Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation
04 April 2009
Despite widespread rumours that a number of foreign correspondents are being paid by ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra to attack the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement, concrete evidence remains elusive.
Aside from Thaksin having hired certain lobbyists in the past and the pro-Thaksin red shirts now having a secret “media operative” who is media savvy and fluent in English, there’s no hard evidence that the former PM has been funding foreign correspondents.
“I think it’s a ridiculous allegation,” said Nirmal Ghosh, a Bangkok-based correspondent for Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper. “You have to look at why [the anti-Thaksin PAD leaders] are saying this. It’s an everyone who’s not with us, are against us attitude. They find it convenient somehow [to accuse us].”
Ghosh called the allegation “completely subjective”, but warned that if it was “repeated long enough, people might assume it a fact”. He added that it was convenient to place the blame on foreigners when Thais had problems.
When questioned further, Ghosh did acknowledge that it could be a “possibility” but said there was no proof.
President of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Marwaan Macan-Markar also treated the allegation as false. He told The Nation that though Thaksin was not a symbol of democracy, the 2006 coup had made him “a victim” despite his record of human-rights violations and abuse of power.
On the other hand, many among the foreign press could not subscribe to military intervention, said Macan-Markar, who works for the non-profit Inter Press Service news agency.
Macan-Markar added that one had to remember that, while in power, Thaksin was “very harsh” on the foreign press for holding him accountable. He said that journalists like Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker of the then-Far Eastern Economic Review magazine suffered a lot at Thaksin’s hands.
Crispin, who wrote an investigative article about the ex-PM in 2004, was regarded by the then-Thaksin administration as a “threat to national security”. He was told to leave the country, had his passport confiscated and was fingerprinted before being allowed bail.
“I’m definitely not on Thaksin’s payroll,” Crispin said, though he did admit he was currently holding the post of Southeast Asia editor for the Asia Times online newspaper, which is financed by Thaksin’s nemesis and PAD co-leader Sondhi Limthongkul. Crispin then went on to elaborate how a US lobbying firm had been hired to try and influence his critical coverage of Thaksin.
“There’s got to be some credibility to the allegation,” Crispin said.
When pressed further, he added: “I don’t have the money flow”. However, he did mention a “media operative” who’s a Thai national and an “underling of Jakrapob Penkair” who allegedly tries to make sure the coverage of Thaksin and the red-shirt Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) movement is positive and publicises what can be considered “complete propaganda”.
“They’re definitely trying to influence media coverage. In some instances, it has been successful,” Crispin said, adding that an international TV news organisation and perhaps even a foreign news magazine had been “targeted” by this “operative“.
Crispin said the “operative” had done “a pretty good job in lobbying international media to look at his [red-shirt] group as a pro-democracy movement”.
However, even Crispin admitted it was not too difficult to understand why the foreign media was upset about the PAD. He said the group’s so-called “New politics”, where 70 per cent of MPs are supposed to be selected instead of elected, was “a big mistake” and made foreign correspondents “cringe” about the “rolling back of Thai democracy”.