Kudos must go to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na Ranong for being the first minister to tell the truth to the Thai people that he told "white lies" to instill the country's confidence about economic growth.
If Plato is alive today, he would praise Kittiratt for his cheer courage. To the Greek philosopher, the minister is telling “noble lies” – at least that what the minister thought at that particular moment – to make the country feels good – even temporarily. Indeed, by coming out first, he is saving the Yingluck government from collapsing as he is preparing for “true lies” that would gradually emerge in the near future. Over the weekend, the government played up its accomplishments over the past one year with much fanfare befitting the populist government. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was all but beaming. The message is clear: it is a noble cause to help the poor, imagine or real. So never mind the white lies, keep telling them, repeating them. Nobody can argue against that. Then, the public will get used to and believe that they are all straight truth. Whoever criticise the government are biased and disliked the poor.
One can also venture to say that not only Kittiratt that is practicing such an ancient oratorical skill. The whole Cabinet has been rather bald-face in giving information not correspondent to the reality since the very beginning. It is true that one can lie sometimes but one cannot do that all the time – not even Joseph Goebbels of the Nazi’s reputation. Truth be told, the Yinluck government has used all available strategies in managing information and data including news spins and comprehensive publicity campaigns to create public opinion and continued illusions that all is fine with the country as long as the peoples got money to spend, at least for now. The American linguist, Noam Chomsky, should have conducted his research in Thailand as he would find plenty of case-studies of manufacturing consents – something which some of the Thais thought was the conspiracies cooked by opponents.
That is why it is very intriguing to watch how the mainstream print media and those on the fringe, especially popular ones such as Matichon and Thai Rath, have treated the story of white lies. They did not scrutinize the story as deep they should or used to do. In previous governments, the vernacular press was normally very vigorous in checking their performance and governance. They often took the governments to task without fail with their acerbic columnists. But this time around, they have played down the controversy as if it was a small news headline, hiding along other news of the day. Somehow their powerful columnists also saw eyes to eyes that the topic should not be highlighted as it might harm the public confidence and most importantly, play into the hands of opposition groups, in particular the Democrat Party. Indeed, the latter has become the most cited raison d’être preempting reporters and other stakeholders to dig further into controversies related to the government.
While other small papers liked Thai Post and Naewna have gone ballistic detailing every nook and corner with comments from all concerned parties, especially the opposition party. The English language press has been consistent in reporting the country’s economic woes throughout the past 12 months, so Kittiratt’s confession was not unpredictable. They have reported statistics from domestic and abroad as well as views from businessmen and investors. As usual, the six Chinese language dailies continue to be outside the loop reporting domestic and economic news as if they are bulletin items in a broadsheet notice board.
These days, Thai TV and radio is a different media instrument all together with huge revenue from advertising from private and public sectors. No media outlets want to jeopardize their status quo. Turning blind eyes on controversial issues is a virtue today. Therefore, they are treating news with less serious intents found in the past which focused on public goods and interests. Some of the most viewed news programs on the tube are those with news reporting in story-telling style with puns and accompanied comedians. News as entertainment is epidemic among the electronic media. Thanked to the government’s huge public relations budget, media industry is very thriving.
To be fair, the Thai PBS, funded by the people’s tax, stood out as it presented the “white lies” story as it should as the lead on Thursday’s evening news and followed suited on Friday when it happened. Others channels did not pay much attention as some carry the news in their evening news briefly but without Kittiratt’s actually saying the words. This has now been quite a common practice in news broadcasting. Whenever necessary the comments by certain newsmakers from the government would be deleted and replaced by impromptu comments by news anchors of the day.
In March, there was a similar incident about lying which the Thai media failed to seize upon. The continued denial of Thaksin Shinawatra’s meeting with the Muslim separatists in Malaysia even though the meeting took place with photo’s evidence and widely reported in the Chinese media over there. However, over here the concerned authorities including the Pheu Thai Party members and Thaksin’s aides came all out in force to dispute the report. Miraculously the Thai media, both electronic and print, did not follow through. No fact checks whatsoever. Up until today, the public still thought the meeting did not take place and it was merely the opposition’s propaganda ploy. If the meeting with the separatists was successfully then it would definitely become a huge headline all weeks. However, it lapsed into obvious within 48-72 hours – the usual Thai news cycle.
The best way out to manage with the “white lies” syndrome is quite simple: the government must tell the truth, nothing but the truth. Obviously, it was hard to belief that Kittiratt’s action was without the consent of his colleagues, after all he was considered one of their top brains. It will be painful for the Yingluck government to tell the people that the economic performance and targets – with all good intentions – cannot be met in months to come. But the government has the responsibility to tell it like it is. This will improve the government’s creditability in the public eyes and international community. The tolls on the country as a whole will be lesser. Playing with economic figures is considered a crime in many countries. Many failed states went through this process before. This government with the majority in the Parliament is not likely to face a similar situation. Therefore, it is time for the government to bare all and refute the rights and practice of white lies.