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The foreign media are failing Thailand: a professor responds

There has been another interesting response to my article The Foreign Media Are Failing Thailand — Andrew Walker, an associate professor at the Australian National University, has written a lengthy blog post entitled “Tolerating intolerance” for the New Mandala website that he co-founded with Nicholas Farrelly.

Andrew says that my views represent “a virulent anti-royal fundamentalism” and adds:

I don’t support the fundamentalist vilification of journalists – especially a fine journalist like Nirmal Ghosh – because they have different opinions, or have made different judgements about the path to political reform.

Here are my observations:

1. I have enormous respect for the work that Andrew Walker has done on Thailand, and enormous respect for New Mandala. In my opinion, New Mandala is unquestionably the best forum in the world for discussing the taboo subject of the Thai monarchy. Other useful forums for news and discussion include the excellent Political Prisoners in Thailand website, and the blogs of Bangkok Pundit and Saksith Saiyasombut. Perhaps arrogantly, I think my own zenjournalist blog is a useful voice in the discussion. I would argue that for anybody seeking reliable information and incisive debate about 21st century Thailand, the websites I have mentioned are a far better place to look than the mainstream foreign media or the woolly debates held at the FCCT.

One of the most positive developments of the 21st century is that debate about controversial subjects like the monarchy’s role in Thai politics, and Thailand’s archaic lèse majesté law, can be conducted online beyond the reach of censors and antiquated laws designed to stifle freedom of expression. Both Andrew Walker and Political Prisoners of Thailand have argued that the FCCT deserves credit for providing a physical forum for debate on these issues. I would argue that this view is very outdated. Because of the increasingly draconian enforcement of the lèse majesté law, is impossible to have an open public debate at a Thai venue about the Thai monarchy and Article 112. However brave the FCCT were to be (and it has never been very brave) the debates it stages can only be a pale shadow of discussions that anyone can join online. Several members of the FCCT board seem to believe that the club’s most useful function is providing a space for debate. They obviously don’t understand the world has changed. This is 2013: we don’t need a dingy clubhouse that offers jazz once a week and intermittent panel discussions for a mostly elderly male Western audience.

The FCCT would be better advised to making an unequivocal principled stand in favour of freedom of speech, and making active efforts to engage with and nurture Thai journalists and Thai students. Many other foreign press clubs around the world do this — one example is the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines, which invited me to speak to a huge audience of Philippine journalism students in August 2011. Why can’t the FCCT do it too?

2. Although I respect Andrew Walker and am a huge fan of New Mandala, I think Andrew’s “Tolerating Intolerance” article is among the worst and most intellectually muddled things he has ever written. The following comments are intended as a response to Andrew’s article. They are not intended to be a vilification of Andrew Walker or New Mandala.

3. I find it absolutely extraordinary that Andrew had nothing to say on New Mandala when Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was jailed for 11 years for publishing two articles written by somebody else that expressed a legitimate political opinion, but sailed into battle to defend the board of the FCCT when their fragile egos were bruised by criticism on the website of a freelance Scottish journalist. It suggests a catastrophic loss of perspective.

4. I find it amusing but also astonishing that Andrew regards me as a virulent anti-royal fundamentalist simply because I believe people deserve to know the truth about the Thai royal family rather than fairytales and propaganda.

Andrew’s view is shared by many foreign journalists in Thailand. They think that writing accurately and honestly about the reality of Thai history and politics is an extremist position, and that sticking to the accepted royalist line is somehow neutral and unbiased. That is just absurd.

In my work on Thailand, I have always followed the principle that I look at the evidence and follow where it leads me. It has led me to sacrificing a lucrative senior job at Reuters and becoming an exile from Thailand. When my Thai wife and Thai son visit Thailand, I will be unable to go with them. I’m very sad about that, but as a journalist, I believe it is my duty to report the truth. I would have thought that an academic like Andrew would have supported this approach.

I have never tried to skew my reporting in favour of or against the monarchy. This contrasts with the majority of foreign journalists in Thailand who knowingly skew their reporting in favour of the monarchy. For example, in my reporting of the death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946, I have been careful to share online all the evidence I have uncovered, and I have made it clear that I believe the shooting of Ananda by his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej was a tragic accident rather than intentional homicide. If I was a virulent anti-royal fundamentalist, clearly I would have followed a different approach. I’m disappointed that Andrew is so dismissive of my approach while making excuses for biased journalism.

5. Andrew’s argument is thoroughly confused. He offers no substantive rebuttal of my criticism of the FCCT or my work on the Thai monarchy. Instead, he seems to be saying that as a virulent anti-royal fundamentalist, I do not deserve to be included in the debate, in contrast to people like Tul Sittisomwongs whose presence at FCCT debates he welcomes.

I did not vilify Nirmal Ghosh, a nice man in a difficult position, who has written some excellent articles that I have praised in the past. I criticized Nirmal for stating on behalf of the FCCT that the organisation should not be expected to condemn the grotesque jail sentence handed to a Thai editor — a stance that is totally at odds with the declared principles of the FCCT which Nirmal was elected to lead.

The lack of clarity of Andrew’s thinking is evident in the tolerance versus intolerance theme he uses to frame his article. He seems to be saying we should be tolerant of a wide spectrum of views, except mine, which are virulent and fundamentalist. I think his point is that we should be intolerant of those who are intolerant of tolerance of intolerance (i.e. me) but tolerant of those who are tolerant of intolerance (i.e the FCCT board). But if anyone more intelligent than me can decipher what Andrew was actually trying to say, I would be very grateful.

6. In his excellent 2011 paper Royal Succession and the Evolution of Thai Democracy, Andrew Walker accurately discusses the rigid and outdated thinking that characterizes most of the Thai elite, (and indeed most foreign journalists in Thailand):

Despite much speculation to the contrary, for most Thais there was no inconsistency in supporting both Thaksin Shinawatra and the king. Thailand’s masses readily accept that two, or more, styles of leadership and benevolence can exist side by side. The contemporary challenge for rural politics is to draw these various types of power into local networks that can support safe and prosperous livelihoods. Some members of Thailand’s elite have much more rigid views about power, and they are not particularly adept at grasping the nuances of Thai popular culture. Whereas the villagers in northern Thailand pursue human security through cultivating connections with power in many different forms, the official Thai position is that the king’s symbolic potency lies at the centre of national security. This selective and elite narrative of security asserts that the king is the pre-eminent paradigm of virtuous and disinterested power, rather than accepting that he represents one of the many ways in which leadership can be expressed.

I’m interested to know why Andrew thinks that his comments are valid while mine represent virulent anti-royal fundamentalism.

7. I suspect the main motivation for Andrew’s article had little to do with analytical thinking: he just wanted to defend his friends in the FCCT. That’s admirable. But perhaps if he was better friends with Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk or Joe Gordon, he would have a better grasp of what is at stake in this debate.


  1. Tangmo says:

    Prof Andrew Walker’s criticisms of this blog also fails to realize or recognize that too many farang expats in Thailand support and actively advocate the lese majeste laws. This is a phenomenon that has most clearly emerged only recently, with the advent of the PDRC, Suthep, the Democrat Party’s abandonment of democracy and democratic processes, and much else, to include farang expats’ enthusiastic advocacy and support of the coup Prof Walker needs to address these issues in an up to date fashion if his defense of foreigners in the MSM are to have any possibility of entertaining a viability or any kind of sustainability..

    Prof Walker needs to address the other side of this corroded coin of foreigners’ views and their discussions of Thailand, to include expat farang in Thailand, not only the journalists that populate Bangkok. Specifically, Prof Walker needs to analyze how and why the farang-expat-in-Thailand owned website discussion boards are openly pro-lese majeste, pro-royal, pro-ammart, support and advocate military coups and military rule, to include martial law and curfews – and, equally importantly – attract so many farang expats who have similar or same extremist right wing views in their postings to the websites.

    What does Prof Walker among others have to say concerning the farang-expat-owned-and operated website discussion boards in Thailand? The principal culprit in this respect for instance is ThaiVisa is owned and operated by a farang expat, George Anderssen. Under the ownership of Anderssen – simply known to his sycophants as George -the ThaiVisa discussion boards have become the magnet for farang expat right wingers who, in large numbers and with a great negative energy, post to their absolute support and their love of lese majeste, the monarchy, the Thai military, their coups, their martial law and their periods of recurring military rule. Views to the contrary are unwelcome and over-moderated in the extreme.

    Moreover, George Anderssen, his moderators, and the vast majority of the Thai Visa Forum members who post to the Thailand News Forum loudly proclaim their opposition to democracy, both in Thailand and broadly, which this writer and many other expat farang in Thailand find to be shocking. The farang expat posters openly supported Suthep and the PDRC, while railing unrelentingly, and without TV moderators’ restraint, against the Pheua Thai party democratically elected government and against democracy broadly and universally. Views to the contrary are severely restricted.

    Anderssen, along with his fellow Thai Visa Forum members who post virtually daily to the Thailand News Forum discussion board view the coup of May 22, 2014 as a godsend for them personally and for Thailand itself. These many farang expats have recently revealed themselves in their ThaiVisa discussion forum posts to be the reactionary rejects of their own democratic societies and cultures, and as extreme right wingers who have found a home in a feudal Thailand where the coup d’etat is their welcome and highly prized institutionalized aspect of a reactionary form of rule,

    To illustrate the point, I present below a number of truly representative remarks of the pro-lese majeste, pro-royalist, pro-martial law farang expat posters to the openly pro-royalist-militarist discussion forums. The astounding remarks by the mass of farang expat posters, presented below, are made in their own words, verbatim.

    The representative posts to that I describe, taken directly from the Thailand News Forum of, are as follows:

    …Thai military are a blessing. God has blessed Thailand with a coup so that the mess can be cleaned and the people made free again AMEN.

    …They can shove democracy somewhere where the sun don’t shine!!!!

    …I love the king. I support the Military Coup and congratulate General Prayuth on an excellent job well done…

    …The general needs to start with bringing Thaksin back to face justice at the end of a rope.


    …It certainly doesn’t feel like a coup…….. more like a relief…

    …I am in full support of the Thailand Military and what they had to do.
    They began with Martian law, and that did not work, as the politicians did
    not give the Military any help, so the coup was the next logical step.
    It is a shame that the International medias and governments have not done their homework
    and seen why the military had to step in…

    …Three cheers for Prayuth and a mammoth raspberry for the US!!!!!

    …It seems like democracy has taken a welcomed back seat at the moment so I was right in saying that benevolent/benign dictatorship is a more appropriate form of governing than illegitimate democracy, in Thailand!!!! Thank you Gen. Prayuth for proving me right.

    …Democracy, democracy, just a load of hypocracy.

    …Do we really care about such a minor thing as the senate doesn’t have a role at the moment – the good general is leading from the front. Stop complaining unless you have got a tank sitting on the lawn!!!

    …Democracy is one of the WORST forms of government. It’s life is as short as it’s end is violent. It ALWAYS devolves into MOBocracy. It is actually an intermediate step towards Communism.

    …What Coup.
    There was never a coup
    Just a change in Thailand management….

    …I will take the good General Prayuth temporary rule over the Shinawatra dictatorship under the commie Pheu Thai Party any day and twice on Sundays…

    ….In a way he is like the Messiah has arrived for Thailand. And some of you Western Countries keep your noses out and learn something.

    …There’s about 50 million people willing to take their chances on a better outcome than the pigshit you have been dishing out for the last decade or so…

    ….Ignorance of this fact and of how law works is pretty common, especially here on TV where the most patently ignorant positions are expounded…….Your ignorance is astounding!…

    …Well, the junta is doing a cracking job, don’t you agree? More progress has been made in the last month than the last 3 years(admittedly the last 3 yrs we were regressing to a pure kleptocracy/mafia state). Once the shock and distress of losing the Shin’s wears off I’m sure you will be singing the good generals praises…

    …Most of us here on TVF prefer a military government…

    …My God talk about controversial people, you are one. what do you want ?? democracy ??? you had that chance when you were voted in and threw it away by being opposite to democracy.—Now you call the Army undemocratic ??? scans needed….

    ….Posters favouring the Shin regime, and bashing the forward thinking army. crazy…

    …Go, Go, Go General….