Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Don't Blame Dan Rivers

I have been composing a long, day by day account of the "troubles" of the last three days, which I have not yet posted.  The reason is that I've been getting a lot of mail asking me to explain "the truth" to people overseas.  A lot of people here are astonished and appalled at the level of irresponsibility and inaccuracy shown by such major news sources as CNN, and are imputing the most astonishing motives to this, such as suggesting that they're in the pay of Thaksin and so on.

I don't think this is really what is going on.  Rather, I think that there are two basic problems: preconception and language.

CNN first became a force to be reckoned with during the "People Power" movement in the Philippines.  The kind of coverage we had for this was amazing.  There was a camera in every camp, and we could follow this exciting revolution every step of the way.  We knew exactly who to root for: the oppressed masses led by the widow of the iconic Aquino, and we knew that whenever President Marcos appeared he was Darth Vader, the symbol of an evil empire.  The arc of the story was simple and inexorable.  A whole new way of looking at the news was born, with all the excitement of a TV miniseries and, prophetically, a reality show as well.

Of course, many of the little details of the story were conveniently glossed over.  Reality was not — never is — so black and white.  But there are three important things about this story: first, in its essentials, there was a lot of truth.  And all the protagonists spoke English.

The Philippines, as Filipinos never tire of telling me, is the third most populous English speaking country in the world.  We will leave the definition of "English-speaking" to another blog, but it's very important that the various sides in this conflict were able to articulate their viewpoints in a language which CNN well understood.

The third important thing about the story is that it fulfilled a vision of history that is an inseparable part of the inheritance of western culture, that is so ingrained in western thinking that it is virtually impossible for an educated member of western society to divorce himself from it.

It is a vision of history as a series of liberations.  From Harmodius and Aristogeiton throwing off the tyrant's yoke to the removal of the Tarquins and the establishment of the Roman Republic to the failed rebellion of Spartacus, from Magna Carta to the Bastille to the American Civil War to the Russian Revolution, there is this Platonic Model against which these big historical movements are always compared.  There is a bad guy — often a dictator — who can be demonized.  There is a struggling proletariat.  The end comes with "liberty and justice for all".  This is Star Wars.   The dark times.  The Empire.

The "People Power" coverage was riveting, compelling, and contained all the emotional components of this mythical story arc.  Finding another such story, therefore, is a kind of Holy Grail for the international media.  When a story comes that appears to contain some of the elements, and it's too much hard work to verify those elements or get all the background detail, you go with the Great Archetype of Western Civilization.

Now, let us consider the redshirt conflict.

Let's not consider what has actually been happening in Thailand, but how it looks to someone whose worldview has been coloured with this particular view of history.

Let's consider the fact that there is pretty much nothing being explained in English, and that there are perhaps a dozen foreigners who really understand Thai thoroughly.  I don't mean Thai for shopping, bargirls, casual conversation and the like.   Thai is a highly ambiguous language and is particularly well suited for seeming to say opposite things simultaneously.  To get what is really being said takes total immersion.

When you watch a red shirt rally, notice how many English signs and placards there are, and note that they they are designed to show that these are events conforming to the archetype. The placards say "Democracy", "No Violence," "Stop killing innocent women and children" and so on.  Speakers are passionately orating, crowds are moved.  But there are no subtitles.  What does it look like?

The answer is obvious.  It looks like oppressed masses demanding freedom from an evil dictator.

Don't blame Dan Rivers, et al, who are only doing what they are paid to do: find the compelling story within the mass of incomprehensible data, match that story to what the audience already knows and believes, and make sure the advertising money keeps flowing in.

A vigorous counter-propaganda campaign in clear and simple English words of one syllable has always been lacking and is the reason the government is losing the PR war while actually following the most logical steps toward a real and lasting resolution.

If the foreign press were in fact able to speak Thai well enough to follow all the reportage here coming from all sides, they would also be including some of the following information in their reports.  I want to insist yet again that I am not siding with anyone.  The following is just information that people really need before they write their news reports.

-- Thaksin was democratically elected, but became increasingly undemocratic, and the country gradually devolved from a nation where oligarchs skimmed off the top to a kleptocracy of one.  During his watch, thousands of people were summarily executed in the South of Thailand and in a bizarre "war on drugs" in which body count was considered a marker of success.

-- the coup that ousted Thaksin was of course completely illegal, but none of the people who carried it out are in the present government.

-- the yellow shirts' greatest error in moulding its international image was to elevate Thaksin's corruption as its major bone of contention.  Thai governments have always been corrupt.  The extent of corruption and the fact that much of it went into only one pocket was shocking to Thais, but the west views all "second-rate countries" as being corrupt.  Had they used the human rights violations and muzzling of the press as their key talking points, the "heroic revolution" archetype would have been moulded with opposite protagonists, and CNN and BBC would be telling an opposite story today.

-- the constitution which was approved by a referendum after the coup and which brought back democracy was flawed, but it provided more checks and balances, and made election fraud a truly accountable offense for the first time.

-- the parliamentary process by which the Democrat coalition came to power was the same process by which the Lib Dems and Tories have attained power in Britain.  The parliament that voted in this government consists entirely of democratically elected members.

-- no one ever disputed the red shirts' right to peaceful assembly, and the government went out of its way to accede to their demands.

-- this country already has democracy.  Not a perfect one, but the idea of "demanding democracry" is sheer fantasy

-- the yellow shirts did not succeed in getting any of their demands from the government. The last two governments changed because key figures were shown to have committed election fraud.  They simply did not take their own constitution seriously enough to follow it.

-- the red TV station has a perfect right to exist, but if foreign journalists actually understood Thai, they would realize that much of its content went far beyond any constitutionally acceptable limits of "protected speech" in a western democracy.  Every civilized society limits speech when it actually harms others, whether by inciting hate or by slander.  The government may have been wrong to brusquely pull the plug, but was certainly right to cry foul.  It should have sought an injunction first.  Example: Arisman threatened to destroy mosques, government buildings, and "all institutions you hold sacred" ... a clip widely seen on youtube, without subtitles.  Without subtitles, it looks like "liberty, equality, fraternity".  

-- the army hasn't been shooting women and children ... or indeed anyone at all, except in self-defense.  Otherwise this would all be over, wouldn't it?  It's simple for a big army to mow down 5,000 defenseless people.  

-- since the government called the red shirts' bluff and allowed the deputy P.M. to report to the authorities to hear their accusations, the red leaders have been making ever-more fanciful demands.  The idea of UN intervention is patently absurd.  When Thaksin killed all those Muslims and alleged drug lords, human rights groups asked the UN to intervene.  When the army took over the entire country, some asked the UN to intervene.  The UN doesn't intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign countries except when requested to by the country itself or when the government has completely broken down.  

-- Thailand hasn't had an unbreachable gulf between rich and poor for at least 20 years.  These conflicts are about the rise of the middle class, not the war between the aristocrats and the proletariat.  

-- Abhisit, with his thoroughly western and somewhat liberal background, shares the values of the west and is in fact more likely to bring about the social revolution needed by Thailand's agrarian poor than any previous leader.  He is, in fact, pretty red, while Thaksin, in his autocratic style of leadership, is in a way pretty yellow.  Simplistic portrayals do not help anyone to understand anything.

-- the only people who do not seem to care about the reds' actual grievances are their own leaders, who are basically making everyone risk their lives to see if they can get bail.

-- the King has said all that he is constitutionally able to say when he spoke to the supreme court justices and urged them to do their duty.   The western press never seem to realize that the Thai monarchy is constitutionally on the European model ... not, say, the Saudi model. The king REIGNS ... he doesn't "rule".  This is a democracy.  The king is supposed to symbolize all the people, not a special interest group.

The above are just a few of the elements that needed to be sorted through in order to provide a balanced view of what is happening in this country.

There is one final element that must be mentioned.  Most are not even aware of it.  But there is, in the western mindset, a deeply ingrained sense of the moral superiority of western culture which carries with it the idea that a third world country must by its very nature be ruled by despots, oppress peasants, and kill and torture people.  Most westerners become very insulted when this is pointed out to them because our deepest prejudices are always those of which we are least aware.  I believe that there is a streak of this crypto-racism in some of the reportage we are seeing in the west.  It is because of this that Baghdad, Yangon, and Bangkok are being treated as the same thing.  We all look alike.

Yes, this opinion is always greeted with outrage.  I do my best to face my own preconceptions and don't succeed that often, but I acknowledge they exist nonetheless.

Some of the foreign press are painting the endgame as the Alamo, but it is not.  It is a lot closer to Jonestown or Waco.

Like those latter two cases, a highly charismatic leader figure (in our case operating from a distance, shopping in Paris while his minions sweat in the 94°weather) has taken an inspirational idea: in one case Christianity, in the other democracy, and reinvented it so that mainstream Christians, or real democrats, can no longer recognize it.  The followers are trapped.  There is a siege mentality and information coming from outside is screened so that those trapped believe they will be killed if they try to leave.  Women and children are being told that they are in danger if they fall into the hands of the government, and to distrust the medics and NGOs waiting to help them.  There are outraged pronouncements that they're not in fact using the children as human shields, but that the parents brought them willingly to "entertain and thrill" them. There is mounting paranoia coupled with delusions of grandeur, so that the little red kingdom feels it has the right to summon the United Nations, just like any other sovereign state.   The reporters in Rajprasong who are attached to the red community are as susceptible to this variant of the Stockholm syndrome as anyone else.  

The international press must separate out the very real problems that the rural areas of Thailand face, which will take decades to fix, from the fact that a mob is rampaging through Bangkok, burning, looting, and firing grenades, threatening in the name of democracy to destroy what democracy yet remains in this country.

But this bad reporting is not their fault.  It is our fault for not providing the facts in bite-sized pieces, in the right language, at the right time. 


  1. I have decided not to watch any BBC & CNN since many years ago.
    Try Al-Jazeera - well research, fact base report. Too well research that some countries even have ban them. S'pore is one of those countries.....

  2. Very good as usual K. Somtow! (love the photo!) ;-)

    If 1 point can please be made. Is the word 'democracy' being used correctly?

    Most say the USA is a democracy, yet is it not. It is a republic. (With the gov't already controlled by private individuals above the gov't and the law.)

    They say that the previous T.PM was elected 'democratically'. But can 'democratic' really be the just term when modern tactics of psychological manipulation of the masses was implemented. This, having been implemented by the very same men (sent over to 'help') that implemented Cherry W. Tree's own election strategy. Compare the 2 elections... can you see any resemblances? ;-)

    In addition, the so-called 'populist projects' initiated were appropriated from other sources, to then be called their own ideas, and bolster the manipulative psychological process.

    It will take courage for these journalists to not only dig deep in their gray matter to fathom the intricacies of the Thai language as you express so well. But in addition, how many will have the patience, courage, and 'grayness' to delve the fathoms to uncover the REAL truth that lurks in the dark shadows, covered by decades of misinformation?

  3. Excellent writting!!!

  4. Thank you for posting this. As a teacher I am working so hard on teaching students how to be more media literate, understand the bias of the story. Your eloquent words gave me a place to start. As a human it is so frustrating to try to understand other cultures and conflicts and yet know that I am so often trapped in amy own bias. Thank you for stating that so clearly. IF we don't say it out loud and face it we can never overcome it. I am a new reader.

  5. It is so very difficult to find TRUTH. Of course, all media distort it for all the usual, sordid reasons. ‘My truth’ is different from ‘your truth’. When I was younger I wanted to find the independent, free-standing, unbiased TRUTH (as if it were a function of temperature or some other measurement that could be scientifically determined by men in white lab coats, to be presented to all to see and hail). I know that facts exist but I do not know how to discover them without anyone else’s bias. So very interesting. Of course, with the media I believe that they deliberately distort their stories for the sake of sensationalism. Of all of them, my opinion is that CNN is one of the worst offenders! (But then, I have never viewed FOX.)
    The folks who wanted to argue the politics of the piece missed the point; it wasn't about one point of view, it was about seeking to find balance and the ever-illusive "truth". There is merit on both sides, on all sides, but it gets distorted, mis-quoted, turned into slogans. When everyone is speaking, no one is listening! we all are shouting to be heard but not hearing each other. Among other things to remember is that history is written by the victors, but not necessarily those who were most right or truthful. Bertrand Russell said something about the greatest wrongs being visited upon people by others who were convinced of their own 'moral superiority'; beware!
    As for the media, they are not real reporters; they do not research their stories, they READ them. They are nothing more than 'talking heads'. take it all with several grains of salt. Keep this in mind when reviewing "news" and (supposed) "factual reports" from other parts of the world: it is all produced for viewing, edited for max effect, contrived to hit you where it matters but none of this is by definition 'truthful'.
    It's been a pleasure reading the article and even the comments. Thank you, Pierre, for bringing it to my attention.
    Today it is more important than ever to LISTEN.
    Thanks! Judi

  6. Dear Beady, I couldn't agree more. While Thaksin is of course a major factor to be considered and extremely influential, the main root of the problem lies in much deeper problems in Thai society which Thaksin has merely manipulated. The view of many yellow and pro-government supporters seems to be that Thaksin is the sole cause of the problem - but this appears to be a form of denial in the face of much more troubling truths which it would be too dangerous to brush under the carpet. This facebook group is just one example of a tendency to interpret everything in terms of Thaksin : กูเกลียดทักษิณ !! และมั่นใจว่าเรื่องทั้งหมดเกิดขึ้นเพราะมันตัวเดียว!

  7. Hi Khun Somtow, Thanks for your response, I am busy going through your back catalogue and regret sounding a little harsh.

    I just find it frustrating that the reds are being demonized to the point that nobody is talking about the real issues anymore. Immediately this became about Thaksin vs the Monarchy which is just an over simplification of the problems we face as a nation.

    So once again, let's turn off the Carabao, put down the flags and start doing something to change the way this country is run. Not by burning tires and dept. stores but through political pressure applied through the people and media.

    Cheers and please keep blogging. I might not always agree with you but at least it is constructive. The fanatics have had their say. Now it's our turn.

  8. You're a Freak!

  9. Dan River will never be blamed if he did his job considerably and responsibly. Dan, As you are an international reporter working for CNN, one of a most said, reliable medias, should you like to consider yourself for what you have done to our country? The country where you have resided for number of years?

  10. I agree with your analysis. I just don't understand why you sent someone who is not competent enough to do the job? Or why can't you hire proper translator to assist him?

  11. sorry, misuse of word in my earlier comment, i should have used "CNN" instead of "you"

  12. I agree completely with your analysis of the western media failure to properly report this story. I disagree with your contention that one should not blame CNN et al for the failure.

    The media outside Thailand has utterly failed to accomplish their primary task- reporting the facts. They have instead resorted to western hubris and parochialism in an effort to appeal to the lowest common denominators in western society (most of whom could not locate Thailand on a map ... a map with labels). Those media institutions should be castigated and derided for their utter failure to even make the attempt properly understand the issues at hand and the motives of those involved.

    Please accept my gratitude and appreciation for your excellent analysis.

  13. So basically what you're saying (in admittedly beautiful English) is:

    1/foreigners are not allowed to comment nor have an opinion on Thai society (unless they're Thai language scholars)i.e. what your Deputy PM said a couple of weeks back

    2/ all foreign comment is refracted through a crypto-racist mindset

    3/ I have a massive chip on my shoulder

    In actual fact, all the ham-fisted characterisation of 'peasants' (dirty banok)comes from educated Thais like you. The west with all its narratives of liberation may never understand you deep profound Thais with your maddeningly elliptical language but it does have some experience of what democracy means; what it doesn't mean is continually changing the result when it doesn't suit.

    However many paper tigers you erect my erudite friend, however much you stamp and curse, the bald facts follow you around:

    you're bad losers (because you have something to lose)

  14. Very well articulated and very interesting reading. Still the last 24 hours show that - at a gut level - and even though they may not be able to articulate their grievances in a considered, thoughtful and non-violent way - the Red Shirts and their supporters are very angry indeed. Manipulation by the powers that be from behind the scenes is not enough to explain this. Those who can - wealthy and well educated Thais - should therefore try to understand the nature of those grievances at a grass roots level - and intervene with helpful long term policies and real solutions - not condescending charity - to address them.

  15. P'Kookie: Nothing like a crisis to make re-connections. I enjoyed your opinion piece but also liked Anonymous 1,2,3,4's piece. Would love to hear a debate between the two of you. Finally, you wrote a Star Trek novel? Got to get that on my Kindle...

  16. i read your piece and i was greatly impressed. i felt, like many others here, that someone had finally and succinctly put a lot of this in perspective. then i began to read the comments, which are for the most part, well thought out and well stated arguments, regardless of POV. which now causes me to rethink your piece and develop an independent view that is an amalgam of everything on this page. further, i will now do some research and find even more facts, views and analysis of the points mentioned.

    this has all taken me close to two hours to read and digest. the point being, (and surely not one indicative of only Thailand, i would surely say the same for my home town Americans in a heartbeat) most folks neither have the inclination, time or wherewithal to absorb so much thought, fact, and opinion, rattle it around in their heads, and then form an opinion of their own which they would then use to debate and vote with.

    in a democracy an informed electorate is paramount to the process moving forward and functioning well from day to day. if you consider the amount of info people must absorb now, on so many issues that overlap and effect their lives, it is a daunting task and one many are not up to, or have the capacities or time for.

    it saddens me to think that the bottom line to so much of what happens in all democratic societies is dependent on the sheer ignorance of facts and the amnesia that you speak of that effects the electorate and how they vote. but, in a democracy we are all supposedly equal, one man, one vote.

    despite the fact that i can rationalize all of this, i find myself at times thinking that there should be a current events and history test that people must take before they are allowed to vote and participate in their civic responsibilities. but then i pinch myself because i also know that is an incorrect view and one that will help no one.

    too bad all of this will take so much time, so much blood, and so much treasure, EVERYWHERE.

    thanks for your piece, i love when my head gets a good work out like this. it is also good to know so many have put so much thought into all of this and have taken the time to express their views.

    - vote your conscience, but vote consciously.

  17. Thanks for writing this to the world ka.

  18. I believe that you have omitted the concerns that the Western World has with the draconian Lèse majesté laws in Thailand. These are something that I would imagine foreign journalists are aware of / made aware of when they take up a position and subsequently they may instantly form a standpoint that is difficult to shake off.

  19. TOTALLY DISGUSTED*** This sounds like a bargirl trying to tell her long term customer that he doesnt understand her culture, when what it really means is, this is how we do stuff, get used to it or move on. Where did you get your degree ? where did you learn so much about western culture that you decide we are all neanderthals trying to conquer based on Spartacus ? dont get me wrong, i do not side with the red violence, but i do appreciate that when faced with starvation and disclusion, they decide they no longer want to prostitute their daughters knowing the government can help them do so, but chooses otherwise, because they are poor and cast that way.
    Quite simply, those with money will very rarely understand the needs or wishes of those with out. You sit with your PS3 and LCD widescreens while others sit with a sticky rice bowl and matresses on their wood floor, but i guess they should be grateful that you "recognise them" and "appreciate their difficulty" and even "understand them" well how the &^%$ about helping them instead of showing sympathy and making them feel worse. You live in a separate world to these people, forget all Thais, maybe, but some have and some really dont have, and the reason they dont have is because the haves need them to do the dirty work, most of which is normal but sex slaves is not, and that, observed by Thai massage parlours aimed at Thai rich men, 100's of which exist and are owned by MP's shows me more about true Thai culture than any report ive read.
    The truth be told, this uprising is against many things, and i wish the PM had been able to do his duties because clearly he is a man that could have done so much good, had he really been in power, but unfortunately, rich people wanted to keep the poor, very poor, so they could continue with the lesser jobs, including being 'Giks'

  20. Totally agree with you. Everything seems to be treated like a hollywood movie plot. However, all of these had made me question about situations in other places that I only had access through news channels like CNN. How much should we believe what we see?

  21. Thank you, Somtow, for your enlightening piece, although I do think it's worthwhile commenting that your bulleted points are not "just information" but are in many cases colored by your personal perspective. A case in point: "this country already has democracy. Not a perfect one, but the idea of 'demanding democracry' is sheer fantasy." Democracy is a relative term, and in the real world, governments can be more or less democratic. In a country like Thailand, where people can be thrown in jail for even mentioning the very large elephant in the room (I refer, of course, to the lese majeste law), where all the major broadcast media are owned by the military, and where massive vote-buying continues unabated, I think it is very valid for Thais to demand greater democracy, and certainly not a "fantasy"...

  22. Thank you, Somtow, for your enlightening piece, although I do think it's worthwhile commenting that your bulleted points are not "just information" but are in many cases colored by your personal perspective. A case in point: "this country already has democracy. Not a perfect one, but the idea of 'demanding democracy' is sheer fantasy." Democracy is a relative term, and in the real world, governments can be more or less democratic. In a country like Thailand, where people can be thrown in jail for even mentioning the very large elephant in the room (I refer, of course, to the lese majeste law), where all the major broadcast media are owned by the military, and where massive vote-buying continues unabated, I think it is very valid for Thais to demand greater democracy, and certainly not a "fantasy"...

  23. Khun Somtow: excellent piece. Please write more ka.

  24. Rolf Von Bueren

    Well done but your eton collegue has also contributed to the poor foreign analysis by failing to explain who is really behind all this - as a country leader it was his duty to do so and he failed ( he looked as he had to go to the toilet during the hard talk interview with BBC) - he also failed to instal a proper police director general which contributed to the rudderless behavior of the police - nothing happens in Thailand without leadership - poor Khun panitan lost all the battles and the PR war - at times I could not understand his english and his thai either- very poor show indeed and he is the PM s man which shows that our PM who is a descent man , well intended , highly educated lacks baramee and the expirience to run this country - I wished he , the PM or Khun panitan would mention once that the law has to be followed instead of being open to political solutions -- we shall soon be declared a failed state ( again a western perception), because there is no adherence to basic law and that is exactly what Khun taksin wants

  25. These are very interesting and astute comments. The challenge is to assemble the list of provocative dot points with their nuances and complexities (e. g. Abhisit is pretty red, Thaksin is pretty yellow; the conflict is not about the proletariat vs. the aristocracy; and so forth) into cogent narratives that would run against the oversimplifications and polarizations prevailing in most of the reporting. And then there is the demonization that has gone on from both sides. I feel it is like a struggle between "the Buddha" and "Mara", with each side claiming to be the Buddha and accusing the other side of being Mara.

  26. Nice read thank you. You left out only one thing: CNN doesn't count as a news agency a long time ago. There aren't interested in journalism at all. Just creating drama. No one I know looks to CNN for news anymore. I know I haven't at all since all this started and I am in the US. There is no legitimate news outlet at all in this country. Only entertainment networks disguised as news organizations.

  27. If there's one thing everyone must know about western culture, it's that our press is over 90% leftist leaning. They just love tyrants, dictators, oppressive governments and all other types of anti-freedom bad boys.

    Two examples that lay that bias bare are the documentaries "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" and "Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America".

    Both of them show the radical Islamic propaganda that pervades the media in the middle east, yet is NEVER ever mentioned in western media. "Buried" also shows atrocities and other things that were going on in Iraq for many years, most of it was available to western media before the 2003 invasion - yet the media declined to inform their viewers, readers and listeners about any of it.

    But thanks to the WWW and bloggers actually living where the trouble is happening, the people who know the media is full of BS can find the full story and actual truth.

  28. As far as I am concerned, foreign correspondents who are unable to communicate in Thai, [most of them are] work alongside with Thai news producers or news assistants. Hence, the language should not be an accuse for Dan Rivers. If he does not understand the fact of what really happen in Thailand or the truth from both sides. I would assume that Thai staff who work with him is incompetent in translating Thai-English or English-Thai, and should be sacked immediately.

    I would not underestimate Dan Rivers or any other foreign reporters who saw wording such as "Democracy" or "Stop Killing Innocent Women and Children" and so forth will believe in what they saw. They are professional news correspondents employed by international media outlets not gullible tourists or farang kee nok. In fact, these reporters know the incident fairly well, yet he or she choose to report only one side of the story.

    The reason are because 1. that news report is what their audiences want to hear or see, not what THAI audiences what to hear or see 2. it is a news agenda set by the media owner or editor [if Dan Rivers reports story objectively and accurately he will be fired] 3. advertising, audiences rating highly control the journalistic practice 4. CNN and BBC's news value has dumbed down, in terms of reliability and credibility. ect

    I do agree that farang reporters criticise events from their own perspective not the actual fact. It is extremely difficult for them to understand Thai style democracy. However, I totally disagree with Khun Somtow's conclusion. It is defenitely not our fault that fail to provide those journalists the right language at the right time. Those professional journalists just ignore the fact of what really happen in our country and report only some truth.

  29. If there's one thing everyone must know about western culture, it's that our press is over 90% leftist leaning. They just love tyrants, dictators, oppressive governments and all other types of anti-freedom bad boys.

    Two examples that lay that bias bare are the documentaries "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" and "Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America".

    Both of them show the radical Islamic propaganda that pervades the media in the middle east, yet is NEVER ever mentioned in western media. "Buried" also shows atrocities and other things that were going on in Iraq for many years, most of it was available to western media before the 2003 invasion - yet the media declined to inform their viewers, readers and listeners about any of it.

    But thanks to the WWW and bloggers actually living where the trouble is happening, the people who know the media is full of BS can find the full story and actual truth.

  30. considering the years that Dan Rivers has spent in Thailand, he is totally out of sync with his reporting of the Thai situation. This is shameful reporting by the world's supposedly top news agency. Maybe he should be transferred to somewhere more suitable to his untrained and biased mind.

  31. Great insight, Somtow.

    The media's news model is a crock. Lowly paid reporters are always trying to make THEIR story more sensational to get it closer to the top of the news. If they're dressed in helmet and kevlar, that scores a bonus point. That impresses their bosses. Makes them look better at their next appraisal.

    Everyone's trying to be the next Neil Davis or Peter Arnett.

    The old mantra, 'If it bleeds it leads' is alive and well. Sadly, there's too much blood simultaneously shed around our world today hence the need for reporters to make it look like THEIR beat story is the REAL armageddon.

    Let's stop viewing the media as some sort of neutral arbiter or global community service. They are just another BUSINESS in a highly competitive industry, trying to -- and succeeding! -- turn a profit. And they do this by (over) dramatising events to gain viewers. Because more eyeballs means more ads which means bigger bonuses. Simple.

    This leaves viewers with a tarnished view of a certain country, leaving millions floundering in lingering misperceptions, and a trashed economy with compromised livelihoods in their wake.

    End of story? Sadly no. They then move on to the next flashpoint and repeat the same thing.

    I should know. I'm a journalist.

  32. Excellent article. I am baffled at how off the ball Western Media has being. Especially Dan Rivers! He is one-sided towards the Reds which is surprising given as a Bangkok resident he should really understand what is happening.

    In history, it has always been the strategy of strong leaders to bank on differences between the have not's and the 'have's' to fuel divide and grow a following.

    I don't believe the poor are really so badly treated that they have decided to take up arms. Rather, it is the brain washing by Red Leaders & resentment against Thaksin's treatment that has led to chaos and hooligan behavior.

    Thaksin should be dealt with once and for all. He is willing to go to great lengths and I'm sure on his part - he perhaps reasons that when Thailand was under him it was a successful, stable economy. He may very well think he is doing the best for the country, but the ambitions of a single man are never a safe one. As you said, he was a democratic leader who evolved into an undemocratic one.

    May peace be with Thailand. x

  33. Dan River must represent the truth only.
    Those were unethical.

    Don't back him up.

  34. How could you be so sure that you didn't look at and say with the biased view even you totally immersed with Thai culture?? You should listen from unbiased view outside Thailand, then you may have more vision.

  35. Do reporters have to have work integrity and ethics? It does not seem like Dan has any of those. What is he doing?

  36. great job pointing out the problems and flaws Thailand has and Thaksin's motives and what he had done previously. but, like many others have commented, i don't think for one minute that dan rivers is unbiased. he had a ton of time for background research since he has been in thailand for a while now. if he is not competent enough to report fair and unbalanced views of the situation, he should either be replaced or go and work for fox.

  37. The superiority thing i do find from journalists is with those who went to a good school and therefore it's hard-wired into them that they in some way superior. Such thinking can lead them to believe they know everything about Thailand from reading the Lonely Planet.

    I don't blame Dan Rivers, or any foreign journalists for not being able to give better coverage. the communication you point out are spot on. Right or wrong there is a lack of will from any thai nationals there to explain what's happening. I don't pass judgment on this. it is what it is.

    Al Jazeera's coverage has not been better. BBC was awful. Channel News Asia from Singapore actually had a Thai person from ASEAN passing comments on the situation - and there were some good points made.

    Overall your article was fine until the latter point about "western mindset". What actually was your motivation in saying this? What evidence do you have for it? It's far more likely that you yourself think Thailand is 3rd world country, and you're inferior, and now you direct your anger at the "west" (whatever that is).
    Certainly nobody in the west will have made such comments about superiority. Why? Because we are more aware of the evils of racism, as these anti-racist ideas are thrust down our throats everyday, in the workplace and media. Whereas in Thailand, Japan, Korea...racism is an acceptable way of thinking. In Thailand especially the media, parents, teachers, even royalty (gasp - we're not allowed to talk about the king!!) will teach mistrust of anything foreign.
    All racism comes from insecurity. You have a nation to be proud of. So stop the insecurity and shame...the rest will follow.

  38. Focusing on reportin per se, for Rivers and BBC reporters (and their respective editors), karma fate will catch up with them, if they consciously report selectively for their own and their organization's benefits. What goes round, comes around. Just wait and see...

    As for Thailand, its "democracy", the 'have-nots', and the 'haves'; to say the issues are challenging is clearly an understatement. History has shown, humanity is diverse in language, culture, wealth, knowledge and wisdom. There'll be always those who follow the eloquent corrupt few, and those that have the wisdom and morality but weigh in with these few simply for survival. Poverty eradicaton and education has to move in tandem.

  39. Thanks Somtow for the commentary. I'll confess I'm a westerner living in Thailand and after 8 months here have limited Thai or knowledge of political history (although trying).

    I agree with your contention that the 'liberation story' is at the heart of western ontological narratives. And I agree that narrow perceptions of 'other' cultures colour reportage of politics.

    But I can't accept the continual suggestions that the majority of people in Thailand have been either duped or bribed into opposing this government (by all accounts the Red Shirts would win the next election). The people I speak to seem to have very clear ideas about why they oppose the government - and it does seem mostly to do with wealth disparity, the power of the elite, lack of respect for the majority votes and the politicisation of the army.

    I also think it is pointless to suggest your post isn't an opinion. As you point out no commentary is devoid of history and ideology - and your claims to lack of bias undermine your argument.

    But, I really appreciate the article and will read more of your postings.

  40. The speaker is always responsible for ensuring correct communications. The listener is just listening. The listener can choose to just walk away. It is the responsibility of the speaker -- the one who owns the message -- to make sure the message gets through.

    So, it is not the responsibility of the world press to understand Thailand's own little world. The world press will simply report what they see.

    It was the responsibility of the government to portray this extremely complex and therefore confusing situation to the world.

    You are not automatically entitled to understanding. You have to work at it. In the world's media, business and diplomatic language -- English.

    Don't hide behind your "culture" or "language" excuse. Join the modern world, or at least communicate with the world in a language that the world understands. Globally.

    Understand that you are in a battle of public relations. It is not our desire nor inclination to understand the Thai culture or history. It is you who needs to explain to the world what your side is.

    You are the speaker. We are the listener. You own the message. You are responsible for its clarity.

    It is the responsibility of the Thais to explain as deeply and as profoundly as they can the insight that Somwtow displays here.

    Stop blaming the world's inability to understand the Thai language, a very ancient language that belongs to Thailand.

    Instead, in the world stage, learn to communicate in English, the global language of media, business and diplomacy. Join the world. Stop using your "culture" as an excuse. Join the world.

    "Life-fire zone", right? You were the one who chose to post that sign, get it right, damn it! You are the speaker, you own the message, do it right!

    When I was describing the red shirt cause (not their methods or their backing, but their anger and grievance) to someone, it was easy indeed to use the Star Wars analogy. It was even tempting to compare Seh Daeng to Obi Wan Kenobi -- former Jedi Knight who turned away from the Dark Side to help the rebellion with his power to use the Force. Right?

    I doubt very many Thais even know who Obi Wan Kenobi is. My point exactly. If you cannot communicate with the world, if you don't join the global intercourse, the world will misunderstand you.

    It was the responsibility of the government to correctly portray this extremely complex and therefore confusing situation to the world.

    You are not automatically entitled to the world's understanding. You have to work at it. In the world's media, business and diplomatic language -- English.

    Don't hide behind your "culture" or "language" excuse. Join the modern world, or at least communicate with the world in a language that the world understands. Globally.

  41. "The Philippines, as Filipinos never tire of telling me, is the third most populous English speaking country in the world. We will leave the definition of "English-speaking" to another blog,"
    - Are you implying that Filipinos have bad english or something??
    Plus who said Filipinos insist that we are the third most populous English speaking country in the world. Your sources are flawed. Dont generalize the statements of a limited few. We speak english, thats it. Dont ridicule us.

    Get you facts straight as well. Dont be a Dan River yourself..

  42. wow, that really provoked some responses!

    thanks for your article Khun Somtow, its a very interesting view and read alongside the myriad of responses gives a great insight into some of the real motives for these rallies and subsequent violence. education and free thought is the key to the future of Thailand, once people can access, digest and share a variety of different opinions we will see the Thai people better armed with facts to defend themselves against the type of propaganda used to rally these protests, regardless of colour or allegance. if Thailand wishes to avoid the scorn of righteous western media and governments it needs to be prepared to allow it's citizens to make up their own minds by making sure education and free speech are top priority for any government in power. the gap between rich and poor is one flashpoint, but the gap between the educated and the uneducated proves to be the fuel that the individuals in positions of power and influence use to spark these damaging fires. thank you again for stimulating my mind and forcing me to look at reality from many different angles...

  43. HO HO HO! You tell people that -- the coup that ousted Thaksin was of course completely illegal, but none of the people who carried it out are in the present government.

    But you are well aware of how Mr. Aphisit come to power. Why don't you tell people how cabinet before present one was disolved or how army reacted with K.Somchai's cabinet. There is a story, long story to tell people. You better tell them all if you wanna show how good reporters are.

  44. ถูกใจจริง ๆ ขอบคุณมากค่ะ

  45. The coverage of BBC news on the current Thai unrest is equally disrespectful, if not far worse... That lady M.C. in the Hard Talk who interviewed P.M. Apisith was totally ignorant, or cunniningly vicious in case she was under the mantra of Taksin's global PR manipulators. Anyhow, this, too, will pass....

  46. I'm an American and I agree with much of how you think many Americans think and act. Many can be arrogant and racist and ignorant. But, I worry about your point in all this.

    You seem to suggest the Red Shirt movement is just some fringe that isn't worth paying attention to. However, it constitutes a majority of the poor and possible a majority of the total population-- not the protesters, but of supporters. If we're ever going to have peace, Bangkok Thais need to recognize their grievances (while condemning and prosecuting those that acted out in pure violence yesterday).

    Also, as you say Americans and westerners have a racist mindset and look down on 'third world' countries, I also hear many Bangkok Thais talk about Issan people as though they are lower than human-- based on their economic level and skin color. I'm surely not suggesting you are like this, but that we have to take those feelings among many Thais seriously, too.

    I'm not a fan of Thaksin-- he's a human rights abuser and has certainly been behind much of this mess. But, we also have to have an open ear to the opposition... because if we demonize and alienate such a large part of the Thai population, there are many dark days ahead.

    I hope the best for Thailand-- your culture, your history-- your King-- are all wonderful. But, please, we need to stop the polarization before it's too late.

  47. SPoken like a true, Middle Class Yellow. Is the King a Demi-God also?

  48. ขอบคุณคุณสมเถาว์สำหรับการวิเคราะที่เป็นกลางและมีเหตุผล ขอบคุณที่ทำให้เราเข้าใจสถานการณ์รอบตัวได้ดีขึ้น ขอนำไปเผยแพร่ต่อไปค่ะ

  49. thanks for showing a really good point on this topic. i think reporters should be more responsible for what they do because what they report surely give an impact to the society.

    however, it would be better if you didn't state all your so-called political information. because, from my view, there are just your opinion and not the fact. it's ok to give examples of what that has not been told right but you have to separate it from the fact and from what you are not sure about that it is nothing but the truth.

  50. Very, very good articel.
    But one point, I do not agree:
    -- the army hasn't been shooting women and children ... or indeed anyone at all, except in self-defense. Otherwise this would all be over, wouldn't it? It's simple for a big army to mow down 5,000 defenseless people.

    If the world is not watching, this would had be happen on the 10 April already.

    Look at this picture and do not tell me it was in self defense.

  51. I see this article as nothing more than a extended complaint along the lines of 'the farangs do not understand Thailand', which pops up EVERY time there is criticism.
    A little more cunning this time, because it is focusing specifically on the CNN reporter.
    But the arguments are equally 'valid' for the large majority of western news media, as well as international organizations. Al Jazeera is a good guy now, because the channel gave Thaksins lawyer a hard time.
    Is it not remarkable that the western journalists are stupid and/or lazy, exactly the same as the red supporters?
    Two question to the author: How can the uneducated/stupid red protesters win a media war against the educated government, (Oxford educated no less)? Why is Abhisit unable to communicate convincingly to the world what is 'really' going on? His English is after all immaculate.
    We can agree that journalists often shoot from the hip, but this conflict has been the main issue in Thailand since 2006. I refuse to believe that basically ALL international media have been duped by Thaksin.

  52. Interesting Article, just three observations:
    1) Troops were randomly shooting innocents for certain last Saturday afternoon when I watched them chase and shoot live ammo at the backs of fleeing civilians from my balcony on rangnam.
    2) It's a grotesque over simplification to even talk about "westerners" as some homogenous singular culture, and a huge number of westerners in fact arre equally prone to having an overly dreamy view of Thailand as a culturally superior land of buddhist loving kindness and spirituality
    3) Thais are also pretty bad at understanding Thais. Most of my wealthy Sino-Thai middle class Bangkok born colleagues haven't got a clue about Isaan people, Lanna people, Mon people or indeed most of the other more pure blooded Tais. They also typically haven't got any understanding of their own history, and despite their education, almost zero ability to analyse information and seperate fact from fiction.
    Lets start by Thais starting to teach Thais the realities of their very mixed race nation, the value of all the cultures that have contributed to this nation, real respect for others, and at least a basic ability to properly analyse and interpret information.

  53. khun somtow, your analysis was so disappointing. i really thought you were going to present a rational, unbiased explanation about why people on the outside see the story differently from people on the inside. but you didn't. you used this as a not-so-subtle platform to express your own political beliefs. shame on you.

    there are many issue to take up with what you said, but i want to address this one first. you write:

    Now, the old "official who did not want his name mentioned" thing ... as I recall, that subterfuge was frequently used in exposing the Watergate scandal, was it not? We call this protecting our sources.

    sure, it was used during Watergate, after much deliberation and only because it was a one-off instance and the only way to get the story.

    as you should be aware, when the thai government is quoted in this way in the nation and post, it is almost always run-of-the-mill facts that require no subterfuge. sure, if it's a watergate situation, don't attribute! but is there a watergate in thailand every day?

    in any event, you've done a great job of 1) not convincing anyone of anything they didn't already believe and 2) adding to the vitriol.


  54. Somtow, Thanks for this article! I want to share something with you also.

    What you said about how the western mindset has a "deeply ingrained sense of the moral superiority of western culture which carries, etc" YOU ARE 100% CORRECT! And I thank you for not being afraid to mention this!

    I have been living abroad on and off for over 3 years now. Mostly in Thailand. And I can finally say that I have successfully overcome all of my brainwashing that I received for the first 27 years of my life. The whole western mindset about being superior, as well as everything I was so certain I knew about the rest of the world (from my TV! because of course I had never left my home country) -- It's all cleared from my head now.

    I think the only way for other foreigners to achieve this is to TURN OFF YOUR PROPAGANDA BOX in your living room. Stop watching the mainstream news. Go outside and actually see the world with your own eyes!

    Thanks Somtow!

  55. Fourthly, you stated that the soldiers did not shoot anyone at all except in self-defence. You have already corrected this, so I don't need to dwell on it.

    Fifthly, I, like many readers, do find your comments on the 'western mindset' as an excessive and misplaced form of essentialism (again surprising given your tendency to subvert stereotypes not uphold them).

    Finally, a more general point. You observe that placards with slogans of 'democracy' conform with Western archetypes about liberation politics and spark off a whole range of preconceptions. This point is well taken. However, let's scratch beneath the surface a bit more. When demonstrators hold up their placards, are we only meant to view them in a reductionist way as discourses of power? Is it really satisfactory to consider these demonstrations as based solely on the Machiavellian design of megalomaniacs like Thaksin to return to power and that the masses are being fooled continuously by these manipulative leaders? Certainly, it is important not to underestimate the power struggle that is going on, or the influence and design of people like Thaksin. However, the issue that risks being missed if one goes too far down that road is an attempt to understand how the protestors themselves view their own slogans. Do they not have genuine grievances that need to be addressed? And do they not associate the resolution of those grievances with some notion of 'democracy'? And what is that notion of democracy for them? My point (I guess) is that, by viewing such slogans merely as slogans, one is in danger of overlooking the very real issues that are stake in Thai society and which badly need to be solved if we are to lessen the risk of even more turmoil in the future.

  56. Dear Somtow,

    I am reluctant to criticise your article, because it has so many good and refreshing aspects about it, particularly your analysis of the Western desire for stories regarding liberation. However, I do feel that you have not been entirely open or detailed enough in several of the facts that you portray as 'information' (by which I assume that you mean that they are objectively-speaking uncontroversial). While many of the 'facts' that you present appear on the surface to be tenable, the problem is that once you scratch beneath the surface, they are not only insufficient but also misleading.

    Firstly, you state that: "the coup that ousted Thaksin was of course completely illegal, but none of the people who carried it out are in the present government". Well, as you well know, Anupong played a key role in the 2006 coup and his influence in supporting the Democrat Party and in bringing into power should not be underestimated. There is therefore an important link between that coup and the present government. In my opinion, the role of the army is often omitted or drastically underplayed, both in Western reports and in Thai representations of the political situation, and their crucial influence should be brought to the forefront of any discussion of the political problems in Thailand.

    Secondly, you state: "the parliamentary process by which the Democrat coalition came to power was the same process by which the Lib Dems and Tories have attained power in Britain. The parliament that voted in this government consists entirely of democratically elected members." Again, this merely describes a superficial similarity, which rapidly collapses once you analyse it closely. For a writer who exposes the Western media's superficial rendering of Thai politics, I am surprised that you have decided to restrict yourself to an analysis which focuses on form rather than substance. The only similarity between the two parliamentary processes that you cite is that they both involve coalitions - hardly a groundbreaking insight. The differences, on the other hand, in terms of the context of those processes and the manner in which they were executed, could not be more different. In Britain, there were no mass demonstrations or (illegal) occupations of airports which led to important political changes. In Britain no leader condoned such demonstrations. In Britain there was no controversial court ruling that the party which won the most seats should be disbanded. In Britain there was no army pulling the strings behind the scenes. In Britain there was no allegation of inappropriate dealings to entice and bully MPs into joining the coalition. In Britain the coalition was formed immediately after a general election, whereas in Thailand it occurred after a great deal of instability, and most importantly, after the very party which had received the most votes was banned from politics. While it is true that Abhisit's coalition is legal in a technical sense, the key issue is not the legality of his government but the legitimacy of his government. Indeed, as far as I recall, Abhisit himself implicitly acknowledged this by mentioning the possibility of a general election very early on in his tenure - and, after all, why would he even consider a new election within 8 months otherwise? My point is (unless I was unclear!) that one must look to the substance of the situation and not merely the form.

    Thirdly, you state: "the yellow shirts did not succeed in getting any of their demands from the government. The last two governments changed because key figures were shown to have committed election fraud." I do not think that much needs to be said about this, other than that you have surely underestimated the important influence that the demonstrations had on the political changes at the time.

  57. When in Rome do what the Romans do. This idiom has been in the English litarature for years. All English language students had it drummed into their heads. The Romans didn't suggest to have this idiom honoured in perpetuity but since the 'powers-that-be' for the promotion of the great global language that is English had decided to stick it in the syllabus of every foreign student, I guess they truly believe it's important for mankind to learn this.

    So if the international English-speaking media wants to report on Thailand, they had better make an effort to get the context and facts right. Reporters and visitors to a foreign country should after all, adopt the age-old tradition of being courteous and act with humility in a foreign land, and that includes being diligent and sensitive in their dispatches. That's correct isn't it. or has the western world education on moral and civic sense gone on another track recently? Oh-oh. Maybe I got on the wrong train somewhere along the line.

    Just thinking a little more. Maybe we've all got it wrong, folks. Rivers & Co probably had been reporting expertly and sensitively. After all, I read somewhere here that these are all well-educated young people (and permit me to add, idealists) dedicated to journalism. Therefore, the culprits must be the unidentified editors-in-black sitting behind their paper-strewn table tops back in Atlanta and Wood Lane. They aren't in 'Rome', and so don't have to 'do what the Romans do'! They have other patrons to kow-tow to for their bread and butter. Hence, the massaged reports.

  58. Please do not take this the wrong way, but you have spoken everything that was on my mind. Thank you for writing this article.

  59. This is the most intelligent piece I've read in recent days in a sea of garbage. I've linked to it on my facebook page for friends back home who want to know what's really going on over here.

  60. I really am impressed. I read the first one hundred comments and not one was in Thailish and even the English "farangs" didn't have one spelling mistake. It's rather like the editor of the Nation (Thanong) saying everyday for over 6 months that; Thaksin is dead, Thaksin has cancer, the British have seized $4 million of Thaksin's money, Thaksin is dying, Thaksin has terminal cancer, etc ad nauseam and that's what your column reads like.
    You must really think like a Thai if you're stupid enough to think educated people believe your diatribe.
    No wonder I gave up buying the Nation 2 months ago.
    As a professional soldier I just wonder what fool would believe that the Thai army only fired in self defence.

  61. Dear K. Somtow,

    I love your article and have used it to explain the situation to my foreign friends for the past few days. I am REALLY glad to have an articulate Thai person who is able to mediate intelligently between the Thai and the "Western" worlds. I share most of the sentiments reflected in your writing, so it helps alot to find an article that articulates what I've been struggling to express so clearly.

    However, one thing that keeps gnawing at me from the back of my mind, even as I repeatedly share this article to others, is this sentence:

    "Thailand hasn't had an unbreachable gulf between rich and poor for at least 20 years."

    Do you really believe that?

    I don't share that view, but as I really respect your thoughts, I'm curious to know how you to came to that conclusion.


  62. K Achara: a lot of people have been confused by my use of the phrase "unbreachabl" ... All I meant to say is that in the past, the gulf WAS unbreachable, but now it has become breachable. It is the breachability that fuels the most discontent in my opinion.

  63. Thank you Khun Somtow,Thai Citizen speaking out the truth.Main Media like blood sells best.

    We know the truth behind Chinnawatt.

  64. Best analysis of the situation - thank you, a link to this page is now my standard reply to people asking me what I feel about it all

  65. interesting but "tamada' piece and comments, ever wonder about the local reporting? before pointing fingers…you know the rest!

  66. sounds like GOVT propaganda, are you sondthi's son

  67. I don't blame Dan Rivers for anything. I just think he did not perform his best as a reporter.
    And as a result, Thailand's name was tainted.

    Is it really our fault for not making his job easier by providing the facts in bite-sized pieces?

    For example (same analogy), you went to restaurant and the food was horrible. Should you blame the chef or yourself for not ordering something easy to cook. Should you tell the chef to cook you TV dinner or Instant noodle, perhaps?

  68. dear Khun Somtow, you are spot on but perhaps you (and the rest of the press) have omitted one very important fact that is known to ALL Thai and foreigners living in Thailand: why so many protesters came to Bangkok with wives and kids? answer: because the Taksin power business machine was paying them a daily fee (cash) that is about twice the average daily pay anywhere in the north of the country.How otherwise would you have expected these families of desperate people to hang in there for so long?

  69. Like many above I have referred this article to many of my friends overseas who are only seeing the reports sent by the Dans and Rachels of this world. One reason for their blinkered views may be that their legal departments are wary of Toxin's new Rottweiler lawyer - afterall he used threats of litigation to muzzle the Thai media during his kleptocrasy.
    I look forward to reading more of your work - thank you

  70. K. Somtow,
    You analysis is so full of flaws in everyone of your bullet points (of which you said western journalists should know before they do their news reporting). I seriously urge interested readers to do their own research for a complete history of what has been happening.

    As for the Yellow Shirts, their biggest error is the use of the word "democracy" in its name (PAD when abbreviated). If they were to use Thaksin's human rights violations or messing with the media (as suggested by you) instead of using his corruption as talking points, they would've gained probably such mediocre support from the so-called "middle-class, educated Bangkokians", as the first two things wouldn't have made these people close to fuming enough to get up and go join the rally.

    Oh BTW, the fact that you thinks Abhisit is "pretty red" and embraces western values makes me wonder whether you were actually kidding, unless of course, by "western values" you didn't really refer to things like justice, liberty, human rights, and democracy, etc.

    A Thai

  71. Like the vast majority of people who've posted I found your article to be very well written and extremely insightful - thank you!

    I, like others, have posted it to my Facebook page and use it to help my friends back in the UK to get a deeper understanding of what's going on than they can from the BBC.

    The ratio of positive posts to negative posts speaks volumes for your insight - it must be the highest ratio I've seen on any analysis of the current political crisis!

  72. I don't blame Dan Rivers personally, but I blame a news organisation which sends out correspondents to places the language of which they don't understand. (One positive exception is that CNN guy who covers the Middle East and speaks fluent Arabic.) If I had a say in such an organisation, I'd never employ a correspondent who doesn't have the necessary language skills.

    I left Thailand on May 13th for a business trip and since then I have watched CNN for news about Bangkok. The CNN coverage drives me up the wall. I do speak Thai and I heard the Reds' speeches 'in situ' in Bangkok, and I heard their threats - of course Dan Rivers and that woman correspondent (Sarah Whatever) haven't got a clue about those. Awful, awful journalism. A journalist who needs an interpreter is in the wrong place. Dan Rivers, go home and send that Sarah woman back to Delhi where she's apparently based (I bet, she wouldn't even be able to order a cup of tea in Hindi!).

  73. I'm sure first-world governments are just as accomplished at spawning despots, oppressing the peasants, and killing and torturing people. Give us our fair share of credit!

  74. In my thought, The only thing for anyone that dare to called themselves "REPORTER" should be with a fully sense of responsibility and respect to all readers and viewers and to the article that he or she is reporting, which means No forgive or forget or to overlook on those carelessly done on the assignment to be reported to all viewers. And I think WE, THAI PEOPLE DESERVE TO HAVE AN APOLOGIZE FROM CNN.

    CNN Plaese read the following!!!

    An open letter to CNN Head Office

    I am a Thai Citizens to DEMAND to CNN Head Office to come out and apologize to the Thai people for the news report that shown only one side of the story on crisis in Bangkok during 15-19 May 2010 by Mr. Dan Rivers and Ms. Sarah Snider, theirs news report repeatedly and done without common sense and soul of NEWS REPORTER’s whom should be with real professional attitude.

    Later I heard, for their news report about and in Thailand; they are relied on some translator for all of their reports which may be delivered some of the mistranslation. Still this is no excuse to release them from their action to report news to the CNN viewers without a proper inspection before going on air.

    To me – this is called;
    CARELESS AND LOOK DOWN AT THE VIEWERS’ KNOWLEDGE. AND FOR ME AS A THAI PEOPLE, I SEE TO IT AS "INSULTING TO THE KINGDOM OF THAILAND". Also means to the Thai people as well. I can only written in a plain and using simple words but I think I made my objective CLEAR!!!


  75. Thanks for this great writing.

  76. This is a good rundown, but please be aware that a lot of westerners take the media with a grain of salt. I don't know any Thai (I've never even been to Thailand), but it has been clear to me from the outset that this is a complex issue that is far from black and white. My understanding is that this conflict isn't about principles such as justice or democracy but rather more practical differences about how to run Thailand that has become mixed up in power plays by major figures on both sides. People casually reading only one story might get the wrong impression, but anybody who cares to know the truth (that is, anybody who matters) will quickly come to the realization that it's anything but simple.

  77. Will the same people here who are critical of Dan Rivers (for good reason) make equal efforts to criticise the lack of balanced analysis in the local media such as The Nation? One would hope so, but it seems unlikely. Unfortunately, much of the screaming among the 275 comments here smacks of hypocrisy.

  78. Phinrada,

    Anything that taints the image of Thailand and it's people, true or untrue is always going to be considered an insult to Thailand. You are not interested in the truth, you are interested in how the rest of the world views you..a very superficial race if you ask me.

    Somtow, your comment about farangs incapable of not understanding what's going on here because they haven't "mastered" Thai is ridiculous at best. I am not master in Thai, but I CAN understand photos and videos.

    Finally, this whole clash of red vs yellow is really about one thing only...MONEY. Both sides are constantly trying to oust these so called corrupt government parties so they can replace them with their own corrupted people. They claim they are doing it in the name of Democracy. Hogwash, they doing it because they are getting PAID to protest. It wasn't any different when the yellow shirts to the airport and held so many people hostage for days. It's a shame to see the Thais sell out their own country for a few hundred baht.

  79. Thank you, Khun Somtow. Much have been appreciated by other comments.

    So I just want to add that I found your Jonestown & Waco cult references most fulfilling, since I have been comparing Red Shirts leading styles to those among friends & family.

    If any news bodies would do a piece to show the similarities of how the whole protest was controlled, how the leaders' hypnotic talks & the followers' reactions were, it would be interesting to see. And it might also be eye-opening to those blindfolded....

    Cheers to you. Keep blogging na kha.

  80. Excellent perspective

  81. I'm sorry, but Dan River's reporting is much more balanced and accurate than much of what is being stated by the CRES and then re-stated as fact by the local news. For those of us who were in the "flash-point" areas, his reporting accurately reflected what was happening. That others want to pretend that business is as usual, you are betraying your inherent bias against the red-shirts. You treat them as an "other", "non-thai", a problem to be dealt with, and then forgotten. Thai's are treating the issue of the reds as though they are just too uneducated to be listened to. Why are they uneducated? Why aren't you instead advocating for better educational programs for the Isaan region? There are no educational requirements for voting. Democracry means including the voices of all individuals. Those brainwashed by the reds, those brainwashed by the yellows, and those brainwashed by the CRES. There is no real discussion in Thailand between Thais of the grievances and concerns of different groups of people. It's distressing and will hinder any type of real democracy in the country. There is a reason why people write "thai-style democracy", it's code for saying -- it's not real democracy and it's corrupt. The government censorship by the Abhisit administration (and as I wasn't in Thailand under Thaksin, I can't comment on the censorship under his administration) is disgusting. Its undemocratic. It's akin to Burma, China, North Korea, Russia. The CRES states outright LIES as fact. Anyone who witnessed any of the events in the Flashpoint areas know that the CRES is not telling the truth. Those of you outside of it, well keeping living your life normally and say that clearly, CNN is lying b/c they dont "understand" Thai or the complexities of Thai culture well enough. Keep living in denial and you will see this same thing happening every April, year after year, the voices of the North-east and North will only get louder Bangkok. Perhaps you should begin to listen...

  82. Dear Somtow:

    I have read all your text and i found a very interesting, and you have wrote a very important part that is a big truth. (I reproduce at the final of my post).
    I have to say i´m mexican born living in Europe since a long time ago, and used to go twice a year for bussines to Thailand.
    And i have also noted this in Europe News: Almost everytime i see the news of Latin America here, the european media 95% of the time brings out only the negative stuff: civil unrest, massive horrible murders, shootings, military coups, corruption, etc. You hardly could find any good news coming from the third world contries.

    I think this is a way of manipulation of the western media, to make their citezens believe that they live in heaven: The message is that the uglier things happens in third world contries. Western citizens should be thankfull for leaving in the paradise.

    Congratulations and i´m sure Thailand would go forward of this sad situation.

    Best Regards

    Sergio Santana

    " But there is, in the western mindset, a deeply ingrained sense of the moral superiority of western culture which carries with it the idea that a third world country must by its very nature be ruled by despots, oppress peasants, and kill and torture people. Most westerners become very insulted when this is pointed out to them because our deepest prejudices are always those of which we are least aware. I believe that there is a streak of this crypto-racism in some of the reportage we are seeing in the west. It is because of this that Baghdad, Yangon, and Bangkok are being treated as the same thing. We all look alike."

  83. Thank you for sharing information but i wonder if Dan Rivers reports something bull shit about your country, I hope you will do the same -- telling your people OUT LOUD that " Don't blame Dan Rivers"!!!!

  84. Khun Somtow, is there anywhere I can find your analysis posted in Thai? I would really like to forward it to some of my Thai friends as well.

  85. Dan Rivers is a friend of Jakkpop Penkhae -- one of the terrorist. So, everything is clear?

  86. Your article sounds almost convincing but it is not the excuse for CNN's biased reporting.

    With facets of facts in hand, CNN's reporters have always opted for headlines and contents which indicates that the government and soldiers exercise violence on red shirts and ignored the facts that the red shirts are armed and provoked violence.

    All CNN has been trying to do is to paint the army and the government as villains and the red rogues as innocent victims.

  87. In January 2007, while interviewing Thaksin on a cnn program, Dan Rivers was obviously providing several leading questions on purpose in favor of the recently ousted premier. Dan was then blamed and suspected by hundreds of reporters from many international presses to have committed bribery .
    Following Dan's reports pretty consistently, I do not hesitate to so believe that Dan is now and again on the money tract.

  88. This is an excellent article followed by some great comments.

    Let me add my tuppence. I have lived and worked in Thailand for 10 years and, despite all my attempts, have found it very difficult to learn what exactly the origin and causes of the discontent now sadly so very apparent.

    Neither of the two English speaking newspapers provide in-depth well researched articles on what produced the Thailand of 2010. The "problem" in the south is stated as just that "a problem". Explain to me the history of it, the evolution of it in recent years, the demographics of it , the trade of it, the religious connotations of it. Nothing ! Same with that 30 or 40% of thailand in the North East. who are they? Where did they come from? What steps have been taken to integrate them into Thai society? Was there a governemnt policy of "Thaification" in the 1930's. Has there been a refusal by different governments to think about a pluralist state rather than a one fits all state?

    Where do i get some solid reading on this?. Well I have read the works of Pasuk Phongpachit and her hubby Chris Baker but they like the only other few writing anything with "meat" are in academia. There is not a single journal or newspaper in English ( which is after all the language the japanese, the italians, the koreans etc. use to speak to the world) where one can get this type of in-depth analysis on Thailand.

    So how the hell can Dan Rivers or any other Dan Rivers get it right? Then someone says well lets use local journalists who can also speak English. Please be realistic. 99% of Thai nationals who have English to the level of reporting in the Nation or on International TV would have studies abroad or at least to the very top in top universities in Thailand. How many of these come "materially" from a red shirts background even if some of the may come from there "ideologically"

    And let me finish on that point. Dan rivers may be coming to this with the western mindset etc. but what mindset are the 2000 Thais who work as journalists, reporters, newsreaders etc In Bangkok coming to it with. How many of them were born dirt poor in a village in Maha Sakaran ? Is it just possible that the media in Thailand, wittingly or unwittingly, are looking at all of this through one pretty homogenous mindset?

    But Khun Somtow your article and this discussion gives me faith. We need english speaking media in thailand to raise the bar and give us blow in farangs some in depth well researched background on where the Thailand of 2010 is coming from, and why?


  89. DEAR ALL;

  90. Your analysis as to why CNN (and BBC, while we're at it) have been reporting this completely inaccurately is about right, but I disagree that this absolves them from blame. As others have said, its their job and if they are selling the public short for commercial interests (shock! horror!), they should be exposed and held to account for it. It's no different in practice from the Thai policeman that wear a uniform but uphold the law selectively as they see fit.

    I also disagree about the language barrier. I've been struggling to learn Thai for years, do better at reading than I do at listening, but I can still fathom enough to understand the basic dynamic of this crisis and the interplay between the various parties.

    So, please don't pass off the international media's failure to report accurately with the simple platitude that 'foreigners can't understand Thai, Thais or Thailand unless we explain it to them.'

    I face this prejudice everyday, and believe me, I'm not exaggerating or boasting when I say I'm better informed about this situation than a lot of Thais I talk to, whose interest is often minimal.

    Thanks for the article, I hadn't come across your site before but I'm bookmarking it now.



  91. In January 2007, while interviewing the recently ousted premier Thaksin on a CNN televised program, Dan Rivers was obviously providing leading questions on purpose and in favor of Thaksin. Dan was then blamed and suspected for the first time by hundreds of reporters from many international presses as having committed bribery.
    Following Dan's from time to time biased reports on Thaksin’s whereabouts so far, I do not hesitate to so believe that Dan is now on the money.


  92. Somtow, great article. Some flaws....but much better than the average.

    kinda boring now.......i've heard and read that so many times lately from superior thais.
    get real!

  93. Excellent piece, S. P. I put a link to it on my own blog (which I duplicate at blogger and wordpress).

  94. Great writing, analysis. One thing I noticed while watching things unfold on television (from Bangkok), was the Army press conferences. I realize the uniform means a lot here, but to the western press, it looked like Burma. Looked like. As you pointed out, most reporters were going by visuals in their reporting, and the several times a day shots of army officers appearing on tv in uniform gave the impression of "military junta" to western journalists. It might have helped / would help the govt's cause to put those guys in windbreakers.

  95. "Had they used the human rights violations and muzzling of the press as their key talking points, the "heroic revolution" archetype would have been moulded with opposite protagonists, and CNN and BBC would be telling an opposite story today."
    I think if they had done that, they wouldn't have this much support they're having from Thais.
    You know Thai people don't really care about human rights and stuffs.
    So even if CNN and BBC tell the opposite story to the world, but without inside protests, I bet Thaksin would still be in power today.
    BTW, I agree with you on other points you made.

  96. So, we should do feedback on his performance. He will do his report more carefully and accuracy next time. Then, he deserves to get award-winning correspondent -> http://edition.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/rivers.dan.htm

  97. A new perspective. I like it.
    I have long suspected a similar fairy tale view operates with respect to media coverage in Burma.

    In burma you have a wonderful scenario: princess captured in her castle, evil empire outside. Who would not want to ride to her rescue ?

    As in thailand, the reality is alwasy messier and more complicated.

    Well put Somtow

  98. It saddens me to suggest that the real reason why many people here are outraged by Dan Rivers is not because he was imbalanced but because he was imbalanced in favour of the reds. If he had been imbalanced in favour of the government, I doubt many of the people here would have cared. After all, it would merely have reflected the same stance as much of the English-language local media in Thailand including the Nation. But I hope that I am wrong and I hope that the posters here are equally as passionate about fair reporting of whatever type wherever they see bias in the media.

    Of course Dan Rivers should have done a better job. But there are some qualifications to be made. 1) Don't forget that many foreigners take the CNN with a pinch of salt - it's well known for its melodrama. In fact many Westerners can't stand watching it. 2) There are numerous Western sources of information on Thailand other than CNN. In fact some of those sources offer a greater degree of critical analysis and genuine debate of the situation than many of the sources available in Thailand. 3) If the local media did a better job of providing properly balanced and properly researched information, then this would provide more of a decent foundation for foreign reporters to work from. As it is, the quality of the local media is generally sub-standard and many of the Western journalists who arrive fresh on the scene are running around like headless chickens. That said, it would of course not have taken much effort for Dan Rivers to have made his reports more balanced and objective and it is right to criticise him.

  99. What an appalling myopic analysis of current problems within Thailand.

    To claim that "perhaps a dozen foreigners who really understand Thai thoroughly" is outrageous claim.....maybe you can name them? Maybe these be the ones that share your opinion?

    The coverage from CNN/BBC etc has been broadly similar to the coverage the Yellow Shirts protests received during the take over of Government House and the Airport. Interestingly I have not been able to find any criticism of the International media coverage during the Yellow Shirt protests. So one can only assume that Thai culture and language has had a seismic shift in the last 2 years.
    Alternatively maybe the Western media bias at that time served its needs. I remember PAD also claiming it was fighting for democracy ....

    Let me address some points you raise:

    "Thailand hasn't had an unbreachable gulf between rich and poor for at least 20 years"

    Agreed it is not unbreachable but it is an enormous gulf nonetheless, still to be breached. So far no Thai administration appears to have the desire to do this. The division between rich and poor in Thailand are clear ans very real.

    "the army hasn't been shooting women and children ... or indeed anyone at all, except in self-defense"

    Would that include the Japanese and Italian Journalists killed April 10th and May 19th respectively.
    How about the army snipers picking people off ....hardly self defence. While I accept that this hasn't been an all out massacre it can hardly be claimed that the Army has only acted in self defence.

    "the red TV station has a perfect right to exist, but if foreign journalists actually understood Thai, they would realize that much of its content went far beyond any constitutionally acceptable limits of "protected speech" in a western democracy"

    This would be unlike the yellow shirts TV Station ASTV which continues to broadcast hateful, divisive progamming unimpeded by the government.... maybe that's ok as foreign journalists don't actually understand Thai

    "During his (Thakins) watch, thousands of people were summarily executed in the South of Thailand and in a bizarre "war on drugs" in which body count was considered a marker of success"

    Which this current government have done nothing about.... No justice has been given to the victims of these events and it appears the government has no will to follow it up.
    No charges have been brought against Thaksin either for these crimes.... These would no doubt be viewed as much more serious by the Thai Courts but the Thai Government has chosen to prosecute Thaksin on tax evasion instead.

    Your analysis littered with xenophobic rhetoric although I accept you do your "best to face my own preconceptions and don't succeed that often" Indeed.

    There are a few of these critiques of Western Media coverage of this current Thai crisis currently circulating on the internet. All of them fail by being guilty of precisely what they are complaining about... BIAS.

    For a view that matches your opinion you can keep reading and watching Thai Media.
    I wouldn't worry about what the Western media says because obviously foreigners are incapable of understanding Thais or Thai Culture.

  100. Your theory that Westerners view history as a series of liberations is spot on, but it goes deeper than that. The Western mindset will always cheer on the underdog, and favor the poor over the rich. Why is that? It comes from Christianity, and prophetic Judaism before it. The Jewish prophets championed the poor and attacked the rich, who were always grinding them down. Jesus went even further. It was the poor who were to inherit the Kingdom of God, and the rich who were destined for hell, "for you have already received your reward." "Blessed are the poor...but woe to you rich! (Luke's version of the Beatitudes.) "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Despite the riches of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, this pro-poor bias became part of the Western mindset. Asians don't usually understand this, because however deeply they may study Western culture, they very rarely read the Bible. So they have no idea of the influence it has had in molding the Western outlook. And in general they subscribe to Deng Xiaoping's immortal dictum, "To get rich is glorious." Of course, in this secular age, the Bible has much less influence than it used to, but in the past it had a lot.

  101. An excellent piece Khun Somtow.
    However, like many above, I can't go along with the 'don't blame Dan Rivers' thing. Presumably, you're saying that every professional person in a foreign country that 'screws up' can be let off, eh? No that can't be.
    Dan Rivers is an international journalist; he has chosen his profession, messed up in this case, and he must now take the flack, along with those at the BBC.

  102. i don't quite agree. the army need not have shot at those people. the self defence argument does not hold water cos the army shot randomly, with the exception of seh daeng who was killed by a sniper. mostly, however, they were not killing people who attacked them, but people who did not attack them.

    the army chose to do use guns to suppress the demonstration. i can't imagine what other words you would expect cnn to use.

  103. If he is professional he will not get this reaction from Thai people all over the country so thinking twice before you say anything. Fuck Off My Country

  104. I have to say that I love your article. The government and the anti-red (anti-red media) should read and improve over their PR strategy.

    Still, I disagree with the point that CNN and Dan Rivers are not to be blame. Good reporting is a media responsibility. Being as international as they are, they should find less archetype story. They should not be here to make an emotional movie, appealing to the mass audience. If that's the case, they should join the rank/business of HBO and Hallmark. Dan Rivers should not do the job of the Steven Spielberg or James Cameron. Either they are in for a wrong profession or they are simply downgrading the beauty of journalism to tabloid level.

  105. Overall, an interesting post with some good points. BUT, I do dispute and/or would like to add to a couple points;

    First point being;

    "The parliament that voted in this government consists entirely of democratically elected members."

    -But this was after the military (aka Yellows) had kicked most of the red seats out of parliament, was it not? So yes Parliament voted for the Yellow PM after most reds were removed from Parliament.

    Second point; (a touchy one)

    "...the Thai monarchy is constitutionally on the European model ... not, say, the Saudi model. The king REIGNS ... he doesn't "rule". This is a democracy. The king is supposed to symbolize all the people, not a special interest group."

    -I agree, the King should...according to the constitution. But he does much more than that. Right up until 1988, he was choosing the PMs personally, no elections needed. Just like Europe??? The King must approve of these coups before they happen and he does just that. If he doesn't like the gov't, he approves a coup. What are the stats again, 17 coups in 21 years or so? All "approved by you-know who". Enough said.

  106. What ever you try to say. Dan Rivers still fault. The quality of people will check well before publish. It is a person reputation. But he didn't care. Because, money is big issue to him. Especially, outside line money make him talk.

  107. I disagree totally with this article. Dan River has been very cautious about his report not to blame anyone without evidences. Unlike local Thai medias like Bangkok Post and the Nation which has been pro-government from start. All foreign reporters must have done their homeworks reading news from these medias before coming to Bangkok to do their jobs. The analysis similar to what the author of this article made is not new and must have past the reporters' eyes before. Nevertheless, Dan reports what he see happen for real, the facts Thai government and Thai elites try to hide from the rest of the world.


    Something that Dan River have reported to the world.

    SOMEHOW, SOMETHING IS HORRIBLY WRONG WITH MS. SOMTOW's POINT OF VIEWS. To me, this article is the sort of opinions we hear from the Yellow and government supporters, especially from SOMEONE WHO TRY TO CLIMB UP THE LADDER TO BE SEEN BY THE ELITES WHO ARE IN CONTROL OF THE COUNTRY RIGHT NOW. In Thailand, we have seen far worse of such the persons working for the government.

    Dan has done his job without bias. He has all the information he meed to tell the world what he have seen, NOT WHAT HE HAVE BEEN TOLD BY THE GOVERNMENT AND PAD SUPPORTERS.

  108. Thank you for your opinion. I disagree with you about Dan River. He stays long enough time to understand , moreover, there was a translator for journalist. If you notice from clip video, you will see a translator with reporter who's woman. That means he is bias to report. The problem is he always interviews just only red-shirt or reporting as he has seen. He never asks from people who live in the red-zone.

  109. Khun Somtow
    Thanks for this article!!!
    K8 Thailand.

  110. Khun Somtow,
    I think you are the one who don't understand anything about this country eventhough your name is Thai and you try to show your thouroughly knowleges about your motherland. You also do not live here and listen the story from other people. Don't try to be expert on the things you don't really know, it's redicurous. All you showed here are mature influent English writing but for the fact about the situation you are only baby.

  111. IMPRESSIVE article and writing style. You should be a reporter.

    Someone should send this to get a wider international audience somehow.....

  112. Somtow,

    Thank you for giving an unbiased synopsis of what's been happening. It was very enlightening.

    Do not feel uncared for by the lack of coverage from U.S. news sources and let that drive you to "Moral Superiority" theories. U.S. media covers all news, especially local U.S. news, this same way. They are businesses that care about nothing but ratings and the cost to get the ratings. CNN (Fox...) are more reality entertainment shows than news. Anyway, don't feel uncared for by America and remember when you see coverage of the U.S. We are not as crazy as they make us out to be.

  113. It's funny to read farangs defending other farangs.....

  114. Red shirt is a group of Thaksin's follower . With his money, support , they can do everything and can use foreigner to misunderstood Thailand . there is simple and red shirt try to use human body from their side and blaim govt ... Weapon has been planned to use and try to make a failed state .

  115. Not siding, huh. Remeber that the british electoral system has always been very critisised. Would you say that the reds were in fact well represented in parliament at the time of the vote that brought the current government into power?

  116. มีเป็นเวอชั่นภาษาไทยมั้ยคะ ถ้าไม่มีอาจจะขออนุญาตแปลเพื่อเผยแพร่ใน FB ค่ะ

  117. Dear Anonymous,

    Who has addressed your opinion to Phinrada and @Phinrada.

    I like to point it out that you’re wrongly misunderstood my meaning and that led you to wrongly judged my comment about Mr. Dan Rivers & Ms. Sarah Snider’s job on the report to the recently crisis in BKK.

    You said that I am “not interesting in the truth doesn’t matter true or untrue and consider anything as an insulting”. It is so farang’s opinion when looking at other nations but theirs’ own, I said! I am very serious indeed when written my comment, I saw the whole situation of both sides, I heard all the talking loud and clear in my own language BUT I saw the whole scenario on reporting, you knew how they were done. And as a Thai, it is my duty to make a statement to call for correction on the mislead to all stories, when I am capable.

    Yes, anonymous, at this moment I care very much for anything that may taint the image of Thailand in this very situation that we are facing and still in the middle of the biggest crisis in my “Nation”. The stories, were done but somehow I cannot let this pass without asking for justify. I am admitted we have rather untidy within ours’ own BUT for farang instead of insulting us and give a big smack on our face by play with our suffering, why not try to be a better civilization and give a tender loving care and show your brotherly sense without interference attitude to us instead.

    My term of “professional” anyone that dare calling themselves a career professional, absolutely, is to do the right things and with sense of responsibility attitude - it is the bible, this same to apply to the report from Mr. Rivers and Ms. Snider and I may added to all press, on all of their reports which should be done with the right stuff and in a professional way! And double checking to all sources - don’t trust anyone but yourself on all you work. I don’t think that I’m asking too much from CNN to take responsibility on staff’s careless action? It is not just CNN, and to all press that are playing and using our suffering situation to gain “RATING” please “STOP” and come back to be a True Professional and proof that you need no coloring and no distortion of any kinds to sell your news, using your many experiences in the professional to gain it! I beg.

  118. Excused me if my English is not 100% perfect grammar, English is my secondary language.

    (One of a very small spot in Thailand)

  119. And my dear - anonymous,
    I am interesting in the truth, not just that and also for the facts, I believe that I understand the situations in my country far better than others people from another nations, I live here. I’m not sure for how much I can do to help but I will do my best in my small part without any doubt, anytime.

    TRUE! That I’m interesting in how the rest of the world would view my country, only with one option “They have to view our Nation from/by the correct ways, correct visions” under this term I will not felt an insult anymore, when any nation to be on the news specially in the situation like Thailand now, when the truth is only half truth and with less knowledge for the basis, which should standing on cultures, religious, believes, and living life styles of that nation, that make me angry.

    “A very superficial race” Who should I, to address to???

    After you saw an aftershock and all riots that gone on in my country right now. What are you thinking? Don’t tell me that because of the hungry for money, greed, for the need to power gain, of the breaking among people in the nation, and for many many more reasons within our nations – I knew it with my heart BUT I want to ask anyone not to play with our suffering anymore and please don’t stir it up in the wrong directions, be straight, frank, understanding, kind heart, not interfere to make it worse and supportive to my country, to Thai people; and most of all I ask you to be more real and suspicious to all facts that happening, pay attention to the possibilities of any kind that help this situations to blow up to this big and came to this far. Can it happen by accident and without planning? This is my asking for your second thought and cooperation!


    Anyhow, thank you for your comment it gives me another chance to explain my point of view. I hope you will get real too! “I am real” and in suffering because of the situation that is going on in my HOME right now.

  120. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=207070&id=123069441053997

  121. Im" westerner and have been here in Thailand more than 25 years and take a keen interest in the local politics and was appalled at the biased simplistic and at times wrong reporting by CNN and BBC. Maybe the relationship between the PR company and the international lawyer that Taksin is using is a little to cosy!.

  122. This is a very thoughtful and considered blog post and it is clear that you have hit a chord with many. Those of us who have lived here for a period of time realize the "cartoon level" of understanding right away. The sad part is that these reporters have an audience which does not know better

  123. What a treat to read a clear, precise word picture of events happening in Thailand - (clear and balanced as the "O'Reilly Factor" would say.) I have to admit I was surprised no reporters have talked to missionaries who have lived in Thailand for many, many years, and I believe thoroughly understand Thai culture and of course the language. Perhaps foreign (esp. English-speaking)missionaries who live most of their adult lives in Thailand would be an excellent resource because of their love for the people of Thailand ,AND THEY could give a different insight than we see on the news. Having lived in Chieng Mai for a few years, I also came to love the Thai people, and some of my American friends have stayed in Thailand for their lifetime. God bless Thailand!

  124. I'd be interested in any opinions on this report.


  125. What kind of opinion that you want? Why don't you look around in the area that on fired and destroyed, is it not enough??? GET REAL MAN!

  126. Things that need to be done to help NOW!
    1. helping to clean our city
    2. give hands to help in any possible way that one can do
    3. make it your business, be alert to any suspecious thing, don't let it pass by. it is time to use your mobile phone for a good reason

  127. If you truly believes he's not to blame then that just mean your standards are really low or you're a very ignorant person.

  128. Dear Somtow:
    I am a long time expatriate (Canadian) resident of Thailand (nearly 20 years) who can speak Thai fluently, can read Thai acceptably, but like you cannot write or type (usually my secretary or my children do that for me if it is necessary). I can understand nearly everything spoken in Thai. I think I have a pretty good idea of what has been going on these last few weeks, and I'm sure the world outside Thailand is thoroughly confused about what is actually going on here with the Thai political situation.

    There are two articles recently published in the New York Times that are of interest that are worth bringing to your attention.
    The first "The Tea Party Jacobins" shows the same kind of media bias occurring even within the United States http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/may/27/tea-party-jacobins/?pagination=false It is apparent from reading this that the Americans are also facing a growing movement coming up from the underclasses, and there is just as much "hysteria" about the phenomena, and growing confusion about how to control it, as there is in Thailand about how to manage the red shirt phenomena. Although in the US, where there are no media restrictions but lots of vested interests owning and controlling the messages of the media, it's hard to say whether people's interests are served better by that system or by the Thai Government's censorship of the media here.

    The second is by THOMAS FULLER the man that was interviewing Seh Daeng when he was shot. "In Bangkok, Gunfire Outside a Reporter’s Window", http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/weekinreview/16fuller.html?src=un&feedurl=http://json8.nytimes.com/pages/weekinreview/index.jsonp&pagewanted=all . Surprisingly Mr. Fuller doesn't focus on the assassination of the soldier right in front of his eyes, but rather talks about the kind of wierd duality that exists in Bangkok, a dual world in which you personally are fully immersed, and I experience when I go to Bangkok. It is one of the things that makes Bangkok and Thailand so interesting. I don't think I could ever live comfortably in Canada again, it would be too boring.

    Keep up the good work. I've been a fan for a long time (even read some of your fiction).

  129. Dear Khun Somtow,
    I am a 4 year resident of Bangkok and 11 years in Thailand. Sadly about to return to Europe. I am so glad that someone (you) has tried to set teh record straight. I sent an email to the BBC but it was anonymous (didn't even get a reply) seriously questioning their way if portraying the events here in Bangkok. I agree with you that the Thai should perhaps have made sure he right message was coming across, but don't these highly paid News Casters (they can all be regularly seen at the most expensive restaurants and clubs) have local staff on teh payroll? Surely they should have been able to watch teh Thai local news or even send someone Thai speaking into the Red-Shirt area on a regualar basis, who would have witnessed reapeated brain-washing propaganda uttered on the loudspeakers and frequent Video/Telephone speeches by Taksin himself..all reported in the Thai News (soemtimes even in the English spoken programs in the early morning) and ignored by the Western Media. In fact Western Media went out of their way to report that Taksin even denied having any involvment when it was so plain to see...and even tried to cast doubt on the words of the Thai Gov intervies on Western Media. I ma disgusted by the modus operandi of the Western Press. I first witnessed it as a Phuket resident during the Tsunami in late 2004. They all arrived in masses, misreported to the extent that one reporter was delivering his sensationalistic Doomsday report from 'Phuket' when in fact he was filming in Bandar Atche. The Phuket community took years to recover after the reporting of diseas outbreak and general chaos...again totally out of context. I despise news reporters with avengeance. I hope that one day they will be held responsible for their actions.

  130. Fascinating appraisal of the situation. I agree completely with you about the nature of journalism in this context; nightly news, "special report from "war zone" bangkok", not only is that the easy pick for a stressed foreign journo deciding which angle is juiciest, but also once one major media entity has taken that line, others will follow and expand on any idea no matter how sensational it becomes. It's only a journalist who is employed to produce a well informed, several page feature article that would go to any trouble at all to utilize varied sources of information and to translate interviews/written material. In order to see any change at all in how the media reports "breaking" international news, we would have to change the very nature of the media business. Just as you say, the advertising and pressure for ratings drives it, where as quality, true investigations into issues should be paramount.
    I have found that whomever I speak to about this problem, no one can give me a very unique perspective on the issue that does not fall back onto some overly simplified propagandist's point from either side. So I thank you very much for such a well thought out appraisal of the situation. Underdog's are everyone's secret favourites, but they are too easily cheered for.

  131. Don't blame Dan Rivers, he is only doing what he is paid to do. Yeah, right! Did you mean..he received the funding from Thaksin?
    I've questioning his objectivity for quite a long time, until this day he's still showing he is taking side and that side is Thaksin & Red Shirt Thugs, those thugs have just burnt down so many buildings in Bangkok and other provinces. But Dan Rivers never condemns or criticizes those terrorist act of Red Shirts & its hardcore teams, is it fair to the Govt., the military, police & Thai people? C'mon be fair & balanced, will you?
    Bad reporting is his fault. He should do better research, unless Thaksin's money is blinding him just like those Red Shirt Thugs! ( I believe it is !!)

  132. ------> the army hasn't been shooting women and children ... or indeed anyone at all, except in self-defense. Otherwise this would all be over, wouldn't it? It's simple for a big army to mow down 5,000 defenseless people. <--------

    Where did you get this crazy idea from?
    That would be a massacre if they did. And the government would never be able to cover it all up. That's why live bullets were used on some protestors, TO MAKE SURE THAT IT DID NOT LOOK LIKE A MASSACRE.

  133. Excellent analysis and subtle sarcasm. Please allow me to sahre it with my network. Thank you.

  134. To Mr.Tony Maddox,all Executive od CNN News and to whom it may concern:
    I,my family and almost all people that I knowhave been watching and reading news from CNN News for many years. But lately we have been following the situation in Thailand closely.CNN reporter Mr. Dan Rivers seem to report the news about the situation in Thailand unfairly( some time to the point it's untrue or manypulating the fact) Mr. Dan Rivers seem to report in such a way that always favors the Red Shirt group that support the billionaire,corrupt,figitive,expriminister of Thailand,Thuksin Shinawatra. But on the other hand he seems to be unfair to anybody or group that oppses the billionaire Thuksin Shinawatra. Mr Dan Rivers seem to be ofviously subjective in the way he does his reports.
    We who are watching, reading or in the situations and we know what really's happenning in Thailand always are surprised about Mr. Dan Rivers in formations in his reports. Where did he get his information? Why did he report in such unfair ways? Why did he seem to favore the billionair Thuksin Shinawatra(side)?
    We have try to forgive his mistakes for some years. But we have had enought of his behavior. May be Mr.Dan Rivers has such a good life in Thailand he had forgotten how to report fairly. May be he should go back to report in Iruq where he did his work before.
    We ask all Executive of CNN News look in to this matter. Is this behavior ecceptable for CNN News reporters?
    "Mr Dan Rivers you know what you are doing"
    Truely yours
    your customers

  135. "Don't blame Dan Rivers, et al, who are only doing what they are paid to do: find the compelling story within the mass of incomprehensible data, match that story to what the audience already knows and believes, and make sure the advertising money keeps flowing in."

    No blame on Mr.Rivers. He is only filing in materials for CNN docudrama. We'll be seeing CNN soap in no time.

  136. I'm truly ashamed of the BBC's coverage of the conflict and their lack of understanding about the deeper political issues which should have been fully researched while journalists were on their way in-country.

    It makes me worry about all the other foreign reports - Pakistan, Afganistan, Iraq, Iran, China, Nepal to name but a few where exactly the same 'underdog-fighting-for-justice' syndrome seems to be prevalent.

    This is the Land of Smiles and the people make it the perfect country. The girls from my office were volunteer cleaners while the office was shut last week - so ashamed were they about the actions of a relatively small group of their countrymen.

    I'm sad to say that we now face an Irish, IRA-type urban warfare situation with random bombings and killings that will destroy this county's economy for many years.


  137. I saw your note via Facebook a couple of days ago and liked it very much na ka. You make a lot of good comparisons and obviously you have a good grasp of the background and historical perspective of the situation in Thailand. The only thing I wanted to add is that this is not the first time I've seen poor and crass reporting by CNN. So, when I started seeing notes going around criticizing CNN's reporting of the current situation in Thailand I wasn't too surprised. I hope that CNN does something to improve the quality of their news out of this.

  138. I am one of your newest fans. Someone posted this on Facebook to gain understanding of the CNN coverage, and this was my comment:

    "I looked up the orig source of this piece, since the insights are spot-on. The key to this essay however is in her last line, which is so Thai in its humility: "It is our fault for not providing the facts...."
    In other words, she made excuses for CNN.

    The thing is, the international... See More media have a responsibility to get a good sense of the history, culture, and angst of a people. It is not as if there are absolutely no English sources. The Nation and its editors, the Bangkok Post, and many Thais in government and civil society can speak Thai. The tweets of The Nation's editors and expats like Richard Barrow were very helpful.

    Sadly it seems CNN really did shoddy work.

    I reside in Thailand but was in Shanghai 16-23 May with blocked access to twitter, facebook, youtube (that's another story, of course!). I relied on whatever was sent to me by email by my family and friends.

    I have to say that based on the CNN coverage, the protesters were getting enshrined on some kind of holy cause and the government was out to kill them all.

    If Dan Rivers is your friend, you've got to let him know this was no People Power Philippines.

    PS As soon as Lance Armstrong's alleged drug use started up, CNN promptly forgot about Bangkok, did you notice?"

    The one who posted it is a photojournalist from the Philippines.

    Thanks for this essay. Just change the title to, "Why we have to be understanding and tolerant of shoddy CNN coverage."

  139. Hi, this is the first of your columns that I have read, and it's a breath of fresh air. Finally, someone who wants to look at reality the way it is instead of taking sides.

    The fact that CNN applies simplistic Western models to such problems probably goes deeper than the Philippines. Western virtue of the little guy versus the big guy, or rooting for the underdog, goes back to David and Goliath.

  140. I agree with Allen.

  141. I thought it was an intelligent post but after reading the conclusion it was like I haven't read anything. Your Director in Cambridge was spot on.

    The real irony is, your irony didn't sound like it is.

    CNN, BBC, etc. should cover both sides of the story and there is no excuse if they failed. Dan Rivers should be axed as he failed to deliver fair news eporting to the masses.

  142. thank you so much for this wonderful article.. i think you completely hit the nail on the head.
    it's such a western mindset, an archetype they can so easily slot us in the pigeonhole.
    even the most "culturally aware" of americans/westerners sometimes just can't seem to resist. it's a much cooler story when it's the proles trying to fight for the rights against a tyrant, a la "1984".

  143. Biggest Crock of SH*T I have ever read!

    You are definitely a Yellow shirt..... Kaset P. is FM, Leading PAD are in the Democrat Party.... They held a "2nd Coup" protected by the Army in taking over the Airport and Marches down Silom, Sukhumvit etc.... Why didnt the army disperse them?

    LET ME CLEAR THE AIR! I AM NOT A RED SHIRT, I DO NOT LIKE THAKSIN, BUT I TELL YOU THIS, YOUR CRAP you are saying is a whitewash of what started this all.....

    In a Democratic country you vote someone out of office.... Somchai W's party was disbanded for being a front to Thaksin, well, Newin's front men allowed Democrats to become PM......

    You avoid the real issues where the Yellow, Army and Democrats were wrong and blame the reds.....

    This is FACT! Democrats and the Army are afraid of elections, another fact stated by the people in power accusing the NE and North of being uneducated.... IS THAILAND A DEMOCRACY OR NOT?

    Dont say Abhisit was elected, Without Newin's group he couldnt be PM. One political party was banned for 5yrs for the same offence!

    Yor crap is what has divided Thailand!

  144. K. Somtow,

    Appreciate your opinion and would like to see the debate with yourself and the foreign journalists. While you may be right on some issues the facts do indicate that you are wrong in several areas e.g. a) 88 people died of which the vast majority were red shirts. b) Seh Daeng was assassinated. c) The government censorship of the media e.g. shutting down of the red TV could be viewed as censorship, arresting of the editor of the Thaksin Magazine.

    There are several other points e.g. The reds called Terrorists but the Yellows called protestors.

    Dan Rivers views were based on his opinion. If he felt the situation was dangerous then that was his opinion, while you thought it was not serious. Given that 88 people were killed and over 2000 were injured i am unsure how anyone could not think it was serious. But as the saying goes "Opinions are like AHole, everyone;s got one".

  145. I think the guy who wrote the long and truncated in parts comments and keep mentioning Thaksin is far from understanding the message K.Somtow has communicate. Please don't pretend you are intellectual.

    My recommendation would be to register an english course of British Council or AUA and reading theis article twice. Somtow actually hadn't really taking any side.

  146. What utter nonsense you write. But I do support your right to issue such nonsense. I believe in free speech unlike your beloved Apisit.

  147. Are you for real?????????????

    In 2006, the PM asked the Police to end the occupation of the Government House by the PAD.

    The result was that a few PAD protesters who were missing limbs already for many years and were stationned at the gates got hurt by a GAS granate from the police.

    Abhisit immediatly invoked the PM to take responsability and leave the government. The police was descredited for their actions and were even refused treatment at the Chula hospital.

    Now, Abhisit wants to receive cooperation from the same police to disperse the Red Shirts and is crying like a little mother-sorry-boy that the same police refuse too help him.


    This guy is so yellow that he would be called a Chinese.

  148. Dear Somtow,

    I read your exellent article 'an open letter to the reds' and then this 3rd class piece of typically borish one sided ridicual of anything not central thai.
    To think for some reason that there may be only 12 foreigners whom are able to speak,read and comprehend the central thai dialectfluently including its nuances is once again a typical supremist view.
    I speak Thai and the Issan dialect and promise you that all the main red speakers are fluent in both as is half the army and police.
    The foreign press have well paid stringers who are not going to lie and lose their jobs.
    The fact is all reports from local media are one sided and any govt insinuation no matter waht it concerns is not investigated but written as gospel,time will tell us of the atrocities committed especially in lumpini park on day one of the final operation 'no figures for that yet' why anybodys guees,maybe the public is not ready for that yet.
    Maybe one day the official govt lnguage will be Issan if the birth rate figures are anything to go by,wouldnt that be one for the books.

  149. For reference, this response to criticisms against CNN/BBC may perhaps interest readers, especially since it mentions Somtow's article: http://uk.asiancorrespondent.com/bangkok-pundit-blog/rational-responses-to-cnn-and-media-bias

  150. Dear K. Somtow,

    Wow great article and honestly I couldn't have said it better myself. I have found that there is a chronic problem with the media reporting in Thailand. I think the worst is when reporters, such as Dan Rivers, whom believe they can understand the language well enough to not have a translator. I am fluent in both Thai and English and I have found that many reporters in Thailand have reported blatantly wrong information. Even things like statistics and numerical figures have been reported incorrectly. I have to agree though that these reporters are simply trying to find the most sensational story. I mean what is more exciting than a "class war"?

  151. You might be interested in this study about how, when you care about an issue, all reporting seems biased:

  152. The writer Somtow is careful to say he's not taking sides but his views do not reflect that. He's clearly anti-Thaksin and redshirts. He didn't cast the yellow shirts' takeover of the airport that paralysed Thailand in the same light as the redshirts' protest - in fact neglected to mention it at all.
    And he glossed over reasons for the sackings of PMs Samak and Somchai, the former for what can best be described as an utterly frivolous, laughable reason - hosting a cooking show and getting paid for it. What conflict of interest can that possibly be, except in the eyes and schemings of the Bangkok Elite, the yellow shirts and the retired generals? Bribery charges at an election, including funding, is very easily thrumped up and extremely difficult to fight in the Thai context of the time, not that it is ever easy in the context of any country except in the few very open and very matured democracies.
    He says Abhisit is more likely to bring about reform to Thai society, given time, than Thaksin and suggested that what has been happening is not about rich versus poor but about the middle class. Really? A prevailing view is that Abhisit is incapable without the backing of all the "unseen" powers in Bangkok, and his handling of the whole affair - his offers and withdrawal of them, his meeting to "negotiate" terms which turn out to be purely for the cameras and propaganda - shows him to be, yes western educated, but far from an inclination towards western democratic reform.
    And yes Somtow refers philosophically "....from Magna Carta to the Bastille to the American Civil War to the Russian Revolution, there is this Platonic Model against which these big historical movements are always compared. There is a bad guy — often a dictator — who can be demonized. There is a struggling proletariat. The end comes with "liberty and justice for all".
    We all know who the proletariat is. But which model does Somtow have in mind? And who is the dictator?

  153. Thank you for your clear analysis of these events. I have one question: Who exactly are the yellow shirts ,and who controls them?

  154. I suggest that Dan Rivers get a job with Fox News where they don't report the news - they make it up. It would be a good fit.

    Mike - Thailand Farang