Tuesday, 10 November 2009

That Man and That Article

Note: I've waited a while before posting as other bloggers' posts has drawn a line of acceptability for reporting this news.

That said, the goverment has blocked certain links to the article in question, as well as threatening legal action on anyone reporting it, so you will find no outgoing links here.

If you wish to read the article, please Google for it yourself, at your own risk.

Here's to freedom of speech.

Thaksin Shinawatra's interview with The Times has been talk of Thailand with blogs, Twitter and the web in general abuzz with discussion of the fall-out from the piece.

The article is likely to bring charges of lese majeste, a law which prevents criticism of the monarchy, brought against the exiled former Prime Minister who was already in the news for accepting an economic advisor position with Thailand's hostile neighbour Cambodia.

From reviewing both the article and the full interview (in fact an "edited transcript") the article's headline appears to be the primary offending element.

There is also likely to be controversy over the suggestion that Thaksin endorses reform of the monarchy and the fact that he openly talks about the King's death - despite both topics having validity and relevance to the future of Thailand.

Referring to the transcript, however, it is clear that the headline and many quotes attributed to Thaksin have been taken out of context and are not reflective of the entire interview.

At no point is Thaksin critical of the King or the Thai monarchy.

Instead, he criticises the "royal institution" - advisers and consorts who work with, and around, the monarchy.

Yet he is likely to fall foul of the law.

There are two schools of thought.

From a Western perspective it is crazy that one headline can be responsible for this level of chaos. Particularly when it is clear Thaksin has gone to great and careful lengths to voice support for the monarchy (regardless of whether it is believed it or not) and brought up the very relevant issue of succession and modernisation of the monarchy.

The headline used for the article does not fit with the context of the interview. It is deliberately controversial to stoke interest in the story/newspaper/journalist (successfully achieved) though, as Asia Editor, Lloyd Parry would have been aware of lese majeste laws in Thailand and the impact the story/headline could have.

Should the article have carried a more suitable, less controversial, headline in line with the gist of the interview?

Another perspective, accepting (but not agreeing with) the workings of the media and laws in Thailand, is to criticise Thaksin's naivety for openly discussing contentious and controversial issues with a foreign journalist.

Foreign media do not adhere to the local rules and specifics of the Thai press, they have no allegiance and will publish content regardless of any waves subsequently generated in Thailand.

Either way lese majeste charges, which carry a maximum 15 year prison sentence, are likely to have little impact on a man already in exile (the fate of some lese majeste authors) from existing criminal charges.

The danger for Thaksin is that his comments, unlikely to affect ardent Red Shirts, may turn sympathisers of his cause against him.

On the other, as one leading blogger argued yesterday, with Thai translations of the article circulating across the country, many of the natives will read Thaksin's open and honest comments.

In a land where discussion of certain subjects is taboo, Thaksin's comments on controversial but increasingly pressing matters, which his foes cannot discuss, is unlikely to win supporters but it may help him begin to re-establish his credibility.

Then again, this is Thailand, anything could happen next.

There are a host of bloggers whose takes on this development are interesting - worth digging around for as I won't publish links.

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