boom ! boom !», « pan ! pan ! pan ! », « One, Two, Three ! Move, move, move !”. Cela pendant 12 minutes. Un long trailer de film de guerre, un concentré d’actions qui donne le tournis (la caméra bouge dans tous les sens), où la seule respiration intervient quand des soldats reprennent haleine dans une ruelle. Ouf ! On regrette déjà Nelson Rand. A-t-on mieux compris la complexe situation politique thaïlandaise ? Sans doute là n’est pas l’objet du reportage, qui vise à autre chose : égaler, dépasser « Saving Private Ryan », refaire « Brothers in arms » version thaîlandaise, avec de surcroît un parfum révolutionnaire. Le reportage de CNN laisse plus de place à l’analyse, développée par le désormais célèbre Dan Rivers, qui, dissèque la crise en suant sous son gilet d’acier et son casque de Kevlar. Puis, vient le sujet de la BBC qui déclenche les ricanements narquois de nombreux thaîlandais (et asiatiques) et la fureur de quelques uns dans la salle. Sumet Jumsai, presque 70 ans, un aristocrate habituellement posé, étudiant de Le Corbusier dans les années cinquante à Paris, explose « This is garbage ! ».

Le ton est donné. Toute la soirée, une ambiance très émotionnelle, presque étouffante d’agressivité, remplira la salle. Le débat de fond n’est plus possible. Deux camps sont face à face, chacun dans leur tranchée. D’un côté, de nombreux correspondants occidentaux, qui défendent leur travail de couverture, mais dans le même temps donnent l’impression de prendre fait et cause pour les chemises rouges. Des journalistes transformés en « phrai », ou du moins en porte-parole de ceux-ci. De l’autre, l’élite thaïlandaise, éduquée, blessée dans sa chair par les destructions de Bangkok, meurtrie par le regard des étrangers sur leur pays. Ces « amart » résistent, se défendent bec et ongles. Coblentz et ces nobles émigrés.

« Nous, tous éduqués en Angleterre, comme Abhisit, croyons dans le fair play - une marque typique du système des public schools anglaises », dit le docteur Sumet. Pour faire bonne mesure, il rappelle qu’il a été l’un des fondateurs de la Fondation Duang Prateep (qui aide à scolariser les enfants du bidonville de Khlong Toey). Puis il ajoute : « nous sommes face à des barbares », en parlant des chemises rouges, largement applaudi par des Thaïlandais et quelques étrangers.

De sa voix éraillée de noctambule, Kraisak Choonhavan est au bord des larmes en parlant de son pays « cassé » par les Rouges. « En Europe, ils pensent que ce conflit est une révolution sociale, pacifique et romantique (…). Je ne vais pas me représenter pour les élections dans le Nord Est, car les Rouges vont me descendre sur l’estrade et cette femme médecin légal punk (Khun Pornthip) va venir inspecter mon cadavre. Et vous tous, vous prendrez des photos de mon cadavre », s’étrangle-t-il. Des cris fusent du fond de la salle. Des rires se déclenchent. Des dizaines de journalistes occidentaux, massés derrière le micro, semblent constituer l’avant-garde d’une manifestation de masse. « Qu’en est il de la couverture de la presse thaïe ? », demande l’un d’eux. Une diplomate de l’ambassade suédoise fait une intervention pleine de sens, parlant de la difficulté de son pays à mettre en application la loi sur la liberté de la presse dans le siècle qui a suivi son adoption en 1766 : « Nous avons compris, peu à peu, que le rôle des médias n’est pas de répercuter systématiquement la vision du gouvernement », dit-elle. « Bien sûr, vous en Suède, vous avez le sexe libre », rétorque Sumet Jumsai. Le débat tourne à la foire d’empoigne. On s’attend presque à voir voler les verres ou assister à des joutes physiques dans la meilleure tradition du parlement taiwanais.

Dans cette tourmente, quelques-uns font preuve de raison. D’abord Dominic Faulder, qui dans son rôle difficile de modérateur, parvient à maintenir un semblant de discipline et de cohérence au débat. Il avance des points cruciaux en réponse à certains Thaïlandais qui tonnent contre « le manque total de responsabilité des journalistes occidentaux » : « je pense que tout journaliste qui fait une erreur dans un reportage est mortifié. Il y a un jugement par ses pairs », dit-il. Pana Janviroj garde aussi son sang froid et donne des informations intéressantes : « des groupes politiques et des groupes d’intérêts ont leurs propres reporters. Ceux-ci s’infiltrent au sein du Palais du Gouvernement et dans les médias reconnus. Ils font du renseignement, ils sont des sortes d’espions », explique-t-il.

L’élément culturel – pourquoi existe-t-il, au sein d’une partie de l’élite thaïe, le préjugé enraciné qu’un farang, même s’il parle thaï, même s’il vit en Thaïlande depuis des années, ne peut pas véritablement comprendre la culture et les ressorts de la société et des comportements thaïlandais – est à peine abordé. Somtow amorce une réponse : « j’ai moi-même été victime de ce préjugé. Quand je suis revenu des Etats-Unis, on m’accusait d’avoir un point de vue occidental. Les Thaïlandais ont été échaudés dans le passé. Mais cela est en train de changer », dit-il. Echaudés ? De quoi parle-t-il ? Constance Phaulkon ? Le « loup français et l’agneau siamois » ? L’après seconde-guerre mondiale, quand les Français et les Britanniques voulaient faire payer à la Thaïlande sa collaboration avec les Japonais ? Il est dommage que Somtow n’ait pas pu développer son argument.

Si la soirée est mémorable par la virilité des échanges et l’atmosphère explosive, force est de reconnaître qu’il s’agit, en fin de compte d’un faux débat. Le problème ne vient pas des journalistes occidentaux qui couvrent l’actualité en Thaïlande « comme ils couvriraient n’importe quel autre pays de taille moyenne », selon les termes de Julian Spindler. Mais le problème vient de la Thaïlande, qui est bouleversé par des secousses sismiques et pourrait mettre du temps à se stabiliser de nouveau. Il vient des Thaïlandais qui ont fermé les yeux trop longtemps. De ces classes moyennes supérieures, de cette élite, qui n’a pas moderniser, éduquer, intégrer les gens des provinces dans les cinquante dernières années. « La plupart des Thaïlandais éduqués ne sont pas stupides, dans le sens qu’ils peuvent bien voir le problème de l’inégalité (dans la société thaïe) », dit Pana Janviroj. Mais s’ils l’ont vu, pourquoi les gouvernements, pourquoi l’élite, pourquoi les classes moyennes n’ont pas agi avant pour homogénéiser la nation, au lieu de se confiner dans le confort du cénacle bangkokois ? Et pourquoi, une partie de la presse thaïe (nombreuses exceptions, notamment le Matichon, des journalistes comme Pravit Rojanaprapruk du Nation, des analystes comme Chang Noi et Thitinan Pongsudhirak), tout particulièrement les médias audio-visuels ne font ils pas leur travail, élément clef d’un système démocratique ? C’est dans le fond un problème culturel de rapport à la vérité (ou à la réalité). En Thaïlande toute vérité n’est pas bonne à dire, elle n’est bonne à dire que si elle peut être perçue comme positive.

Rappel : Depuis le 10 avril dernier, deux journalistes ont été tués par balles alors qu’ils couvraient la crise politique thaïlandaise : Hiroyuki Muramoto (JRI pour Reuters) et Fabio Polenghi (photographe indépendant) ; au moins une dizaine ont été blessés, parmi lesquels Nelson Rand (France 24), Chandler Vandergrift (JRI indépendant), Chaiwat Pumpuang (photographe, The Nation), Michel Maas (radio et télévision néerlandaises), Andrew Buncombe (The Independent) et un photographe du quotidien Matichon.

Arnaud Dubus

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

La double perspective thaïlandaise sur la crise des chemises rouges

Il semble qu'il y ait deux visions antagonistes, irréconciliables, des événements qui ont bouleversé l'équilibre de la Thaïlande ces dernières semaines. Selon la première vision, qui est celle du gouvernement et de l'élite ainsi que d'une bonne partie de la classe moyenne supérieure : les militaires, sur l'ordre du gouvernement, ont vaillamment combattu plusieurs centaines de “terroristes” lourdement armés, démons incarnés, qui, par le truchement des leaders rouges, ont manipulé la masse des “manifestants innocents”, braves brebis inconscientes, dévoyées mais récupérables. Selon l'autre vision, c'est le bras armé du peuple, muni de bâtons, de lance-pierres et d'autres outils de fortune, qui a résisté vaillamment au rouleau compresseur de l'armée thaïlandaise, protectrice d'un ordre illégitime. 

La première vision est celle que j'appellerais la vision “Suriyothaï”, selon le film réalisé en  2001 par le prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, à la demande et grâce au financement de la Reine Sikirit. Le film est une reconstitution méticuleuse et probablement assez fidèle de la vie de Suriyothaï, épouse du roi d'Ayuthaya, et qui, lors d'une bataille contre les Birmans au début du XVIème siècle, perdit la vie pour défendre le royaume. J'ai sous les yeux la pochette du DVD. On y voit la Reine Suriyothaï, le regard dur, belle mais froide, portant les bijoux liés à son rang. Ce film a lancé la mode des drames historiques, un genre qui restait jusqu'à présent confiné à de piètres séries télévisées. “Suriyothai” est une fabuleuse reconstitution qui tente de faire revivre cette époque où le Siam n'était pas encore le Siam, mais un ensemble de principautés rivales aux liens plutôt distendus. Francis Ford Coppola en a fait une version de trois heures pour la distribution internationale (l'original, en thaï, dure six heures). 

Le film met en valeur les membres de la famille royale, les nobles de haute naissance avec au sommet de cette pyramide le roi d'Ayuthaya, Borommaracha IV, et son intrépide épouse Suriyothai. Celle-ci a le sens du sacrifice. Elle a renoncé à un amour de jeunesse pour un mariage de raison avec le prince Tien, futur roi d'Ayuthaya. En fait, elle n'a que le mot de sacrifice à la bouche. Sacrifice pour la couronne, sacrifice pour la Nation, sacrifice pour son royal époux. Elle est un être désincarné, totalement dévoué à l'intérêt de son royaume. Dans le film, les roturiers passent les trois quarts de leur temps à se prosterner devant les membres de la famille royale et les aristocrates. Ils font simplement acte de présence, mais n'ont pas d'existence propre en tant que telle, ils ne valent que par leur lien de subordination aux nobles. Ils sont à leur service, leur apportent l'eau pour se laver, l'épée pour se battre, l'éléphant pour se balader. Et bien sûr, ils sont prêts à mourir pour défendre leur maître. L'actrice principale, Mom Luang Piyapas Bhirombakdi, est une aristocrate mineure, appartenant à une des familles les plus riches du pays (propriétaire de la marque de bière Singha). Le metteur en scéne Chatrichalerm est un cousin du roi Bhumibol.

La seconde vision est celle d'un autre film sur les guerres contre les Birmans, “Bang Rajan” (mis en scéne par Thanit Jitnukul, 2000). L'histoire se passe cette fois ci à la fin du XVIIIème siècle, quand les armées du roi Hsinbyushin d'Ava effectuent leur poussée finale vers le royaume d'Ayuthaya. C'est l'histoire de la résistance héroïque d'un petit village de Singhburi, dont les habitants se mobilisent, malgré l'absence total de soutien du roi d'Ayuthaya, pour tenter de freiner l'avancée des armées birmanes infiniment supérieures en nombre et en équipement. Le sous titre du film, sur la couverture du DVD est “kou ja sou jon sen lued yod sud taï” (Je – kou est une forme populaire et presque vulgaire du pronom personnel – vais me battre jusqu'à ma dernière goutte de sang). Ce film extrêmement nationaliste, violemment anti-birman, célèbre les actes de ces villageois sans éducation, mal vêtus, dépourvus d'armements, qui, assiégés dans leur fortin de bois et de bambous, ont tenu en respect l'envahisseur. Ces villageois ne connaissent pas les manières raffinées de la cour d'Ayuthaya, s'enivrent d'alcool de riz, s'expriment vulgairement en parlant fort et chevauchent des buffles plutôt que des éléphants. Mais ils se tiennent les coudes et croient en leur cause. Je me souviens d'avoir visionné le film dans une salle au sein quartier général de l'armée de terre, sur Rajdamnoen. J'ai interviewé des soldats et des jeunes officiers à la sortie : plusieurs d'entre eux pleurant, tant le film les avait étreint d'émotion.

Le type de nation incarné par les nobles chevaliers de Suriyothaï est très éloignée de celle qu'évoque cette solidarité courageuse et anarchique des villageois de Bang Rajan, qui, à l'époque, ne portaient pas de chemises.

Arnaud Dubus