To Be Media or Not To Be Media

The expressions of outrage at the sentencing of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk to 10 years for lèse majesté offences have, rather embarrassingly, been overwhelmingly from foreign organizations.  Not only has the National Human Rights Commission, alongside the government, been the recipient of these protests, rather than the author of one or two, but the Thai Journalists Association has also so far maintained a studied silence.

The right to freedom of expression is crucial to the existence of a healthy media.  Journalists can’t do their job properly without it.  So the Thai Journalists Association has to say it is in favour of the idea.

And Somyot was jailed for his actions as the editor of a journal. So one might expect a national professional association to come out in his defence, as international outfits have.  But this is clearly causing them conniptions.

Chavarong Limpatthamapanee, President of the TJA, has been forced to admit that they do ‘support and protect freedom of expression of the media’.  But they then ring-fence this support and protection with as many caveats as they hope will protect them from the ultra-royalists.

First they circumscribe the right to freedom of expression within Thai law.  For expression to be free, it ‘must be under Thai law’, they say.  This follows the practice of that piece of toilet paper called the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, which regards rights as limited by national law, rather than the normal way of thinking, which is that laws must respect rights.

The TJA then decides that freedom of expression does not belong to everyone, but only ‘media’ and says there is a debate going on within the TJA over a definition of what does and does not constitute media.

Khun Chavarong offers a novel definition: “What we protect is media that reports objectively, but if any media tries to have a political agenda for certain political groups, then we cannot protect them.”  

Leaving aside the long-standing debate over that weasel-word ‘objectivity’, this seems to mean that freedom of expression stops as soon as you turn to the op-ed page. 

So any idea that the right to freedom of expression as delineated in the constitution or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Thailand has signed) covers everyone and everything is completely wrong-headed.  First it doesn’t cover you if the Thai government, on whatever pretext, passes a law saying it doesn’t, constitutions and covenants be damned; and second it doesn’t cover anything that expresses the political ideas of any political group (which incidentally makes reporting of the ongoing Bangkok Governor’s election a bit of a non-starter).

The TJA is, however, not alone in taking this line of thinking.  The right to education has been similarly redefined by the Ministry of Education.  I don’t know of any document that is as explicit as the statements by the TJA President, but judging from general practice, it seems that every Thai child has the right to an education as long as that education doesn’t involve thinking for yourself.  Or asking questions.  And certainly not challenging accepted tradition.

Back in 2008, when the police broke up a yellow-shirt demonstration that was trying to prevent the government of the day from functioning, some doctors at Chulalongkorn Hospital tried to restrict the right to health care.  They were promptly disavowed by the hospital authorities but doctors in other state hospitals were quick to follow their cue.

Their thinking was that if police officers were involved in violence against protestors, then they had foregone the right to medical treatment.  The good doctors would therefore deny treatment to police officers injured in the demonstration.  Including, I suppose, the officer who was deliberately run over by a PAD driver, who backed up and ran over him again.

It is the responsibility of this column to make some things perfectly clear.  Rights are rights and cannot be curtailed, circumscribed or just plain cancelled just because you don’t like the person claiming the rights.  As Voltaire didn’t say, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

As long as you agree with me, of course.

Comments

"Leaving aside the

"Leaving aside the long-standing debate over that weasel-word ‘objectivity’."

Great line and great piece. I'm deeply suspicious of anyone who claims they have some perfect neutral objectivity. This idea, even for news reports, was debunked decades ago.

In Frantz Fanon's legendary book about Algeria, The Wretched of the Earth (complete with a foreword by Sartre) he wrote

"When a Western journalist interviews us, however, it is seldom done to render us service. In the war in Algeria, for example, the most liberal-minded French reporters make constant use of ambiguous epithets to portray our struggle. When we reproach them for it, they reply in all sincerity they are being objective. For the colonized subject, objectivity is always directed against him."

Even here Stateside I was

Even here Stateside I was asked by a close relative, when saying that people in Thailand, Thai or not, needed to speak up, "Why expose yourself to risk?"
This is an issue. Yet the fact that the risk is already at your doorstep, put there by ill-intended barbarians, is undeniable.

'Even Stateside' some things

'Even Stateside' some things must remain taboo. The more the world turns, the more it stays the same ... all around the globe.

"Why expose yourself to

"Why expose yourself to risk?" It's Monday, and Chris Hedges elaborates on the origin of that 'risk', and points out who benefits from our global, risk-averse population.

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage

The former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress, was quite open about the role of debt peonage in keeping workers passive. Greenspan pointed out that since 1980 labor productivity has increased by about 83 percent. Yet real wages have stagnated. Greenspan said this was because workers were too burdened with mortgage debts, college loans, auto payments and credit-card debt to risk losing a job. Household debt in the United States is around $13 trillion. This is only $2 trillion less than the country’s total yearly economic output. Greenspan was right. Miss a payment on your credit card and your interest rates jumps to 30 percent. Fail to pay your mortgage and you lose your home. Miss your health insurance payments, which have been spiraling upwards, and if you are seriously ill you go into bankruptcy, as 1 million Americans who get sick do every year. Trash your credit rating and your fragile financial edifice, built on managing debt, collapses. Since most Americans feel, on some level, as Hudson points out, that they are a step or two away from being homeless, they are deeply averse to challenging corporate power. It is not worth the risk. And the corporate state knows it. Absolute power, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, depends on fear and passivity.

Anyone in debt in Thailand? Somyos was a labor organizer. The Thai 'elite' stays that way exploiting Thai lands and on the backs of Thai workers. Organized labor is something the are averse to. Best to keep the population atomized.

It's a dead sure bet our chains will stay in place until we ourselves remove them. Is it worth the risk to break our chains?

What do Q8 and the Kingdom of

What do Q8 and the Kingdom of Thailand have in common?

A Kuwaiti opposition youth activist has been given the maximum sentence of five years in prison for insulting the 'inviolable' emir on Twitter in the third case of its kind since January, following a crackdown on free speech in the country.

Mohammad Eid al-Ajmi will likely appeal his case, despite the fact that his sentence took “immediate effect,” said lawyer Mohammad al-Humaidi, director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights.

The sentencing was the latest in a series of similar prosecutions for criticizing the 'immune' emir on social media.

Last month, the same court sentenced Ayyad al Harbi and Rashed al Enezi to two years in jail each on similar charges of defaming the emir of Kuwait, the third such case in less than two months. Both are awaiting appeals court rulings.

Enezi did not mention the emir by name in the tweet, but the court said that it was clear who he intended to insult.

A large number of youth activists in Kuwait are on trial on charges similar to the three most recent indictments, and more verdicts are expected in the forthcoming weeks, Humaidi said.

On Tuesday, a verdict will be issued on three different former opposition MPs who criticized the emir at a public rally in October last year. At the time, tensions between authorities and the opposition had flared ahead of a parliamentary election, which the opposition said was illegitimate.

Washington’s Dilemma on a

Washington’s Dilemma on a “Lost” Planet

Hans Morgenthau, was really quite a decent person, one of the very few political scientists and international affairs specialists to criticize the Vietnam War on moral, not tactical, grounds. Very rare.

He wrote a book called The Purpose of American Politics. You already know what’s coming. Other countries don’t have purposes.

The purpose of America, on the other hand, is “transcendent”: to bring freedom and justice to the rest of the world. But he’s a good scholar, like Carothers. So he went through the record.

He said, when you study the record, it looks as if the United States hasn’t lived up to its transcendent purpose.

But then he says, to criticize our transcendent purpose “is to fall into the error of atheism, which denies the validity of religion on similar grounds” - which is a good comparison. It’s a deeply entrenched religious belief. It’s so deep that it’s going to be hard to disentangle it.

And if anyone questions that, it leads to near hysteria and often to charges of anti-Americanism or “hating America” - interesting concepts that don’t exist in democratic societies, only in totalitarian societies and here, where they’re just taken for granted.

Change Chomsky's article's title to “'Elite' Thailand’s Dilemma on a 'Lost' Planet” and ... mutatis mutandis (as the translators of constitutions are fond of saying) in the body of the text ... You have a very fair description of the same 'transcendental' problem here.

The MSM are the last and the least as far as leading us all out of the paradoxically comforting womb of hysteria. As ever, we're - all of us individuals - the only thinking ones here, and we're just going to have to do it ourselves.

Just a minor point here: "So

Just a minor point here:

"So any idea that the right to freedom of expression as delineated in the constitution or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Thailand has signed) covers everyone and everything is completely wrong-headed."

It is not accurate to say that the right to freedom of expression is delineated in the Thai constitution. If you read the Thai constitution, you will see an exception of "public morality" in the article covering free speech. In fact, the constitution itself contains Article 112, which is a limitation in free speech. What I'm saying is, unlike in the USA, you can't defend free speech on constitutional grounds in Thailand, because we have little constitutional commitment to free speech.

Besides that, it's interesting to see how the TJA circumvented this by saying something as convincing as "we're not going to defend Somyot because we disagree with him." The NHRC should be pressed to issue a statement explaining their long silence on lese majeste.

The right to freedom of

The right to freedom of expression is restricted in the Thai constitution but it it is similarly restricted in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, where Article 19 contains the following exclusions (Para 3):

'The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.'

These restrictions are a virtually copy of what is in the Thai constitution and are common in all bodies of law.

The article does not claim an unrestricted right to freedom of expression, but the restrictions imposed by the TJA clearly go well beyond the exclusions allowed in the Thai constitution and international law.

The United Nations Human

The United Nations Human Rights Commission Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions made quite a well-argued decision that in fact

... Mr. Prueksakasemsuk has been detained for his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression provided for in the aforementioned provisions of the UDHR and ICCPR.

Perhaps you disagree with their reasoning?

I do not disagree at all.

I do not disagree at all. You have apparently misunderstood my reply to กขค.

I was responding to the 'minor point' of กขค who claimed that the right to freedom of expression is not delineated in the Thai constitution, partly because the article dealing with this issue contains a restriction with respect to public morality.

Since a similar restriction also appears in Article 19 of the ICCPR, then the argument of กขค could also be used to claim that ICCPR does not delineate the right to freedom of expression, clearly an absurd conclusion.

My comment, and the original article by Harrison George, deal with the TJA's bizarre interpretation of this right and made no comment one way or the other about whether Somyot's right had been violated.

It depends on what you mean

It depends on what you mean by delineate. My point was not so much whether the phrase freedom of expression is enumerated in the Thai constitution, but the fact that you cannot defend "the idea that freedom of expression covers everyone" on constitutional grounds, because in addition to a list of exceptions contained in the article on free speech, the Thai constitution also contains another article (112) severely limiting speech for certain people. The ICCPR does not contain such article. (So, the only way to guarantee free speech is to amend the constitution, not to argue for it with the current constitution.)

In fact, I would also say that the ICCPR does not have a full commitment to free speech. The exceptions on article 19 are strong enough to deny protection of hate speech and blasphemous speech. In contrast, these speeches are protected in the United States under the first amendment. Even though there is an obscenity exception to free speech in the US, the Supreme Court has established that the only speech considered obscene is child pornography. This is much more reasonable than how the rest of the world does it, in my opinion.

'Delineate' was the word used

'Delineate' was the word used in the original article and I have been using it in the dictionary sense of 'describe in detail'. The Thai constitution does that.
You have also misquoted the original article. This says 'the RIGHT to freedom of expression ... covers everyone', not just 'freedom of expression ...'. And this right DOES apply to everyone. This right is restricted not with regard to who is exercising that right (which would be unconstitutional), but with respect to how that right is exercised.
Next, Article 112 is part of the Criminal Code, NOT the constitution. There are good reasons for saying that Article 112 is unconstitutional. Somyot asked for a ruling on exactly that. Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, he got in return an unfavourable ruling based on reasoning that would disgrace a first-year law student.
And thank you for making clear that you think that the ICCPR and the Thai constitution and (I'll take your word for it) 'the rest of world' is unreasonable in these restrictions and only the US Constitution is reasonable.

I agree that “It is not

I agree that “It is not accurate to say that the right to freedom of expression is delineated in the Thai constitution.”

I searched for the word 'except' in my copy of the Royal Thai Army's substitution for the Thai Constitution of 2540 and found ...

Section 45.

A person shall enjoy the liberty to express his or her opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicise, and make expression by other means.

The restriction on the liberty under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of the provisions of the law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the State, safeguarding the rights, liberties, dignity, reputation, family or privacy rights of other persons, maintaining public order or good morals or preventing the deterioration of the mind or health of the public.

The closure of a newspaper or other mass-media business in deprivation of the liberty under this section shall not be made.

The prohibition of a newspaper or other mass-media business from presenting information or expressing opinions in whole or in part or imposition of interference by any means in deprivation of the liberty under this section shall not be made except by virtue of the law enacted under paragraph two.

The censorship by a competent official of news or articles before their publication in a newspaper or other mass media shall not be made except during the time when the country is in a state of war; provided that it must be made by virtue of the law enacted under paragraph two.

The owner of a newspaper or other mass-media business shall be a Thai national.

No grant of money or other properties shall be made by the State as subsidies to private newspapers or other mass media.

... and there are many more such exceptions. The Royal Thai Army is governing by exception. That is why the red-shirted folk are insisting on a restored Constitution.

Regardless our present, sorry

Regardless our present, sorry constitutional state Thailand is still bound by Articles 19 of the UDHR and of the ICCPR, and so must free Somyot, and Darunee, and Papatchanan, and Sathian, and Surachai, and Tanthawut, and Wanchai and all the others imprisoned by the Lese Majeste Inquisition in line with the judgement of the UNHCHR.