Thai-style Democracy – Do we really comprehend ‘Democracy’?
The current political conflict in Thailand has widened the rift within Thai society and divided opinion into two main camps, namely pro-democracy and anti-establishment versus pro-government and royalists. It seems as if there is very little room for fence-sitting, especially by those in the spotlight.
Celebrities can become opinion leaders, and they can easily draw media attention, perhaps more than protest leaders. That is one of the reasons why they have become targets.
Patchrapa ‘Aum’ Chaichua, an A-list celebrity in Thailand, became a victim of online bullying, just because she chooses to remain politically neutral. As a dog lover, she posted a picture of a missing dog on Instagram, to help the owner find the animal, which is something she does frequently.
Some pro-democracy protesters, however, read this as showing indifference toward democracy.
Likewise, Araya A. Hargate, Urassaya Sperbund, Davika Hoorne, Kakai Salaider, a famous You-tuber, and many other celebrities are under pressure to speak out. To be precise, to show solidarity with the pro-democracy camp.
Online hate speech
When a famous boxer, Buakaw Banchamek, posted pictures of himself holding framed photo of the late King Bhumibol over his head, a personal act of remembrance of his majesty’s greatness, a member of his fan club worried that he would be attacked online. As it happens, Buakaw could not care less. He replied “Why should I be afraid?” Undoubtedly, he attracted considerable and strong online criticism, bordering on hate speech.
Recently, actress and fashion model Kanticha ‘Ticha’ Chumma, who grew up in Sweden, has been asked if she learned about the right to freedom at her Swedish school, and why she is sitting on the fence in the current conflict.
Ticha replied via Twitter saying “I was educated about democracy in Sweden, though the teachers there do not express their political opinion to the students. Nothing is right or wrong. Everyone has the right to freedom and expression. You want people to take sides by putting pressure on them, humiliating them, pointing fingers, publicly criticizing, insulting or using hate speech against them. What you are doing seems paradoxical to me. I don’t think you really understand what democracy is”.
This does not only happen online. While Tanasorn Amatayakul, a Royal news TV anchor, was dinning at a restaurant, she was asked by the restaurant’s owner, who is an anti-monarchist, to stop presenting Royal news, just because he does not want to see it. She vowed not to return to that restaurant again. She posted this story on her Facebook page.
From darling to target
The Standard, a media outlet, which was once the darling of the pro-democracy and anti-establishment camp, has been boycotted by its followers because of a picture it published on social media. When there was a clash between the two camps on October 14th, the Standard posted pictures of yellow-shirted supporters (establishment supporters) about to be hit by pro-democracy protesters.
The Standard drew a pile of online hate in response and has been heavily criticized for its alleged lack of reliability and objectivity and has been accused of telling only one side of the story. The same day, the hashtag #แบนthestandard (ban the Standard) appeared on social media.
The Standard publicly explained the sociological constraints on the news production process in Thailand, as well as the demand for the journalists to keep updating their reports and produce additional stories. Thus, errors occur. Nonetheless, the editor decided to add an alternative perspective to its news report. Despite doing so, some of its former followers remain dissatisfied.
Thai political context
Broadly speaking, media outlets in Thailand are criticized by all political camps, no different to any international media outlet.
For instance, Fox News has been described as presenting news biased in favour of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party (the “Right”). Whereas CNN are called ‘Dumb Bastards’ by Trump for its frequent reporting on the growing US COVID-19 epidemic. It is, however, axiomatic that, if media is criticized by both sides of an argument, it means that it is being impartial and doing a good job.
Thai media do have duty to educate and inform Thai people, to enable them to truly comprehend the real value of democracy, but without becoming a catalyst for conflict.
By Jeerapa Boonyatus