21 May 2021

Panorama

Panorama
Yesterday, the BBC published Lord Dyson’s report into its 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana, and Panorama broadcast its own account of the controversy. John Dyson, a former Justice of the UK Supreme Court, was commissioned by the BBC to conduct an independent investigation into how journalist Martin Bashir secured his extraordinary interview with Diana.

Bashir has never spoken publicly about Diana; a BBC2 Arena documentary marking the interview’s tenth anniversary included contributions from everyone involved, except Bashir. In 1996, The Mail on Sunday reported that he showed fake bank statements to Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, in order to gain access to her. The BBC denied the Mail on Sunday report, and the story was forgotten until the interview’s twenty-fifth anniversary last year, when the BBC’s three terrestrial rivals all broadcast their own investigations into Bashir and the bank statements.

Dyson’s report describes Bashir as “unreliable and, in some cases, dishonest”. It also criticises the BBC’s 1996 internal investigation into the matter as “woefully ineffective”, as BBC management did not attempt to corroborate Bashir’s denials and did not make its findings public. The BBC demonstrated greater transparency yesterday, with the Dyson report and the Panorama broadcast, though Bashir had been a senior BBC journalist until his resignation last week, and the Panorama programme’s transmission had been delayed for five days.

Yesterday’s Panorama episode—Princess Diana, Martin Bashir and the BBC—marked the BBC’s first public criticism of Bashir, and it pulled no punches: “Martin Bashir spun a web of elaborate lies... Martin Bashir’s reputation lies in ruins”. (And that was before the opening titles.) Aside from the bank statements, Dyson and Panorama provide another key document: Charles Spencer’s notes from the initial meeting he arranged between Bashir and Diana. These notes (published yesterday by The Daily Telegraph) show how Bashir undermined Diana’s trust in her senior staff by feeding her outlandish conspiracy theories that, according to a public statement by Prince William, “contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia, and isolation”.

11 May 2021

Artn’t

Vitthaya Klangnil
This morning, two Chiang Mai University art students facing criminal charges turned their police summonse into a performance art event. Outside the police station, Vitthaya Klangnil carved “112” into his chest with a knife, in a protest against article 112 of the Thai criminal code (lèse-majesté). Vitthaya and fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit have been charged with contravening the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act, following their display of a banner depicting the Thai flag without its central blue stripe (which symbolises the monarchy).

The two students are co-founders of the art group Artn’t. They displayed their modified flag in March at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Constitution Protection Association (a self-appointed moral watchdog) filed charges against them under the Flag Act, which prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The lèse-majesté charges stem from anti-monarchy graffiti written on the artwork.

The students were both released on bail this afternoon. (Parit Chirawak and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan were also bailed today.) The banner is similar to a piece by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes, thus it also resembled a Thai flag without the symbolic blue stripe.

06 May 2021

Reside

Reside
Following The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), Reside (สิงสู่) makes three ghost films in a row for director Wisit Sasanatieng. It also sees Wisit reunited with Ananda Everingham, who previously starred in The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). (Reside was released in 2018, and its international title is The Summoning. This month’s planned Wisit retrospective at the Thai Film Archive has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Reside begins with an archetypal horror scenario: a small group stuck in an isolated house. Ananda’s character spells out the inevitable: “The road downhill has been cut by flash floods. We’ll be stranded here for a while.” This Old Dark House cliché is acknowledged self-referentially by another member of the group, who complains that “the lights go out every time it rains. Like in a horror film.”

For most of the running time, the characters are possessed one-by-one by spirits summonsed during a seance (one of whom transforms into a malevolent tree!). This leads to other intentional horror references, including several inevitable nods to The Exorcist, with possession resulting in spider-walking and projectile vomiting. The spirits seem relatively easy to exorcise, though, and they’re not particularly scary. The twist ending isn’t especially surprising, either.

Putin’s People

Putin's People
Five lawsuits have recently been filed against the author and publisher of Putin’s People. Catherine Belton’s book (subtitled How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West) received superlative reviews when it was published a year ago. Belton was the FT’s Moscow correspondent for six years, and Alexei Navalny brandished a copy of her book in his viral video Дворец для Путина: История самой большой взятки (‘Putin’s palace: the world’s biggest bribe’).

Roman Abramovich filed the first libel suit on 22nd March, challenging Belton’s allegation that he purchased Chelsea FC on Vladimir Putin’s instructions. Belton writes that “Putin directed Abramovich to buy the club, claimed a Russian tycoon and a former Abramovich associate.” Aside from these two off-the-record sources, she also interviewed Sergei Pugachev, whom she quotes directly: “Putin personally told me of his plan to acquire the Chelsea Football Club in order to increase his influence”.

Pugachev, a defector from Putin’s inner circle, was described by a UK High Court judge in 2017 as “a person quite willing to lie and put forward false statements deliberately if it would suit his purpose.” Belton acknowledges his reputation as an unreliable witness, though she quotes him extensively nevertheless.

On Tuesday, the FT revealed that four other lawsuits were filed against Belton and her publisher, HarperCollins, last month. In what appears to be a coordinated campaign to silence any criticism of Putin’s regime, the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Shalva Chigirinsky sued for libel, as did the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Peter Aven, Fridman’s business partner, sued for breach of data protection.

03 May 2021

REDEM

REDEM
A protest by REDEM (Restart Democracy) outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court yesterday evening ended with riot police firing rubber bullets at protesters for the third time this year. REDEM protesters gathered at Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, and marched to the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. They had intended to march past the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, where rubber bullets were used against them on 28th February, though access was blocked and the protest route was diverted.

When the protesters reached the Criminal Court, REDEM handed out tomatoes and eggs, which were thrown at the Court entrance. REDEM announced the end of the short demonstration at 6pm, and most protesters dispersed, though some stragglers remained, throwing firecrackers at the Court building. They later retreated to nearby Ratchadaphisek Soi 32, where they were confronted by riot police armed with water cannon and rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon were also used against REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang on 20th March, after they pulled down shipping containers erected to block access to the Grand Palace. Several journalists reporting on the demonstration were also hit by rubber bullets, and clashes with riot police continued late into the night.