Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Academic Freedom in Thailand: In Trouble or Never Existed in the First Place?

Historian calls for unity to fight lawsuit against author


Historian Charnvit Kasetsiri has launched a fund-raising campaign to fight a defamation charge filed by former Thammasat University rector Khunying Nongyao Chaiseree for comments in a thesis on former prime minister Pridi Banomyong. Mr Charnvit likened the defamation charge as ''terror against intellectuals'' and called on academics to support a ''historical academic freedom fund'' to fight it.

The retired historian was speaking at a Chulalongkorn University seminar on academic freedom in historical works.

Mr Charnvit will testify at the Bangkhen police station today as chairman of the exhibition's organising sub-committee for the centenary celebration of late statesman Pridi Banomyong and director of the Thammasat University's archives project.

In 2000, the project published The Images of Pridi Banomyong and Thai Politics: 1932-1983, a book written in 1994 by Morakot Jewachinda for a master's degree in history at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of arts.

Khunying Nongyao filed a defamation charge against Ms Morakot in August 2006. What she found unacceptable was a newspaper excerpt in the book which said:

''Nongyao's interviews with the media, that preparations for receiving Pridi's body and construction of a Pridi monument was the government's decision, had made students believe the university administration did not give any importance to the late statesman.''

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Khunying Nongyao said: ''The information published in the book was totally false. Why would I give an interview that ignored Pridi's contributions to Thammasat University?

''If it was to exercise academic freedom, the book should be in the library, not for public consumption and commercial use. This book has severely damaged my reputation,'' she added.

Khunying Nongyao said she was too busy as a member of the auditor-general's board at the time of the book's release. She only recently learned about its disturbing contents and decided to go to court.

Retired associate professor Wutdichai Moolsilpa, president of the History Society, said the society's board members were equally disturbed by the lawsuit and would discuss the matter with Ms Morakot, who was now teaching in Srinakarinwirot University's history department.

Ms Morakot had made a minor error as she attributed the excerpt from Siam Mai magazine to Matichon newspaper, he said. She did not make the comments herself, and it was a pity the lawsuit was filed against her, he added.

''How can we make the learning of history an academic pursuit as was originally intended by King Chulachomklao, when he set up the archaeology club, expecting it to teach Thais both good and bad lessons?'' Mr Wutdichai said. ''Now it seems we cannot afford to criticise anything, but only do flattery.''

The Office of the National Culture Commission at the Ministry of Culture published 1,500 copies of the book to celebrate the inclusion of Pridi Banomyong's name in a historic calendar of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

A former prime minister and founder of Thammasat University, Pridi led the 1932 Revolution that ended absolute monarchy and paved the way for constitutional monarchy.

Pridi's contribution to Thailand has been a controversial issue. He died in exile in France in May 1983 and the Thai government did not respond to public calls to organise a funeral rite for him as a senior statesman.

What is disturbing about this article is that these idiots have no clue about academic freedom!!

Khunying Nongyao is totally in the right. And Ajarn Charnvit knows nothing about the meaning of academic freedom. Terrorism against academics? Come on! Academic freedom doesn't give an academic carte blanche to print lies or fabricate quotes that never were said.

Note: A reader reminded me that the researcher, Morakot, took the quote from another source without attributing it, which is not a good thing to do, but still has nothing do with violating academic freedom. And Khunying Nongyao denies every saying it. She said the accusation against her is "totally false."

What is even more stupid about this article is that nobody is attacking Pridi or his contributions.

If the Bangkok Post wanted to do a story on the controversy over Pridi's legacy, that would have been good, but instead they chose to run this horrible article that has nothing to with Pridi or academic freedom.


anon said...

Not sure if the issue is so clear cut.

From the newspaper excerpt in the thesis:
"...had made students believe the university administration did not give any importance to the late statesman."

If she herself had made that statement, then it would clearly have been inappropriate. Those are weasel words without an attribution. How many students did she talk to in order to make that generalization? Did she talk to any students at all, or did she just make it up?

But the point is that she didn't make that statement herself - she was merely quoting a newspaper. But why would a sentence used in a newspaper qualify as a reputable academic citation? Did the newspaper conduct a student poll, or did the newspaper reporters just make it up?

In Wikipedia, the threshold for inclusion is "verifiability, not truth." But a Chulalongkorn thesis should have higher standards than that. Simply reprinting an unsourced claim by a newspaper doesn't qualify as responsible high-quality research.

Fonzi said...


I agree with you and made a notation on the blog.