Sanitsuda and me | 22.09.05

Sanitsuda Ekachai, the Bangkok Post’s assistant editor responsible for its lifestyle section, opined today in her weekly op-ed space:

No one should realise the importance of image more than big business and powerful politicians. After all, they must spend much money and time to build and polish their public images no end. But once they begin to believe that money speaks the loudest, they will soon learn how wrong they are.

Very wrong indeed. In Thailand, it’s The Media that speaks the loudest. Or should I say barks, since it’s so fond of branding itself The Watchdog™.

Take Grammy.
Take Siam Commercial Bank.

Or rather, take a writing course.

It might take longer for the powers-that-be behind Grammy’s hostile media takeover bids to realise the dangers of a blinding greed for power. But history has repeatedly shown that a free press with public support will last longer than any dictator.

The Thai public twice elected Thaksin to lead this country in unprecedented numbers. Unfortunately, he’ll probably not outlast the dictatorial Press. For dictators, there are no terms, let alone elections. You just have to wait for them to die out.

The bank first.

Learn to write first.

In the wake of fierce public criticism, bank president Khunying Jada Wattanasiritham tried to explain away the Grammy loan as a straightforward profit-making deal. But the public did not buy this.

I’ve just heard the name today. Perhaps 60 out of 65 million Thais have never heard it at all. Obviously we are not part of The Public™.

Everyone knows that an open, democratic environment is important for a healthy business environment. Just look at how the economy expanded after the end of the Sarit-Thanom-Prapass military dictatorship.

Sure, everyone knows the economy wasn’t expanding during their combined 16-year reign. Everyone knows, too, that Thailand has been all open and democratic ever since, including under Thanin Kraivixien. Most importantly, everyone knows that GMM Grammy’s takeovers of two media firms would return Thailand to the bad old days of military rule.

Everyone should know not to trust anyone who bases her arguments on “everyone knows”, even though some of those arguments may happen to be true in spite of the author.

The mind boggles as to why the bright minds at SCB had failed to understand the political implications of Grammy’s takeover loans, which would accelerate the making of a civilian dictatorship, clip media freedom and erode democracy, which would eventually destroy fair business competition.

She failed to mention hasten global warming and exacerbate the plight of the Palestinians. How could she have? The mind boggles.

To save the day, Dr Chirayu Israngkul na Ayutthaya, chairman of the SCB board, announced that the bank has now learned its lesson and promised to be more careful with its future takeover loans. But the damage has already been done.

Repent, sinner. Repent. Thou shall not be accessory to a media takeover, especially by someone who is friendly to Thaksin the Satan.

Now, Grammy.

Now get to the point.

Confident in his money power, Paiboon Damrongchaitham announced that GMM Grammy was going to swallow 75% of Matichon. He obviously did not know what he was in for.

He probably thought, naively, that lynch mobs were a thing of the past.

By the time the angry public forced him to retain only 20% of Matichon, Mr Paiboon had lost his credibility while his entertainment company suffered a major image blow.

Shouldn’t mess with the Public R’ Us.

Many view it as only a strategic retreat, though. For if Matichon could not shore up the needed money to remain a majority shareholder or to pay its debts, guess which tycoon will happily intervene?

Majority shareholder of what? Matichon Group? Earth to Khun Sanitsuda: a company cannot own itself! Until GMM bought 32% percent of its shares, founder Kanchai Boonpan, a tycoon in his own right, was the biggest shareholder of Matichon Group (though not a majority one, since he’s been cashing out — there would’ve been no takeover threat otherwise).

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post’s image and credibility is still at risk since Grammy has already bought 23% of Post Publishing shares.

That risk pales in comparison to the risk of employing journalists like her, who writes utter lunacy like “70% of [Thai] women have experienced unwanted pregnancies. Few know about that flagrant error and numerous others like it now, but more will if I have my way.

A wise investor should know that credibility is any newspaper’s most important asset.

Grammy is buying liabilities, then. Hidden liabilities, perhaps, but liabilities nonetheless.

When I first joined the Bangkok Post some 25 years ago, the paper’s image was of a pro-establishment, conservative paper. That is history.

Matichon and Karnchai Boonpan are not part of the media establishment, then. Neither, surely, was Veera Prateepchaikul, the previous Post editor (and two-term president of the Thai Journalists Association) whose removal Khun Sanitsuda and her friends dressed in black to protest. By her definition, the “pro-establishment” are Grammy’s Paiboon, David Armstrong, and someone like me — i.e. agents of change.

What’s the word for “resistant to changes”? If you don’t like conservative, there’s always reactionary.

In an open letter denouncing Grammy’s takeover efforts, even the Assembly of the Poor described the Bangkok Post as a trustworthy paper that has withstood political pressures to remain true to its watchdog duty in order to present the complexity of the country’s problems with fair coverage to all parties concerned.

Even the Assembly of the Poor”? Now that’s not a nice way to speak of a comrade-in-arms. The self-styled Assembly™ is anti-Thaksin, anti-free-trade, anti-West, and anti-privatization and hence is quoted all the time in the Bangkok Post. Sure, it’s possible that the Assembly™, if its two-man staff could read English, would rank the Bangkok Post lower than The Nation — the other English-language–daily, implausibly even cruder and crazier. But there’s a simpler and likelier explanation: Khun Sanitsuda doesn’t know how to use the word “even”.

It is this very public trust in the Post that has come to its defence in time of need. It is inaccurate to attribute this trustworthy image to the newshounds alone, though. The journalists before my time were no less dedicated, if not a lot more, since they had to battle with job insecurity and military dictatorship at the same time.

Khun Sanitsuda is a living testament to the undeserved but entrenched job security enjoyed by today’s Thai journalists. Recently that has surprisingly and encourgagingly been breached with the firing of Sermsuk Kasitipradit, but Khun Sanitsuda dusted off her black dress to protest that occasion, too.

But during the past 25 years, the increasingly open political environment has made it easier for journalists to make their newspapers the voices of people and the marketplace of ideas.

I don’t know about that. But most recently, Thai journalists and their “media advocates” friends have impressively succeeded in making the stock market not the market place for media stocks. (They’re now pressing for more, demanding representation on the board of the Stock Exchange Commission by the “civil society” — i.e. pressure groups that are, among other things, anti-capitalism.

It’s a different story now with this administration.

Am I the only one who remembers the female reporter (probably from pre-Shin-Corp ITV) who was roughed up at a Democrat event that then-Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai attended? (The question is only partly rhetorical. My memories are indeed vague here.)

Unpleasant truths are not tolerated.

Like “US experts insist runways crack”, “Sudarat change unpopular”, and “Ayatollah trapped in shrine”? (For the last one, the Post changed the Reuters story to refer to Moqtada al-Sadr as “Ayatollah”.) I personally don’t tolerate these unpleasant untruths, but the Thai media is churning them out everyday, including in this very op-ed by Khun Sanitsuda.

Dissent is blasted as unpatriotic.

Dissent to dissent is blasted with “dissent is blasted as unpatriotic™”.

The idea is that if you cannot silence the watchdogs through threats and intimidation, then buy them up.

If you don’t want to be bought up, then stop the prospective buyer through threats and intimidation and vilification.

Grammy has repeatedly insisted that it has nothing to do with that scheme. But no one believes it.

According to the ABAC poll whose results the Post published on September 15, 21.6 percent of the respondents don’t believe there are ulterior motives behind the stock purchases. And this, despite all the frenzy whipped up by the media, the loaded questions, and the Thais’ genetical conspiracy-mindedness and aversion to appearing “naive”. Obviously these contrarions don’t count as… ones.

To prove that it really has no ulterior motives, Grammy must announce its intention to forego a board seat, as well as maintaining a hands-off policy on editorial coverage. If Mr Paiboon wants to save his own credibility and that of the newspaper he wants to invest in, this is the only way out.

Save the Bangkok Post’s credibility? That’s a little late for this non-reader. Now if a board seat for Grammy will prove the final straw for the sorry bunch that still believes the Post, then what the hell are we waiting for?

PS I have a long article coming up that will cut through all the triumphalist and narcissist propaganda and show the Thai press to be the rotten cult that it is.

23:59 ▪ media, politics

« He was just trying to help | Main | Anna Leonowens and the censors of Siam »

1
JW 23.09.05

Tom

I would disagree with you labelling the Assembly of the Poor (also insert any Thai NGO who likes to rant and rave about everything as well) as being anti-Thaksin. Surely, you remember the same groups being against the Chuan led government pre-2001 and even in 1995. They are simply anti-government, anti-establishment etc.

There is an interesting quote of BP article on 2 Bangkok.

link

“Since his Thai Rak Thai party garnered more than 75% of lower house seats in the February general election, the present political standing of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra _ who finds himself challenged on several fronts _ suggests that much of Mr Thaksin’s political capital has been depleted and squandered over recent months. Much of the mystique that accompanied his populist policies and characterised his first-term in power has been eroded…”

Moi remembers early in 2004 the political commentators saying the same thing after the Bird Flu, increased problems in the South. Thaksin is ruined, he won’t win a second term etc. So what happens he then goes and wins 75% of the vote the following year.

JW

2
post staffer 23.09.05

Senior editors at the Post get their own soapbox from which to hector and harass the poor reader for years.

Most of it ‘People’s Voice’ stuff – dull, repetitive, unimaginative. It is so predictable you could say it almost belongs to a brand. Sanitsuda could patent it and sell it, were it not for the fact that so many people write the same way.

The group which she represents dresses its demands in such righteous language that only the brave and foolish would dare to disagree.

So, they want Grammy to foresake a seat on the Post board, and the Stock Exchange Commission to surrender a seat for the people’s sector types?

Roll over, boys, the big guns - Sanitsuda and girls in black - have arrived!

Soon it will not be possible to enter a board room or company office without tripping over one of these grassroots types. Yet corporate bosses are not stupid. They would take good care of their guests, just as they look after our supposedly incorruptible journalists (including those working under Sanitsuda at the Post), showering them with gifts, lavish lunches, free trips.

A couple of healthy lunches, and these former fierce board room critics would be converted, at which point the grassroots types can start eating themselves.

Yet that same people’s sector can also let down its most ardent champions.

After putting in an - ahem - hard day at the newspaper, these intellectuals get home in time for the evening news to see that bad things have been happening out there in the heartland.

Witness the report in today’s Post that the ‘innocent’ villagers who held those poor soldiers in the South were busy torturing and molesting them. Or this sad account, by two journalists just 20m from where the men were being held, when they realized what the villagers (young interlopers, or whatever) had done:

และแล้วเหตุการณ์ที่ไม่คาดฝันก็เกิดขึ้น เมื่อมีเสียงเอะอะบริเวณศาลาที่คุมตัวทหารทั้ง 2 นาย เขาไม่แน่ใจว่าเกิดอะไรขึ้นข้างใน แต่ในระหว่างนี้มีชาวบ้านหลายคนพยายามเข้าไปควบคุมสถานการณ์รวมทั้งชายที่ยืนคุยกับเขาด้วย

“ตอนแรกก็ไม่เอะใจ เพราะหลังจากนั้นเสียงก็เงียบ คิดว่าไม่มีอะไร ก็นั่งคุยกับชาวบ้านต่อ” หนึ่งในทีมงานของเราซึ่งนั่งอยู่ห่างจากศาลาเพียง 20 เมตร เล่าให้ฟัง

แต่หลังจากนั้นไม่นาน กลิ่นตัวและกลิ่นคาวเลือดที่พัดมาตามลมทำให้การพูดคุยต้องหยุดชะงักลง หลายคนจึงเอ่ยปากว่าต้องไปดูที่ศาลาให้แน่ชัดว่าทหารทั้งสองนายอยู่ในสภาพใด

จากภายนอก ประตูของศาลายังคงล็อคไว้อย่างปกติ ในขณะที่ที่กลิ่นคาวเลือดเริ่มแรงขึ้นเรื่อยๆ ชาวบ้านจึงหารือกันว่าต้องตัดสินใจพังประตู และพบศพของทั้งสองนอนอยู่ในสภาพที่สาหัสสากรรจ์

“ผมไม่กล้าเข้าไปดู เขาบอกว่าไส้ทะลัก เห็นแต่ขาที่เหยียดอยู่เท่านั้น” ทีมงานกล่าวด้วยน้ำเสียงสั่นเครือ

What more can you say?

http://www.mthai.com/webboard/5/146148.html

3
Tom Vamvanij 24.09.05

JW:

You brought up a very good point about Thai NGOs. Some will not be satisfied until Year Zeroism is the official state ideology, but most will not be even then, for their true ideology is grouching.

Still, I stand by my “anti-Thaksin” characterization, which describes a predisposition, not an ideology. So you can be, and many NGOs are, anti-Thaksin now and anti-Chuan when he was in power. Would you say Thai Post (newspaper) is not anti-Thaksin just because it was harsh on Chuan, too?

Of course, when almost everyone (NGOs, Thai Post, Matichon, and real people) was getting tired of PM Chuan back then, the international media portrayed them as simpletons who didn’t know what was clearly good for them (not to mention were prone to to the siren song of “populism”). Now we have NGOs being referred to “democracy advocates” and Matichon as the “most respected newspaper”.

4
Intelmalayu 4.10.05

The Thai media has no sense of direction. On one side, their being pulled by the Ngo’s and on the other side twinkled by the opposition party.

No wonder Thaksin likes to criticize the media BECAUSE THEY ARE WRONG!!!