Monday, April 16, 2007

Deconstructing Chang Noi: Hits Homerun with Column on Censorship

Inconvenient truths of censorship

Chang Noi

The Nation

Censorship is nearly always a form of denial, an attempt to hide a truth or limit its power.

If someone wants to write or shout something quite meaningless or uninteresting, then nobody takes much notice anyway. Censors reach for the blue pencil, the scissors, and the off switch when there really is something that most people want to know and a few people want to hide.

Every Thai government gets the urge to censor. In the political culture, there is a memory of the good times (for governments) when they could stop most criticism by one means or another. But over the past three decades, suppression has become more and more difficult. There is a growing audience of people who want to know what is going on, and hence an expanding business opportunity in supplying that demand. Even if government controls the mainstream electronic media and can heavy the press, there are other channels. Way back the popular method was leaflets. Then came faxes. Then SMS messaging and community radio. And now email, blogs and websites. This sequence has an important feature: the old forms were local, the new ones are global.

But censorship is not what it used to be. Consider the case of the royal biography which was banned in Thailand before the book's publication in the US last year. Despite the ban, photocopied versions circulated widely in Thailand even before the publication date. Purchase through online booksellers has not been too difficult. Parts of the book have been scanned and placed on the Web. Passages have been translated into Thai and also placed on the Web or circulated in other ways. Cheap illegal photocopied versions have been on sale furtively in the city. The content of the book has been widely discussed in Web forums.


Good column. My only complaint is that he chickened out and refused to say the name of the book, which is Why the King Never Smiles by Paul Handley. Other than that, I agree with the column. Also, I would love to know who the academics and journalists are that disagree with the censorship, because they can't be his patrons at The Nation.

1 comment:

hobby said...

The Nation cannot be all bad if they publish Chang Noi.

Also, im waiting for you to deconstruct today's editorial:

Election this year the ultimate goal

Postponing the general election will raise suspicions about those holding power and make Thaksin look good

To say that things haven't been easy for interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont is an understatement. Nothing is easy in Thailand for anyone at the moment, but the most galling heat is on the man who, just a couple of years ago, was enjoying religious peace after his military retirement. On Friday, he stated he would stay in the kitchen and see the country through the proclaimed agenda of the men who put him in power. The whole statement sounded anything but convincing or reassuring, and within a couple of weeks he will most likely be forced to say more of the same all over again.

Surayud vowing to stay put is good news to some and bad news to others. Bad news to Surayud himself is the fact that even those who see his renewed, albeit questionable, commitment as good news rarely think so out of personal admiration or faith in his capability. All Thais are politically tired and exasperated, and even Surayud's character seems to go against the current circumstances. Those who felt relieved to learn he was not quitting probably only felt that way because they couldn't take any more of it.

It's not about Surayud staying or resigning. It's about the need to get a quick return to democracy. Thaksin Shinawatra prompted calls for Thai democracy to get an immediate fix but ironically, after six months, the generals who overthrew him have generated the impression that we simply have no time for an overhaul. Rumblings about corruption among the men in uniform have started, rifts among them have been reported, and rival political groups, all capable of stirring up violence in a matter of days, have been increasingly restless. Neutral Thais feel like they are sitting on a knife's edge day in and day out.

The Surayud government has many flaws, which add to its unfortunate credibility problem as far as foreigners and investors are concerned. Moreover, it is trapped between extreme pro- and anti-Thaksin camps, both of which have been piling enormous pressure on the prime minister. But the man has done two things right. First, he has resisted the Council for National Security's attempts to impose a state of emergency to deal with "remnants of the old power". Second, Surayud has been very steadfast on the promised timeframe for the return to democracy. That timeframe, which calls for a general election in December, must not be extended, no matter what some influential figures are trying to make us believe. Yes, democracy was in a very poor state during the Thaksin era, especially its last months, but our new problem is that the vacuum is generating new threats. The "old clique" obviously isn't letting go.

Continued power plays between the powers-that-be and those who lost power could erupt into something that would lead to further suspension of democracy. The battle has spilled over into many places. The head of the Privy Council has faced harsh public accusations. Websites have had to be blocked because of uploaded content offending Thais' reverence of the monarchy. The turmoil tells us that prolonging the election date will be a very bad, if not unpatriotic, idea. Some of those instrumental in the downfall of the Thaksin regime insist that holding an election when the ousted prime minister's influence has not yet been uprooted is dangerous, but ironically this claim makes them sound more dangerous, especially given the growing suspicion that the powers-that-be might simply try to hold on to the status quo. Postponing the election will inadvertently have a consequence that those in power dread: It will help Thaksin look good.

His image has improved somewhat already, at least in the eyes of the foreign community, because the coup's proclaimed motive of giving Thailand genuine democracy has not produced satisfactory results. Many are saying they'd rather have a less than perfect Constitution and go ahead with an election, come what may. That is because they think the present fractious vacuum, with underground elements lurking menacingly, could lead to something much worse than the old-style post-election turmoil.

Can the promised election dates for December be honoured? Among those in power, only Surayud has given us an unequivocal and sincere "yes". This alone should justify giving him a break. Moreover, of all the men in control right now, he is again the only one to show willingness to let go.

Sorry about the copy/paste, but I could not get the link to work in this comment.