Daring TV show served the public well
The "Tob Jote Thailand" (Answering Thailand's Questions) programme on Thai PBS deserves to be complimented for creating an interesting phenomenon in Thai society, which will definitely have a huge impact on the community.The programme and the public TV station were like a guiding light amid a storm when they aired a series of discussions on the monarchy. And it was the first time that public TV had brought an issue, normally discussed in secret corners, to be discussed openly on air. Best of all, the discussion was done legally without violating Article 112 of the Penal Code or the lese majeste law.
Since the issue was being discussed in the spotlight, the proponents and opponents of the call for changes to the constitutional role of the monarchy had to base their arguments on principle and reason. They had to abandon their egos and emotions, which were obvious when the issue was discussed privately.
With both sides debating like civilised people, their supporters could listen to the arguments of each, although they might disagree with it because it would be easier to listen to polite words than hearing an emotional scolding.
Although it is well known how each side stands toward the monarchy, the TV discussion gave the public a rough picture of what the issues, which have been hidden under the carpet for too long, are. And if these problems are solved, the Royal institution will become stronger and will not be undermined gradually by both the people who love and hate it.
But a coin always has two sides when this kind of issue is made public, especially after it has been taboo for a long time - and most people in the community could not help being shocked. The royalist side could not tolerate the debate because they felt the institution they love was being touched. Many were perplexed to see this kind of debate and wondered why the other side dared to speak out the way it did. So, the royalists started retaliating emotionally.
In the meantime, it was the first time the other side had a chance to discuss the taboo issue openly. They jumped with joy and tried to corner the other side without taking into account that their actions affected other people's feelings. Some looked down on the opposing side as dinosaurs or having attitudes out of date.
It was not surprising people were shocked by what happened. The question was how to handle the issues tenderly enough so that society would not be influenced by the divisiveness of the issue, or that the political violence like the student massacres on October 6, 1976 would happen again.
Initially, Thai PBS did a good job in providing public space for people to discuss the issue on air.
But it made a blunder in the last minutes before the final part of the series could be aired. When the series and the debate brought about opposition and criticism, the Thai PBS management was uncertain as to whether the series' content was suitable for broadcast or not. Thai PBS needed to be questioned why it had such doubts because the issue was delicate and could have wide repercussions either negatively or positively.
As a result, Thai PBS should have had made prudent decisions before airing the first part of the series. The tape should have been screened thoroughly by the editorial staff before Thai PBS started airing it. However, Thai PBS later changed its mind and delayed airing the final segment.
Reports that the last part of the broadcast was delayed because some editors met the station director and asked for its cancellation, prompted the station to take more criticism. This led to a question why the editors did not view the tape first and it also led to a question of nonpartisanship by the station's editorial staff.
Eventually, Thai PBS decided to screen the last part of the debate after the policy committee of the station reviewed the issue and ordered it to be aired. This further caused station management to be seen as having had made a mistake with its earlier decision.
Thai PBS should provide an explanation on the issue and reform its procedures because the community still wants to use the public station as a public venue for debates on taboo issues.