Foreign media strive to avoid simplistic portrayal of Thai woes

Economy February 15, 2014 00:00

By Nophakhun Limsamarnphun
The N

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Try to explain more complex political process, poll disruption

How do the representatives of foreign media view Thailand’s political crisis after the incomplete February 2 general election?
Larry Jagan, a Bangkok-based freelance correspondent, said: “One of the things foreign and Western journalists are concerned about is to try to understand the dynamics of Thai politics, but in many ways when we talk to a foreign audience it’s very easy to paint the picture in black and white, the good guys and the bad guys.
“Reporting in our own country for our audience, of course, they understand the complexity of society and issues, but in a country like Thailand the political process is more complex than the more homogenous Western societies. So it’s much more difficult for the foreign audience to understand.
“We have to simplify, and one easy way is to find the black and white. There is also a real risk of oversimplification. We also want to make authorities accountable and transparent, so there is a natural tendency for Western journalists to be sympathetic with the opposition in Parliament or on the street.
“We have also seen the government and the protest movement battling each other for democracy, as both claim to be democratic. In a democracy, elections are very important, but there are also issues of rights and protection of minorities and others, but they have been forgotten in this process.
“It’s a mistake for the Suthep [Thaugsuban] movement to say, ‘If an election is held, we will lose it and therefore we have to oppose it.’ The Democrats have the right to boycott the election if they think it will be fraudulent, but trying to prevent people from voting or prevent the distribution of ballots or block the polling stations, that was a mistake.
“That’s easily seen as undemocratic, as it does not allow the other side their rights.”
Marwaan Macan-Markar, former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, said: “Western media organisations generally have their own audiences in mind and they share what I call international values, which can’t negotiate about elections.
“When Khun Suthep began the protest movement following the outrageous way of the government pushing through the amnesty bill, he tapped anger on the street, not only targeted at government abuse but also mushroomed into anti-corruption.
“November was a wonderful month for democracy because you had a government that was painted in a dark light, and it’s natural for people to get on the street. That moment was easy to tell from the perspective of international media values.
“Government abuse, public anger, the black and white, perfect the legitimate rage, but Khun Suthep later turned that into a crusade to overthrow the government. “This challenged the storyline. 
“Khun Suthep should have celebrated on December 9 when Yingluck [Shinawatra, the prime minister] dissolved the House, which was almost a retreat.”
But over the next 60 days after that, Macan-Markar recalled, “the rice-pledging scheme has become a politically explosive issue against the government. Had the Democrat Party not boycotted the February 2 election, and along [with] the Suthep anti-corruption movement, the party could have made further inroads and won more than the 160 seats it previously had and probably could [have formed] a new coalition government.”