Lost At Sea

The news about The Nation senior editor detained by the Thai police in an unknown location without cellphone or the right to use the lawyer was unnerving. Earlier in the week police officers detained a 74-year-old independent writer while he was criticizing Thailand’s new constitutional draft at Thammasat University; the 80-year-old university well known for its strong politically independent spirit, it shows that Thailand uniform led ‘government’ seems to tighten grip even more, given that hundreds of people; academics, journalists, opposition politician have been hauled into the so-called “attitude adjustment” at the army base since last year’s coup.
In August 2015, we celebrated what the Amnesty International called “a welcome move for freedom of expression” when the Phuketwan journalists have been cleared of the charges they were alleged by the Thai navy. While it was skeptical that the verdict from the court has set some kind of benchmark for freedom of speech in Thailand or we’re just allowed to live for another day.
The reason behind these accusations was the materials being reported or spoken or shared might affected the country’s stability. It’s a worrisome situation when they stabilized the country by preventing people to express their opinion and has a PM threatens to silence critics saying ‘I’m just going to tape their mouths shut.’
It’s strange to see Thailand democracy which was relatively imperfect, but adequately decent, now turn into Myanmar. The British scholar has been detained at the airport for four days over a years-old dispute with a former Thai official who plagiarized his work in his PhD thesis. This story later appeared on international news media such as TIME, The Guardian and BBC, etc.
In order to navigate Thailand—the country with its heavy face-saving culture—to the relatively acceptable democracy path. They (the media) might think that they have to put Thailand in the front row. Before the Erawan shrine bombing incident Thailand rarely appears on the international news media (except the Rohingya migrant crisis in June 2015 which turned out to be the regional scale problem), but the event—at Erawan shrine—stops us from the naïve thought that Thailand in no way could become a terrorist target.
This event was not only show how ignorance Thailand was regard to the terrorist attack but also their inability to inform the public. The irrelevant suicide bombing jacket was shown on the junta government official televised after they caught the first suspect in an apartment along with his bomb making equipment.
The police celebrated their first short moment of victory by giving the ransom of $84,000 reward that was intended for civilian to ‘themselves.’ An act which turn their reputation beyond repair from the devoid of their own publicist. Of course, they turned themselves into a feast for foreign journalists to swarm in. This laugh-out-loud episode was unfortunately appeared everywhere on the Internet.
The way of public shaming has changed overtime from the lashing at the square to tongue-lashing on the television and editorial page and—to these days—social media. The social media makes it easier to shame Thailand on a global scale, especially when the big media agencies conspiring to circulate the torrent of news and headlines to gain global attention.
When we know that we are being watched, we behave differently. Our decisions, our acts will be more deliberate and conscious. When we saw the Hungarian camerawoman tripping refugees running from the police, we swarmed in and shame her publicly, making her the new Justine Sacco in our recent memory. That moment established a pretty strong humility attitude among Hungarians and others East European citizens.  At least they were reminded that they have to be courteous because you’ll never know if you’ll get caught mistreating refugees or not.
The similar refugee crisis—but on a smaller scale—occurred on the Andaman Sea, Thailand but the fact is the Rohinyas have been stranding at sea for sometimes now but no one has noticed them. A Phuketwan journalist Chutima Sidasathian admitted that she didn’t want to be the person who report the story about them. She told me she didn’t even know about this people in the first place. Then she and her colleague Alan Morison began to dig into the story and found evident that Thai officers have been providing some help to the people smugglers which the Thai navy pressed charges against them later on.
While they were preparing to fight for the accusation, the Rohingya story has been put on global spotlight. This helped pull some kind of string to the court when they were concluding the verdict. On the verge of the verdict hearing, lots of journalists and the media were preparing for the attack if the verdict was anything less than no guilty. In the end they were acquitted all charges but if this story haven’t gain global attention I doubt the verdict would be different.
September 7, 2015 when a mysterious fireball shooting across the sky over Bangkok one morning, TIME, CNN and other equally famous news media reported about it. It turned out to be a meteor. It wasn’t global scale news, but somehow the act that they reported about it sent the minor message to Thailand that “the world is watching,” as oppose to the Thai junta slogan “The Big Brother is Watching You.”
“The World is Watching Your Big Brother.” It’s a more terrifying reassurance that the media have put Thailand under the radar and any discrimination and violating human rights are being monitor and ready to fire across the social media, the modern-day weapon.
It’s the media crusade era. The impact of the news, when appears on global scale, can shake the so-called stability of some country and contribute the right from wrong. It could make someone become obedient and act appropriately because the world is watching.
This is why some countries haven’t give the power of the powerful social media to the citizen. Countries like China still holding on to its anachronism security system, but how long can they avoid the inevitable? Sooner or later they will have to eliminate its draconian censorship regulations and provide its citizen with freedom of speech and the accessibility to use western social media.
The before ephemeral social network is now (and continuing to be) permanent. The power of the media has been proven from time to time in a different form. No country can easily escape the global backlash that comes with it, unabashed, and a country like Thailand will go at any length to protect their face, if only it’s still the face worth saving.

Sam Nathapong is an independent writer and journalist working in Thailand. Twitter @nathapongsam

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