Friday, October 12, 2007

Deconstructing Suthichai Yoon: Chief Supporter of He Said He Said Political Journalism

Surayud-Prasong spat: trivial and absurd

Suthichai Yoon

The Nation

For the sake of preserving the average Thai citizen's sanity, the two grand old men of Thai politics should simply stop taking pot shots at each other.

The ongoing verbal ambushes are verging on the absurd. The more PM Surayud Chulanont and his ex-ally-turned-arch-rival Prasong Soonsiri trade accusations, the more ridiculous the exchange becomes - and the more disillusioned the public will be towards national politics.

I love how Suthichai picks and chooses, as if we was the God of Thai politics, what causes disillusion in the Thai polity. Two things: First, Suthichai has never cared about the role he and his media group have played in the farce that is called Thai politics, such as printing rumors, spreading gossip and making insinuations that have no basis in reality. Second, if Suthichai hates these exchanges, why does he milk them for they are worth in his newspapers? How can you detest and promote something at the same time?

Prasong has mounted a campaign in the legislative body to grill Premier Surayud and his Cabinet over what he describes as "the government's failure to perform".

Left unsaid in public was Prasong's attempt to get at Surayud's Achilles' heel - the premier's acquisition of a piece of land in Khao Yai Thiang in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, that might have been classified as a forest reserve.

There is nothing wrong with putting pressure on the country's chief executive to make full disclosure of questionable personal assets, of course.

This is something that I will never understand about the worthless Thai media. Instead of just regurgitating quotes made by political principles, why doesn't The Nation actually investigate what is behind the feud and actually determine if there is any validity to the accusations?

As for Surayud's assets, The Nation should have been investigating them, as well as the other ministers and generals, at the start of his term rather than wait for the NCCC and Prasong to do it for them.

And why the hell should the prime minister's political nemesis be charged with forcing the PM to fully disclose his assets. Shouldn't the media have been disclosing them in the first place?

But the controversy assumed serious political nuance when some of Prasong's close aides suggested in public that the no-confidence move was in fact aimed at removing Surayud from office - three months before the national election is to be held.

Where is the quote? Where did these idiots learn journalism?

If the premier was perturbed by that move, he did a marvellous job of concealing the fact.

Suthichai the shrink.

Then came the "legal interpretation" by House Speaker Mechai Ruchupan, who went on the record to say that if Surayud should be pressured to step down, things could get rather confusing indeed because he would have to sound out the House to pick a new candidate for the premiership from among the lawmakers.

So what? Actually, Mechai became PM before in a similar situation during the last coup.

With that, the premier's supporters fired back the first salvo at Prasong, saying that Prasong was in fact instigating the no-confidence move to put himself in line for the top political post.

Every Thai journalist loves conspiracies about the "Pipe Devil" because he is "Mr. Thai CIA."

That naturally shed a negative light on Prasong, who has been insisting all along that he was going after the premier only to fulfil his duty as a legislator charged with the responsibility of keeping the government honest.

No, he declared, he wasn't gunning to become prime minister himself.

Take a look at this crap journalism. Somebody makes an accusation, Suthichai reprints it, then he spins it anyway he wishes without any basis in factual reporting. Instead of just regurgitating quotes, and surmising what they mean, why doesn't he get off his ass and go find out what is actually going on? Suthichai has been in journalism for four decades. Doesn't he have inside contacts who he can call up and get the nitty gritty? Obviously, Suthichai ain't no Bob Woodward or John Anderson. He is more like bald-headed gossip columnist pretending to be a serious reporter. Suthichai is the Katie Couric of the Thai media, but worst.

Things could still have remained tolerably tense but not explosive had Surayud, as had been his previous practice, brushed aside any provocative or leading questions from the press. Deliberately or not, the premier got himself trapped by responding to a question from an interviewer in last Saturday's "Open House at Baan Phitsanulok":

Q: "Why do you think Khun Prasong is becoming so antagonistic toward you? Have you done anything that may have angered him?"

Surayud: "I don't know. Perhaps he was disappointed because once, when I was Army commander-in-chief, he had asked me to do something and I turned him down because it was against my principles."

First, the question is lame. It is open-ended, trivial and stupid. It is something you would ask a friend who has been slighted by another friend. It is not a question you would ask a prime minister.

Second, Surayud was stupid to answer a personal question with a political answer. He should have said that I have no animosity towards Prasong and have left it at that. On the other hand, these is nothing wrong with Surayud wondering if Prasong is holding onto a personal grudge from a long time ago. Prasong is notorious for acting on grudges. For example, he went after Thaksin over a grudge over a stupid TV show.

That was it. The simmering skirmish exploded into a full-blown war.

Prasong hit back by denying ever having made any self-serving request to Surayud - demanding that the premier clarify his statement. He then launched a frontal assault on Surayud, attacking him with thinly veiled contempt and scorn.

This is where the Thai media, especially The Nation, is at its lamest. Instead of actually seeing if any of the charges by either party have any merit, it just keeps reporting on the war of words.

If Surayud's initial blow at Prasong was considered a punch below the belt, then Prasong's counter punch wasn't aimed much higher either.

Sutthichai can never resist a column without stupid analogies or cliches.

Prasong claimed: "In fact, it was I who helped Khun Surayud out of the Army's wilderness and got him promoted to Army chief and subsequently as prime minister today."

Is this true? Sutthichai doesn't care.

The premier's responses to Prasong's hard-hitting counter attacks on the same day were ambiguous and feeble. When confronted with direct questions, he turned evasive.

Did Prasong ask him as Army commander-in-chief to stage a coup to oust Thaksin Shinawatra from the premiership?

Surayud, instead of a straight "No", said: "I have never said anyone had tried to persuade me to stage a coup."

Is there really a story in this answer? Instead of digging up facts, Sutthichai's MO is to search for the innuendo.

Was it true that his rise to the top was helped by Prasong?

"I would rather not say anything that might cause divisiveness …"

Does Sutthichai actually investigate if this is true? Nope, just another regurgitated quote.

Now, Prasong's own political record and credibility hasn't been all that solid. But Surayud's ambivalence and caginess have done little to help lend him any credence either.

Wow, Sutthichai, you are a genius. Pointing out that two Thai politicians have dodgy records when it comes to telling the truth. Sutthichai deserves a Pulitzer for this insight.

After all is said and done though, there is more heat than light. Both sides have avoided taking up the real issue. But is the Khao Yai Thiang land a real issue? If so, why does Surayud have to wait for the lawmakers to make a move against him in the House before he speaks up.

After a year, why hasn't The Nation done any investigations into the assets of any government ministers or the generals who forced the coup? How come the worthless Nation hasn't been doing its duty? Questions of government government should always be investigated by the media. There seems to be this idiotic notion in Thai media culture that it is the duty of opposition politicians to investigate and expose corruption. But, there is a conflict of interest. The media is supposed to be independent of politics, report both sides, and investigate corruption on their own as well.

When has the The Nation done a serious expose on government corruption? The answer is never. No, The Nation just reports what the government tells it to report--no questions asked.

If it's a serious breach of ethics, why hasn't Prasong spoken up on what is unethical or illegal? Why has he used the issue as if it is a political bargaining chip?

Politics could be kept out this if the Thai media actually did investigations outside of just re-printing the accusations of political enemies out to destroy each other.

The other personal brickbats (who helped whom to rise to his post? Who asked whom to do what?) are simply trash that shouldn't be dumped onto the public at all … no matter how many newspaper headlines the stories have made in the past week.

No, Sutthichai, those questions are actually very interesting, because it gets to the core of what makes Thai politics tick.

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