With the red-shirt rally into its third week now, a lot of Thai mainstream media outlets had ample opportunity to display their patronising attitude towards the lesser educated and poorer Thais who constitute the majority of the protesters. These media outlets have been sneering at the red shirts for their perceived naivete, political immaturity and violence-prone nature. In fact, the contempt displayed has been so blatant and numerous that a tome could be compiled from it.
Editor of Post Today, Nakarn Laohavilai, wrote in his March 26 column that the protest "reflects [the fact that] many people have yet to attain maturity when it comes to a real democratic system". His solution was for Thailand to have "higher quality people".
In his March 11 column, Nakarn patronisingly wrote that the red shirts were coming to the capital because "they have been fooled or bought", so Bangkokians should not fault them. Instead, he said, Bangkok residents should "smile, pity, sympathise and extend loving-kindness", because it's really ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra's fault.
Others, such as Arglit Boonyai, the editor of free weekly magazine "Guru", sneered at a red-shirt protester in his publication's March 19 edition for not knowing "how to use a tap with a sensor".
"He kept banging the top of the faucet. He would then move his hands under the tap and water would come out. When it stopped he'd bang the top again, and repeat until his hands were clean. At least his hands were clean. Now he can get out and fight for justice with clean fingers," he wrote.
Arglit, the "better" educated urbanite then went on to say: "As it stands, we have protesters, many of whom are uneducated, damaging Thailand's image in the name of certain individuals"
Moving on to the ASTV-Manager Daily newspaper's March 29 edition. Its page 12 political cartoon had two panels: the first showed a typical traffic jam in Bangkok with a caption reading: "Mon-Fri for car traffic"; the second depicted a horde of water buffaloes led by Thaksin, with the caption reading: "Sat-Sun for walking water buffaloes". The cartoon was playing on the traditional Thai notion of uneducated people having the mentality of a water buffalo.
This analogy was also employed by INN news service when its SMS news yesterday stated that the red shirts were being "herded" to rally again on Saturday.
To be sure, such caricature and sneering is never a one-way street, even though an overwhelming majority of Bangkok-based mainstream media harbours deep contempt for the less educated, poor red shirts.
The Khao Sod daily was more sympathetic in a column written on March 26 by Kadchuek Kathaphan, who noted that red shirts were "gathering peacefully and simply. They eat simply and naturally and are not pretentious like the high-society [yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy] protesters who wear sun block while participating in a 'save-the-country' picnic".
The mainstream media is quick to characterise the red-shirt protesters as being violence prone, though funnily enough it said very little about the violence generated by the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin or the shutting down of the Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2008.
It is perhaps painful for the many "well-educated" and well-heeled Bangkokians to understand that these poor, "uncouth" red shirts are using or at least collaborating with Thaksin to advance their political agenda, much like the yellow shirts depended upon the coup-makers and the aristocrats* to advance their plans.
It's more comforting for many yellow- and white-shirted Bangkokians to continue believing that the poor red shirts must be stupid, corrupt and violent. That way, they can feel smug about their perceived morals and intellectual superiority no matter how dubious these perceptions might actually be.