Saturday, June 12, 2010
Truth About Thailand
As a result of certain things I've written in this blog, I was invited to a meeting at Thammasat University a couple of weeks ago. Members of the Thai press and other media were there. The purpose of the meeting was whether something could be done about what many people around here believe to be highly unbalanced coverage of Thailand in some of the western media.
Although the exchange of views started off in a pretty sane way, it was clear that there was a lot of anger and eventually one part of the group got into how we should all direct our energies in punishing CNN, banning it, and so on.
I got up and I explained my view, which is that this is precisely the kind of thinking that feeds into the preexisting prejudice that this country must necessarily have an evil military regime going around oppressing everyone. I said, "What you are complaining about is that these people provide only a half-open window to the truth. The answer to this problem is not to slam shut that window, but to open all the other windows and let in all the light. If you do so, you have to trust that most people are smart enough to form a balanced opinion."
The combination of my plain speaking and humorously quirky Thai must have got through to some people because I suddenly found myself being nominated to lead a task force to do just that ... "open the windows". Well, it's more of a think tank and I don't "lead" it, because I don't think there should be a leader. It's more of a group effort.
One thing I did do was put up a website, truth-about-thailand.com, and invited several people who (a) could communicate well in English and (b) weren't affiliated with the government or any news station strongly identified with a political party ... to post any articles or letters to that site. So far I've invited half a dozen people and about four have put up material. The idea is that if all this material is in one place, it reduces the amount of time needed for a responsible journalist to round out his story.
The site is not a chat board, so comments are disabled. There will be links to a variety of news clips as well once they are identified and made available.
While I was away in China last week, I felt quite incapacitated at times, as someone who is used to constantly blogging, leaving messages on FB, and tweeting; all three things are blocked in China as is youtube. It was strange to be in a situation so techologically advanced, so similar to our society in some ways, yet so cut off at the same time. The internet at the Regent was faster and less quirk-ridden than the Internet here in Bangkok, yet I couldn't reach many of the sites that are my daily bread.
It did make me appreciate the fact that Thailand is a far more open and tolerant society than most of its neighbors, despite the recent horror. Anyway, I couldn't blog about China although my trip there may well have huge consequences for the arts in this country and the way this country can be perceived by others. Now that I'm back, however, I'll talk about all that soon. There is so much on my plate now that I have to snatch the time to write this blog.
While I was gone, I did receive some emails congratulating me ... but didn't know what I was being congratulated for.
I found out from Bruce Gaston on my return than many people were crediting me and my "Dan Rivers" article (which seemed to have gone viral) for the fact that CNN has in fact started to acknowledge the existence of more complex issues and that the issue of the armed militants has finally been discussed. Even though the acknowledgement seems to have come almost "through gritted teeth" it is nevertheless real progress.
Of course, my blog was only one of probably hundreds of reactions that may have come to their attention, but it may have put the issues in terms that someone there could appreciate. Anyway, I received an email from no less a figure than the secretary-general of ASEAN, offering an appeciation of my help ... and also reminding us all that Thailand's international perception is far from salvaged at this stage.
On my return, the kids in our youth orchestra told me they wanted to do something to help those affected by the recent tragedy (of whatever political color) and they wanted it to be the thing they do best. So, on June 20, a Sunday afternoon so that the whole family can come, they will perform a concert at the Thailand Cultural Center ... a REAL concert, with big works like Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. All the income from this concert will be handed to the Governor of Bangkok to help his "Together we can" fund. I've agreed that giving it directly to the Governor is okay because I saw that during the troubles, despite his political affiliation, he clearly tried to function as the Governor of all Bangkokians, not some of them.
So, you can reserve seats by calling Ratana at (02) 231-5273 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.