Monday, June 14, 2010

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.

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