Without the Western media covering the recent events in Bangkok, there would have been a gaping hole where there should have stories about the gnarly goings-on in Thailand's capital city. So it is with curiosity that I've been observing the torrent of hatred some Thai people have been unleashing against foreign journalists and media outlets.
It has become a trend to hate the foreign press. There have been calls of bias and treachery coming from all corners of the web. The work of journalists should always be critiqued. Sometimes journalists get it wrong. Sometimes they miss things. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they're lazy. Sometimes they're confused. But for the most part, they should never be subjected to the ridiculous accusations that have been cropping up recently.
CNN has taken the brunt of people's frustration, anger, torment. In particular the onslaught of abuse has been leveled at CNN reporter Dan Rivers. I'm not going to critique Dan Rivers' work, but if people are unhappy with what he is doing, then why not just say where he is going wrong? There is nothing to be gained from starting hate campaigns and Facebook pages and websites against journalists.
Dan Rivers isn't the reason things are so messed up in Thailand now. Dan Rivers isn't the reason Thailand's image is in tatters. Dan Rivers is not paid by Thaksin Shinawatra or anyone else connected with the redshirts.
Do people honestly believe that an award-winning CNN correspondent making good money would jeopardize his career by taking payments from interested parties?
One of the most frustrating attitudes in Thailand is that which dismisses any foreigner who says something controversial, risque, taboo or just plain wrong. There is an overwhelming feeling among many elements of Thai society that foreigners cannot, and will never be able to, understand anything about Thailand, and therefore they are unfit to comment.
Some Thai people are so quick to shoot down what outsiders have to say. But it's not as if being Thai automatically makes everything you say correct or justifiable. Many Thais don't even argue their point with foreigners. They simply reject the words of the outsider because, well, those words came from an outsider. But we are all human. We are all open to discussion on our viewpoints, our statements, our assumptions, our observations. Isn't that normal?
And here is where Dan Rivers is trapped. People are upset by some of his reporting. They feel it has been biased, off the mark, sloppy. But instead of pointing out why, people are insulting him, telling him to get out of the country, calling for a boycott of all foreign media because one journalist is telling the world his stories in a way some people are unhappy with. Of course it goes beyond just one journalist, but Dan Rivers is the one getting all the hatemail right now.
Never mind the Thai press, who obviously get it right all the time. It doesn't feel as good to aim those quickfire jibes at one of your own, does it? People are queuing up to take potshots at foreign reporters like they used to queue up at Mr bun or Roti Boy. There is too much childish nonsense going on and it gets very ugly when it manifests itself as violent threats or vile hate campaigns.
But what do I know? I'm just a foreigner, looking in, occasionally commenting. Yet I cannot escape the immense sadness, almost disappointment, I feel reading some of the comments Thai people have been making recently.
The problems in Thai society are there for all to see. There is no need for scapegoats.
For an example of what I'm talking about, Nation ran a story with the headline "Answers sought to media 'bias'". The story ran with a huge CNN logo at the top.
Writer and music conductor Somtow Sucharitkul had these wise words:
We are not just fighting against [those in] the media that give distorted stories. We are also battling the perception of how developed countries see developing countries.
How do developed countries see developing countries? Somtow doesn't say. The story doesn't say. Obviously this is a "fight" between Thailand and the rest of the world.
The president of the Satellite Television Association (Thailand), Niphon Naksompop, presented and compared video clips of the turmoil in Thailand by foreign media, including CNN, Al Jazeera and France 24.
"CNN interviewed protesters and their leaders, who said they only had slingshots, fireworks, firecrackers and rocks while the troops were armed with war weapons. But Al Jazeera showed the picture of protesters holding guns," he said.
This is getting closer to the kind of discussion we need — pointing out where reporters have slipped up, rather than accusing them of being the spawn of satan. But where were the comparisons of how the Thai media has been reporting the issues? Or do we just let that slide for now? And what of censorship in Thailand? Is that not also worth discussing?
Entertainer Kamol Sukosol Clapp, who lives in Soi Ngam Duplee in downtown Bangkok, said he had gone to the flashpoint areas last week to see if the violence would possibly reach his house.
He had heard plenty of rumours spread in the area and therefore needed to check out what was actually happening on the ground.
He was at the same spot that CNN's Dan Rivers was reporting on one occasion, and his experience was different from what the reporter was saying, Kamol told the forum.
OK Nation! What was different between the two experiences? Nation? Come on. You don't single out another journalist and not come out with a good reason for doing so. Ah, another fine job of reporting half a story.
Education will play a crucial role in solving the problem in the long run, he said. "On the bigger stage, the government should start thinking globally. The world has changed. We are living a globalised world and we are playing a global game."
Parames Rachjaibun, chairman emeritus of the Advertising Association of Thailand, also stressed the importance of the government having a global perspective. "I think at this point, the hiring of professional PR with global connections is necessary," he said.
A global PR campaign? Clearly that would solve all Thailand's problems right now.
I'm not saying some of the criticism isn't justified. The main complaint — that some reporters portrayed the redshirts as innocent, unarmed civilians under fire from an aggressive government regime — is valid. It's the reasoning and the methods of arguing this point that I'm criticizing.
Somtow actually wrote an interesting blog post in which he said the foreign media oversimplify issues for their stories, partly due to not being able to speak Thai. The post is worth a read. Here's an excerpt:
The international press must separate out the very real problems that the rural areas of Thailand face, which will take decades to fix, from the fact that a mob is rampaging through Bangkok, burning, looting, and firing grenades, threatening in the name of democracy to destroy what democracy yet remains in this country.
But this bad reporting is not their fault. It is our fault for not providing the facts in bite-sized pieces, in the right language, at the right time.
I think it's clear Dan Rivers et al called it as they saw it, but they didn't always get it right. Could some reporters have done a better job? Probably. But let's not jump on this like it's a fad. This will only serve to generate a completely irrational resentment for the entire Western press, if it hasn't already, that is.