Monday, June 1, 2009

Spielberg of Asia

Bangkok Post:

In a week of relatively calm politics, you must have heard news about a Thai student who supposedly won an award at the Cannes Film Festival (which ended last Sunday, and which I attended). It was reported in both Thai- and English-language newspapers (though not the one you're holding) that Pornpatchaya Supannarat was a "winner at Cannes" in the student film section.

The 24-year-old Pornpatchaya went on TV Channel 3 - twice - to talk about her short film; that it was officially selected by, and even won an award at, the Cannes Film Festival, considered the world's most prestigious cine-event.

The TV host quickly hailed her "the Spielberg of Thailand".

Thai reporters who were in Cannes were perplexed. We'd never heard about a Thai student whose film was invited by the festival; we didn't see Pornpatchaya's name in the official catalogue. The only Thai film in the festival's Official Selection this year was Nang Mai, by director Pen-ek Ratanaruang. But in Bangkok even my mother, who hasn't seen a movie in years, knew that a Thai student had won some prize in Cannes. "It was on TV," she said.

Let's make the truth clear: Pornpatchaya did not win any award from Cannes and her film was not "officially selected". It was shown in the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Market, a trade exhibition in which participants have to pay a registration fee in order to have their movies included. There's no competition, no prizes distributed; her film is not part of the Cannes Film Festival and she's not a "winner at Cannes" as one of the papers splashed across its front page (two days later, it ran a retraction).


She used a few English terms in her interview, she told me, and maybe the reporters of the Thai paper who broke "the story" didn't entirely get her meaning. And by saying on TV that she was part of the "Official Selection", she didn't mean official as in official, but official as in the Short Film Corner, though she knew that it meant not-so-official; and on TV she was too slow to explain her point to the host.

She went on Channel 3 again yesterday. I thought she'd say sorry that her misunderstanding - if she insists it's only a misunderstanding - had misled the viewers (including my mother!). And I thought the same TV host would admit that he was, at least, partly to blame for spreading the false information because he'd failed to do a fact-check prior to the interview.

But no. No admission, no sorry. They wouldn't let the 15 minutes of fame become a lifetime of shame, so the session on Friday bordered on a twisting of the truth that would have stunned even the most pliable contortionist. Cannes, they said, is such a complex film festival that we're confused about the awards. The host spent much time defending his subject. Is it such an undignified gesture for the people in this country to publicly say sorry? Not the politicians, not the bureaucrats, not the filmmakers - and not the journalists. (Had this happened in Korea, someone might have hanged himself!)

Entertainment reporting, political reporting, economic reporting: same, same but different.

Facts are the first casualty of Thai journalism.

What is even more pathetic is that doing some basic fact checking, a component of professional media operations everywhere(except in Thailand), doesn't take that much effort.

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