Monday, April 20, 2009

Shawn Crispin on the Propaganda Wars

Asia Times:

Exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has in interviews told foreign news outlets - including the BBC and CNN - that the Thai military killed and secretly carted away the bodies of an undisclosed number of his red shirt followers on April 13, when troops cracked down on anti-government protests in a pre-dawn operation on the streets of Bangkok.

Exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has in interviews told foreign news outlets - including the BBC and CNN - that the Thai military killed and secretly carted away the bodies of an undisclosed number of his red shirt followers on April 13, when troops cracked down on anti-government protests in a pre-dawn operation on the streets of Bangkok.

The government and military have maintained that nobody was killed in the melee, though scores were injured and taken to hospital. Thaksin has claimed a conspiracy of censorship among local broadcast and print media, the former largely controlled by the state, but the latter offering a wide array of pro- and anti-government coverage and opinion, including of the recent protests.

Thaksin and his spin doctors have bid to co-opt the potent symbolism of the bloody May 1992 military crackdown, when over 200 pro-democracy demonstrators went missing and nearly 17 years later activist groups claim are still unaccounted for by the military.

During that past crackdown, the military blacked out the local broadcast media and pressured print publications to censor their coverage. The night of the crackdown, many media members were rounded up at central Bangkok's Royal Hotel and held in virtual detention while soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After their release, reporters saw blood and bullets, but no bodies, in the streets.

This time, local and international media were present and filmed the exchange, with some reporters even embedded with the troops. International wire agency and local print reports, which included graphic images of bloodied protesters and reports from hospitals that received the injured, have not corroborated Thaksin's claims. The influential Bangkok Post ran a front-page story lauding the military for professionalism and restraint.

The exiled Thaksin's apparently bogus claims underline his movement's vigorous propaganda efforts to sway international opinion in his favor. His claims also hint that his United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group was tasked with creating a situation of anomie specifically aimed at luring soldiers into opening fire on their red-shirted supporters to galvanize international support for his supposed pro-democracy cause.

I think Shawn Crispin has finally drunk from Sondhi Lim's Kool-Aid.

Here are the facts:

1. Army attacked in the dead of night at Din Daeng to avoid media coverage. I have seen the videos from different angles. It is impossible to tell with certainty that nobody was killed and we don't know if the army didn't clean the scene. I'm not saying there was a secret massacre, but nobody should ever accept the words of the military at face value.

2. We know for a fact that the army has a long history of covering up its crimes.

3. We know for a fact that the army and other security agencies shut down the Red Shirt video and audio media and their websites.

4. We know for a fact that The Nation and Bangkok Post are pro-crackdown, pro-Democrat Party, pro-military, apologists for the PAD, and despise the Red Shirts and Thaksin with a passion. The evidence is crystal clear and well-documented.

5. We know that the state owned media didn't provide both sides of the story. When? I just watched an hour long special report from ThaiPBS on YouTube. It was not favorable to the Red Shirts. It was blatant propaganda. The executive director of Thai PBS, Thepchai Yong, is an avowed Thaksin hater. People can watch the video and not understand one word of the Thai language and just from the images edited together understand that it is anti-Red propaganda.

Here is Marwaan on the media bias.

6. We know for a fact that all the free Thai TV channels are in the hands of the military and were purged of the pro-Thaksin elements after Abhisit came to power.

The exiled Thaksin and his in-country media operatives had before the recent street chaos achieved some success in selling to international audiences their UDD movement as a pro-democracy cause. They have consistently claimed Abhisit's elected coalition government was installed by behind-the-scenes military maneuvering and that a wider aristocracy has long retarded Thailand's democratic development.

I disagree. I think Thaksin and Jakraphop were horrible spinmeisters. I don't think all those international news anchors gave them a free pass. What makes me angry about this paragraph is that at least the international media interviewed Thaksin and the Reds and got their side. The Thai media didn't even give them that basic courtesy. Remember, the Thai media did a general blackout of the Reds(except their savagery), distorted their rally numbers, and did everything through a filter of anti-Thaksin analysis.

That message has been dutifully perpetuated by Thaksin's foreign media advisors, including the Hong Kong-based Samuel Moon, who claims on Thaksin's Building a Better Future Foundation's website to have worked for the Economist, Dow Jones and, through his own company, in partnership with Businessweek. Certain of those media groups have shown strong editorial sympathy for Thaksin's supposed democratic cause.

I find it fascinating that Shawn Crispin, an employee of Sondhi Limthongkul-- chief propagandist of the PAD, wacky conspiracy theorist, and avowed hater of Thaksin-- is impugning the integrity of the Economist, Dow Jones, etc. Next thing you know Crispin will be accusing every media outlet in the world of being in the paid employee of Thaksin. That is the modus operandi of Sondhi Lim cronies. Sad to see that Crispin has sunk to that low.

Many foreign reporters have perpetuated the simplistic notion put forward by Thaksin's spin doctors that Thailand's is a rural poor versus urban elite struggle, with the billionaire Thaksin the champion of the former. To be sure, that perception became a reality in the minds of many Thais after being bombarded relentlessly with Thaksin's pro-poor messages over state-controlled television, where over 80% of Thais receive their news, during his six years in power.

Many Thai and foreign academics on Thai politics must have been duped by Thaksin also. I guess Ajarns Thongchai, Somsak, Thinitan, Giles, Zachary Abuza, Kevin Hewison, Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly are all idiots without an independent thought in their minds. I guess every news anchor of every major international channel is an idiot. I guess Thomas Fuller, Richard Ehrlich, Seth Mydans, Hannah Beech, Jonathon Head, Marwan Macan-Markar, Daniel Ten Kate are all morons who are blinded by Thaksin and Sam Moon's propaganda machine.

Now, even with the UDD's suppression and its top leaders held in police custody, Abhisit has gone underground at an undisclosed location to emphasize to reporters the still grave threat UDD supporters represent to his personal security. The embattled premier has in recent days agreed to speak to certain foreign broadcasters, but only by telephone and not in person because it would compromise the sanctity of his secret location.

He has given a few in person interviews with CNN and BBC lately.

Abhisit earlier aimed to assure the international community that his government's installation late last year signaled a restoration of stability after the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) street protest movement had for months paralyzed the workings of government and culminated in the seizure and closure of Bangkok's main international and domestic airports.

The television images of red-shirted protesters violently assaulting Abhisit's car twice in one week, and the UDD's extraordinary disruption of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) summit meeting last weekend, has sent strongly the opposite message. International media universally referred to the ASEAN breakdown as "embarrassing" and "humiliating" for Abhisit's government and an indication of his weak leadership.

I think Abhisit undermined his own credibility when he was running around everywhere telling everybody that everything was perfect and stable and "mai mee panhaa." His own mouth undermined his own credibility. Personally, what I think made Abhisit look weak wasn't the protests, which happen everywhere, but that his word didn't mean much after he couldn't keep his own guarantees.

The fact that his government has now maintained a state of emergency a full two days after the protests were wound down and swept up, and while crowds rivaling the size of the UDD's recent rallies rollick and hurl water playfully in Bangkok's streets in celebration of the Buddhist New Year, is raising new questions about whether Abhisit or army commander General Anupong Paochinda is really calling the shots.

Maybe neither Abhisit nor General Anupong are in charge. I am actually more sympathetic to Abhisit than to General Anupong. After the Government House, airport and ASEAN fiascos, he needs to be fired or kicked upstairs or put out to pasture somewhere.

The real story to me, when all is said and done, is why do the generals get away with things that the politicians don't. I hate to say it, with all the bashing of HMTK lately, it seems to me that the generals are actually more untouchable than the king.


Anonymous said...

Fonzi, you rule ! :)

Crispin seems to be addicted to concpiracies.

I mean - even PAD guys said that murder attempt on Sondhi was work of army or police. yet Crispin somehow knows better and makes connections with Reds. how convinient for Abhisit and MICT ! althogh even they didn't make such statements, even in the heat of ongoing crackdown on Reds.

latest news - 1 mln Baht is assigned (50K for each of 20 leaders) as a bounty for tip to arrest Red leaders. I guess naming them "enemies of country" not enough, have to place a reward on their heads, and in ol good cowboy movies, or as Bush did on Osama-catch-me-if-you-can-Bin-Laden ! 5555555555

although I wonder - if Abhisit is talking about Total Amnesty for all - what's the whole point to throw away money for catching them and given them pardon by that amnesty ? seems stupid.

Dudeist said...

Remember Crispin also kept up the James Klein Asia Foundation propagated myth that somehow the PPP win in the last election didn't represent the majority will of the Thai people (they should try critiquing UK system - seen as one of the most stable in the world where NO ruling party in living memory has scored over 50% at a General Election).

Obviously I completed debunked Klein to the point he was sending me abusive emails.

What I can say of Crispin is that he seems lazy and arrogant and never seems to double check his sources. It took me about 10mins to demolish the Klein/Crispin position on the PPP election win - I'm sure it took you less than that this time Fonzi.

Can you also explain his Sondhi L links? What job does he do for him?

Fonzi said...


Shawn Crispin is a journalist for the Asia Times, an online newspaper, and Sondhi Lim is the owner.

I don't know their relationship beyond that.

Crispin used to work for the Far Eastern Economic Review before it went broke and had to downsize.

Crispin and Thaksin have a history.

Crispin and Rodney Tasker wrote a very small story in the FEER about Thaksin and the Crown Prince and HMTK not being happy about their relationship.

It turned into a major international incident. FEER was banned, Crispin and Tasker had their visas revoked and went into hiding.

They rehabilitated themselves by writing a letter apologizing for offending the monarchy.

That is how I remember the story.

Considering this history, I think Crispin has been fair to Thaksin, until this story, where he decided to go into Sondhi Lim mode.