Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Nation Editorial: Editors Prove They are Intellectually Bankrupt and Hate the Rule of Law

Time for Thaksin to face the music

The Nation

Lawyers' bid to keep documents related to land deal sealed flies in face of his constant pleas of innocence

Thaksin Shinawatra's legal defence strategy regarding the corruption cases he is facing has been impressive - until last week, that is. The Thai public can only wonder what the Thaksin camp was so afraid of when one of his lawyers threatened legal action in a bid to block a move by the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) to make public investigation details of the Ratchadaphisek land scandal. The apparent paranoia only serves to arouse or rekindle interest in something that has been debated inside and out. If anything, the legal threat goes against the key defence approach, which the ousted prime minister has applied rather successfully.

"Where's the evidence?" the Thaksin camp has always been asking. This has become something of a rallying cry, with many sympathetic foreign editorials and bloggers dancing to this tune. Since he was toppled in the September 19 coup, Thaksin has been claming the corruption charges against him are all lies. He wanted the world to demand proof. He always argued that what he did while in power was legal and constitutional. But when evidence purported to show that he did break the law is about to be shown, Thaksin is crying foul.

I have blogged many editorials and columns, and to a certain extent they have all pissed me off, but this one really steams me up. On the other hand, this editorial really reveals the anti-democratic mindset of The Nation editorial staff and its contempt for the law, so I am happy about that.

According to this editorial, The Nation doesn't care about the legal process, doesn't care about the rule of law, doesn't care about the proper collection and revealing of evidence in a criminal proceeding, and certainly doesn't believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Considering The Nation hasn't produced one single piece of evidence proving Thaksin's guilt, it isn't surprising that it wants the AEC--the junta's own handpicked group of Thaksin haters-- to reveal their case to the entire public before trial, which would go against the normal rules of due process in any civilized country.

And, if The Nation is so certain of Thaksin's guilt, why doesn't it produce its own case? Why wait for the AEC?

Strategically, advanced knowledge of what the investigators have should benefit Thaksin. It should help his lawyers make necessary preparations. They would be able to know what documents the investigators feel are important, and what laws and regulations are being used against him. The only drawback, being blown out of proportion by his lawyers, is the bad publicity this will result in for the accused. But the other side of the coin is that the military junta and the interim government could have put him and his family through a summary probe, declared them guilty as sin one month after the coup and seized a large portion of their assets.

The Nation doesn't seem to get that its editorial staff writer aren't lawyers; they aren't even real journalists. Who are they to judge what is right or wrong for Thaksin's defense?

The only reason The Nation wants the AEC to make the evidence public is because its reporters are too lazy and incompetent to uncover the evidence for themselves through investigative reporting. In other words, The Nation takes what the junta tells them as gospel and publishes it as the truth. If anybody has noticed, The Nation never evaluates any report that the government produces, which is something a proper newspaper would do in a country with a responsible press.

Thaksin and his lawyers should instead welcome this great opportunity to put everything on the table and let the people be the judge. If he is certain that there was nothing legally wrong with the purchase of the state-auctioned Ratchadaphisek land by his wife while he was prime minister, Thaksin should welcome the chance to know exactly why investigators do not agree. He should welcome the chance to scrutinise all evidence and inform the public which parts are "lies".

Again, The Nation is the last body in Thailand to give legal advice to Thaksin, considering it welcomed and cheered an illegal coup that overthrew his government. If The Nation says it is a great opportunity for Thaksin, Thaksin should do the opposite.

Also, if Thaksin is being accused by a corrupt military junta of committing crimes and being investigated by the junta's Thaksin hating cronies in the AEC, why should Thaksin give them the benefit of the doubt? But The Nation doesn't think Thaksin should have the rights of a criminal defendant, because it has convicted him already.

And, if The Nation is so concerned with evidence, it should actually do its job, do some reporting, and uncover the facts and tell the public instead of waiting for orders from the junta's AEC.

His lawyers are citing principles of criminal justice and repeatedly emphasising the rights of the suspects. They said the plan to make the investigation file public violated the rights of the accused. According to them, what the AEC is planning to do "is beyond the tradition of law". Coming from lawyers of a former leader under whose reign hundreds of drug suspects were shot dead without even being formally charged, this is simply ironic.

Because of The Nation is capable of intellectual reasoning and professional integrity, it has to rely on fallacious arguments.

The Nation is arguing that because Thaksin had a public policy on a war on drugs where drug dealers were killed without a trial that means that Thaksin isn't entitled to his own legal rights as a criminal defendant.

Yes, this is the argument of the intellectual giants who work at major metropolitan newspaper.

This is not a case where anyone can easily "plant" anything. His accusers have simple matters to prove: Was Thaksin aware of his wife's bid for the state land? And, if so, did that break the law? It's all about legal interpretation and documents that could never be doctored. If Thaksin thinks the investigators are misinterpreting the laws or the constitution, his lawyers can publicly rebut them in an instant. What makes him so scared, then?

Why is The Nation so scared of doing its own investigation? Why does it need to rely on the AEC? And how does The Nation know that the AEC is telling the truth? And why shouldn't a defendant in a criminal case defend himself in court instead of in a biased newspaper like The Nation that is intellectually dishonest on a daily basis and has an axe to grind with Thaksin?

It's time Thaksin faces legal accusations head-on, like a man. His tendency to politicise every case - trying to make them look like part of a conspiracy against him - was a major reason why Thailand ended up in this crisis. Instead of proving to Parliament and showing beyond a doubt that the Shin Corp-Temasek deal was not subject to tax, he chose to dissolve Parliament, hoping to win another election and thus get away with it. No corruption charges involving his family or Cabinet members had a chance to go through proper channels.

It's time The Nation face its responsibilities as a newspaper and stop publishing horrible dishonest columns like this one.

There were plenty of ways of proving Thaksin's corruption. The Senate and the various anti-corruption commissions and agencies had the responsibility of government oversight. They could have checked him regardless if the House was dissolved or not.

Also, like I have said many times, The Nation has not published one investigative report uncovering Thaksin's nefarious empire.

Ironically, The Nation seems to be consumed with Thaksin's alleged crimes that neither it nor the junta has proven in the media or in a court, but it seems to have embraced an illegal coup and the abrogation of the last constitition. The Nation's hypocrisy is breathtaking.

There were times in the past when the government collapsed simply because politicians bought plots of land set aside for farmers. Under him, the first family could do tricky share transfers to evade taxes and manage business transactions with the state despite the laws prohibiting it.

This is an idiotic statement. The last coup happened because of corruption in the Chatichai government despite laws preventing that corruption. Ironically, many of the usual suspects that were responsible for corruption in the nineties are back and ready to take the reigns of power again. But this doesn't disturb The Nation. The only crimes that disturb The Nation are the ones allegedly committed by Thaksin.

The Ratchadaphisek land case involved only about Bt700 million, but how it came about underlined most of the things that defied democratic principles while he was empowered.

This sentence makes no sense.

Instead of avoiding evidence like the plague, he should welcome the chance to confront it. We challenge him to prove he is right and his accusers wrong on this one.

Instead of telling Thaksin to publically disclose evidence that could incriminate himself and urging him to abdicate his own civil liberties, the incompetent Nation should do its job and produce its own evidence and it should challenge the government's evidence instead of the waiting for the junta to give it orders.

The Nation really should be ashamed of itself. It should worry less about its own political agenda and vendetta against Thaksin and start to worry more about acting like a proper newspaper with professional standards.


Unknown said...

Agree with you about the nation. This newspaper likes to show off as if it is highly intellectual but in fact its arguments are shallow and misleading. Its analysis on various topics (not just thaksin) is really laughable. However, there are also one or two columists who are objective and balanced. I once met one of them at the FCCT and could not believe he really works for the nation.

hobby said...

The Nation article does have a point to some extent because it highlights how Thaksin is prepared to use the media, but only when it suits him.

I am a little surprised the Thaksin camp does not want full disclosure in the media, because on the face of it this land deal seems to be the weakest case against Thaksin, particularly if the Thaksin side can prove that the tender process was open and fair, and the purchase price was reasonable in the market that prevailed at the time.
If they can show the purchase was fair, then it will only be on a technicality that Thaksin can be convicted, which I consider would be a hollow victory to the prosecutors.

Unknown said...

Agreed with Hobby. :)

Fonzi said...


If Thaksin's defense team doesn't want the prosecutor to disclose evidence in the case because it is harmful to their client, they have every right to do what it takes to protect their client.

On other hand, I have no problems with the media finding out on their own what is so embarrassing to Thaksin and publishing it in the papers, because that is news and I think the public is entitled to know how why Thaksin and his wife were buying lucrative properties on his watch.

The problem I have with this stupid editorial is that The Nation is insisting Thaksin do something that may incriminate himself.

If The Nation wants the truth to be known it should actually do its own investigation and do it itself without waiting for the junta to tell it what to publish.