New Media: Conversation with Bangkok Pundit

A blog is a New Media tool that started many years ago.  It may be a diary expressing a person’s thoughts or a communications space for a social movement, depending on what the user wants it to be.  In some countries they have been very effective.

Prachatai spoke with the creator of the leading English-language news blog in Thailand  It was created in 2005 by a blogger who wants to remain nameless, but has chosen to call himself Bangkok Pundit, or BP for short.  He follows Thai political stories closely as a researcher.

Most of BP’s blog is devoted to Thai politics and the state of rights and freedoms in Thailand.  Each topic posted by BP is ‘hot’, breathing down the neck of both mainstream and alternative media.  Most of the information is directly translated from Thai-language media.  So this blog is like a space for people who are not good at Thai to track the situation the way Thais do.

The blog quotes sources for all its posts and blogger’s comments are added at the end, identified by the prefix ‘BP’.

Prachatai spoke to someone so interested in events in Thailand that he runs an English-language blog so that non-Thai speakers can keep up with Thai news from Thai sources.

He carefully asked not to be identified to the extent of not answering some of our questions, which were sent by e-mail.  We present the e-mails here to demonstrate the tenor of the conversation.

Prachatai:  Why are events in Thailand so important to you that you started the Bangkok Pundit blog?  Do you see weaknesses in the English-language media that present news about Thailand?

BP:  1. If you compare it with the Thai press, I’ve not been satisfied with the news presented in English by the Nation and Bangkok Post for some time.  There were many issues that the Thai press spoke about but there was no mention of them in the English-language press.  I don’t know why, but I think some of the stories in the Thai press have interesting information that will help foreigners understand Thai politics better.  That’s one reason why I started the Bangkok Pundit blog. 

2. In 2005 when I began the blog, I was researching Thai politics and the situation in the south and writing about it daily.  That was one way I was able to develop my writing.  Some of what I wrote in the blog may be considered to be a draft of my research.  And I also get feedback from readers’ comments with fresh information and perspectives on what I have written.

Prachatai:  Can you explain what ‘Bangkok Pundit’ is?  Is it a form of media, or New Media, or your own personal space?

BP:  I want in fact to explain why I chose the name Bangkok Pundit for the blog.  

1. ‘Pundit’ in English means an expert who provides information or opinion.  The name should be Thailand Pundit since the blog gives information and opinion on Thailand, not just Bangkok.  But the Thai word ‘bandid’, from the same root, is used among Thais to mean someone who has received an educational degree and has the same meaning as the English word.  So I think the word has a meaning that I want readers to understand.

2.  I don’t know if Bangkok Pundit is New Media or not.  Bangkok Pundit is a blog giving information and opinion about Thai politics and the situation in the three border provinces.

Prachatai:  About how many people view your blog and at what time and under what conditions do numbers rise?

BP:  Since the blog moved, I don’t know how many people view it, but the number of times it is viewed is 5000 a day on average.  On Saturdays and Sundays it is 2,000-3,000.

But if the political situation is hot, like when the PAD took over the airports, the numbers of hits reaches 10,000 a day.

Prachatai:  Have you ever been threatened by any government agency?  Have you ever suffered a technical attack?  How often?

BP:  Never.  But maybe sometimes people have criticized or threatened, but I’ve taken no notice.

Prachatai:  You usually add your opinions to the news you present, like a new culture of news presentation.  Why do you add your own opinions at the ends of the posts?  (The media generally argues that in principle, reporters do not insert their opinions into their news reports.)

BP:  Because I want to separate fact from opinion, my opinions are added at the end, prefixed with ‘BP’ to make clear that this is my own opinion.  And I don’t believe that other reporters do not put their own opinions into their news reports.

Prachatai:  Do you think your blog is part of the free space for the exchange of opinion, or is part of changing the behaviour of news consumers in Thailand?

BP:  I don’t know because I can’t comment on myself.  You need someone from outside to look at what my blog is like.

Prachatai:  You monitor a lot of news in Thailand every day and upload almost all day.  How do you do it?  Do you consider this blog as your main job?  Many readers wonder what your main job is.  How can you devote so much time to this blog?

BP:  1.  What you see as uploading all day is 90% done in advance.  You may observe that there is a post at 6 or 7 o’clock, for example.  But I don’t sit and post at that time.  It’s set to post automatically.

2.  I’m very interested in the blog and think of it as a pastime.  Other people who use Facebook or other websites can spend hours on the web, but I use the time to read newspapers and write the blog. 

Prachatai:  In your opinion, what has been the most important news in the past year?

BP:  Last Songkran and the red-shirt mob.

Prachatai:  In 2010, what are the 3 most important topics that you will be following and posting on your blog?  

BP:  1.  Constitutional amendments.

2.  Seizure of the assets of Pol Lt Col Thaksin Shinawatra and what he and the red shirts will do after that.

3.  Possible dissolution of the House by Abhisit.

Prachatai:  There is talk that media rights and freedoms are shrinking.  Do you feel this, for example, in choosing topics for your blog?

BP:  I haven’t thought that the media in general and the internet media have fewer rights and freedoms, but I’m not saying that they have more or have real freedom, because I think there hasn’t been any freedom for a long time.  But these times are like a test of how much freedom the media has.  

From some perspectives, it may seem that there is less freedom, but in the era of Twitter, information cannot be hidden.  For example, when someone using the internet is arrested or threatened, in less than an hour it is a hot story.  People are asking questions, tweeting and blogging very quickly, which may give the impression that the media has less freedom.

Prachatai:  Do you think that the internet is a space where there is freedom for Thais to express their opinions after Thailand put in place the Computer Crimes Act and the government put more importance on monitoring the internet?

BP:  Yes, but there are some scary things like the arrest of Khun Chiranuch or the people who translated the Bloomberg article.  These are the most frightening cases, because while news in English is not yet being blocked and people can still read it, if it translated into Thai, the people who post it are arrested.  And they are not arrested in the normal way, but at the airport with the media alerted and taking photographs and names printed in the newspapers.  I think it is a warning that if you translate news that should not be translated, you will be treated in the same way.  

Prachatai:  From your extensive monitoring of the Thai media, what do you think of its quality, both in terms of the accuracy of what it presents and its freedom to report the news?

BP:  I think the quality of the Thai media is crap.

1.  The Thai media never quotes the source of its information.  It normally says ‘according to reports’ without specifying who or what these are.  And when one newspaper reports something, the others copy it and the information spreads without anyone knowing if it is true or where it comes from.  

2.  If they publish false information, there are no corrections, or very few.  It’s like there is no one checking facts to see how true they are.  When writers know there is no one checking, they think they can write any old garbage.  And because it’s garbage, their analyses are garbage as well.

3.  When someone says something, they print what they say without checking the facts.  If Nathan Oman says he graduated from Harvard, every newspaper will write that he says he graduated from Harvard but nobody checks, and if the information is not true, it is difficult to correct.  If no one spoon-feeds them information, writers have nothing to do, because they haven’t thought of going out and looking for information themselves.  

Fact-checking is not presenting opinions.  It means presenting information in a careful way.

Prachatai:  At present in Thailand, there is criticism of the work of the media and the New Media that has sprung up is said to be partisan or media that uses the opinions of one political faction or another, either red or yellow.  What is your perspective on this aspect of the Thai media?  Does it help promote a democratic atmosphere or does it lower the quality of news?

BP:  No answer.

Prachatai:  Many farangs who follow Thai politics often try to guess what momentous structural changes will shortly happen in Thailand.  Some say in less than 3 years, some in less than 5 years, some within 20 years.  Do you think Thailand will have the opportunity to change, and how, and will it be sooner or later?

BP:  Please let me refrain from answering.