08 June 2023

“You becoming the prime minister means nothing to me...”

BBC Thai

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party and potential Thai prime minister after his victory in last month’s election, has been accused of lèse-majesté by several royalist pressure groups who filed a complaint against him yesterday. The complainants accused him of disrespecting the monarchy in a BBC News interview published online on 29th May. (An extended version, with Thai subtitles, has been viewed more than a million times.)

Reforming the lèse-majesté law was a key part of Move Forward’s manifesto, and in the interview Pita told reporter Jonathan Head: “I don’t want the monarchy to be used as a political weapon”. Pita also told the BBC: “if I get a chance to sit down and talk to... people who actually want to increase the penalty of royal defamation, I think we’d be able to find a common ground”. (That comment seemed idealistic, as ultra-royalists have generally been unwilling to compromise on their campaign to punish those who question the monarchy.)

After making the police report, Songchai Niamhom, leader of the King Protection Group, denied that his complaint was politically motivated. Addressing Pita directly, he said: “you becoming the prime minister means nothing to me... but any day you harm or have ideas against the main institution of the nation, I will continue to file complaints against you”. Despite his denial, the lèse-majesté charge does appear to be a political threat, as Songchai has previously used the same tactic against another Move Forward MP, Amarat Chokepamitkul. (He has also filed lèse-majesté charges against the rapper P9D.)

Head himself has also previously been charged with lèse-majesté, in relation to eleven articles published on the BBC News website. (His byline did not appear on some of the articles in question, and the charges related to elements for which he had no responsibility, such as the layout of photographs of King Rama IX.) He also faced a defamation charge after his 2015 investigative report into legal malpractice in Phuket.

01 June 2023

Zombie Citizens

Zombie Citizens

Weerapat Sakolvaree’s short documentary Zombie Citizens, like his earlier film Nostalgia, links the recent student protest movement with Thailand’s violent political history. Zombie Citizens begins with captions explaining that a Free Youth march on 7th August 2021 was rerouted after roads leading to the Grand Palace were blocked with shipping containers. Weerapat also filmed at Thammasat University on 6th October 2021, the 45th anniversary of a massacre that took place on the campus in 1976.

When Free Youth were denied entry to the Grand Palace grounds, they marched instead to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence, and riot police fired rubber bullets to disperse them. Zombie Citizens doesn’t document the violent clashes between protesters and police; instead, the film is eerily quiet, as the shipping containers block any traffic and the roads are almost deserted. The title hints at the state’s attitude towards the protesters, as shipping containers were also used to prevent zombie attacks in World War Z.

Shots of the Royal Hotel evoke another violent episode, the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre, when the hotel lobby was used as a makeshift field hospital. The hotel and the university campus have become what Dutch artist Armando called ‘guilty landscapes’, bearing silent witness to past violence. Taiki Sakpisit’s short film A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ) and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) also include sequences filmed at the Royal Hotel, again alluding to ‘Black May’.

A few minutes before it finishes, Zombie Citizens switches into reverse. The film runs backwards—a metaphor for the regressive, cyclical nature of Thai politics?—and View from the Bus Tour’s single Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ) plays on the soundtrack. (The song was released on the 45th anniversary of the Thammasat massacre.)

Nostalgia ended with a shot of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall seen from behind iron railings, after the building was closed to the public by royal decree. Similarly, Zombie Citizens shows Sanam Luang through barbed wire and the Grand Palace glimpsed from behind shipping containers. The state has battened down the hatches, and this is perhaps the calm before the storm.

Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ


Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ (‘who is Suthep Thaugsuban?’) was published in 2014, at the height of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protests led by Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep, a veteran MP, attempted to bring Bangkok to a standstill, laying the groundwork for a military coup. His PDRC also blocked candidates from registering for the 2014 election, and sabotaged the election itself.

The comic book Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ is an idealised biography of Suthep, presenting him as a role model for children. If he seems a completely unsuitable subject for such a comic, remember that his anti-democratic protest movement was supported by many middle-class Bangkokians, and their children were presumably the book’s target audience. (Of course, the comic whitewashes Suthep’s reputation for corruption, such as the 1995 land-reform scandal, portraying him as a victim of false accusations.)

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, against whom Suthep campaigned relentlessly, was also involved in a vanity project similar to Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ. Thaksin commissioned a series of seven animated cartoons, ตาดูดาวเท้าติดดิน (‘looking at the stars, feet on the ground’), which gave an equally hagiographic account of his life story.

ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม

ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม (‘historic pictures of the red-shirt fight that Thai people must not forget’), published in 2011, covers the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (red-shirt) protests and ensuing military crackdown from a decidedly red-shirt perspective. The book was published by PTV, the satellite television station set up by former Thai Rak Thai party members to compete with yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul’s ASTV channel.

Despite its glossy paper, the book feels cheaply made: many of the photographs are printed at a low resolution, and the binding is of poor quality. Also, there are some especially gruesome photos, with one page in particular (p. 17) lingering on the most horrific imagery. (There are brief sections on the 14th October 1973, 6th October 1976, and May 1992 massacres, for historical context.)

Links between PTV and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were always denied, though he was widely assumed to be the station’s main financial backer. The book is essentially a Thaksin hagiography: it’s almost as fawning as ทักษิณ Where Are You? (‘Thaksin where are you?’). ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ (‘Ratchaprasong 2010’) and ความจริงวันนั้น (‘the truth about that day’) are also pro-Thaksin accounts of the red-shirt protests.

If Thaksin is the hero of this narrative then Abhisit Vejjajiva is very much the villain. The book directly blames Abhisit for the crackdown, as he was prime minister during the 2010 protests. The documentaries The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) and Democracy After Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย) also point the finger at Abhisit personally, though he denied any culpability in his memoir The Simple Truth (ความจริงไม่มีสี).

Two books published by liberal journals, 19-19 ภาพ ชีวิต และการต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง จาก 19 กันยา 2549 ถึง 19 พฤษภา 2553 (‘pictures of the life and struggle of the red-shirts from 19th September 2006 to 19th May 2010’) and กรุงเทพฯ (ไม่) มีคนเสิ้อแดง (‘Bangkok (no) red shirts’), cover the red-shirt protests with more objectivity. Bangkok, May 2010 provides analysis of the period from both sides of the red/yellow political divide.

31 May 2023

ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓

ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ (‘Ratchaprasong 2010’), published in 2011, is a coffee-table book documenting the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (red-shirt) protest movement, and its violent suppression by the military in May 2010. (Names of the dead and injured are listed in an appendix.) Many of the UDD protesters were also supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Thaksin wrote a foreword to the book.

Clearly, with its contribution by Thaksin, this is a one-sided history of the red-shirt demonstrations. But it’s a necessary one, as history is usually written by the victors. The book contradicts the accusations of violence and arson levelled at the red-shirts by Thailand’s right-wing media. For example, พฤษภาอำมหิต (‘savage May’), published by Kom Chad Luek (คมชัดลึก), focused almost entirely on the arson committed after the military massacre.

In his foreword, Thaksin writes that he is saddened by the violence captured in photographs of the military crackdown, and indeed the publisher’s introduction warns the reader that “THERE ARE PHOTOS OF THOSE WHO WERE INJURED AND DIED.” Again, this challenges the narrative that the protesters were perpetrators, rather than victims, of violence. All photographs of red-shirt casualties were removed from the Rupture (หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓) exhibition at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, leaving only images of damaged buildings.

With its bi-lingual text, and an expensive ฿1,000 price tag, ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ was presumably aimed at a wider audience, and not merely intended as a souvenir for UDD members. On the other hand, ความจริงวันนั้น (‘the truth about that day’) and, especially, การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง (‘red-shirt fight’) are so pro-Thaksin that they would surely appeal only to the protesters themselves.

Two books published by liberal journals, 19-19 ภาพ ชีวิต และการต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง จาก 19 กันยา 2549 ถึง 19 พฤษภา 2553 (‘pictures of the life and struggle of the red-shirts from 19th September 2006 to 19th May 2010’) and กรุงเทพฯ (ไม่) มีคนเสิ้อแดง (‘Bangkok (no) red shirts’), cover the protests with more objectivity. Bangkok, May 2010 provides analysis of the period from both sides of the political divide.

28 May 2023

This Is Not a Drill

This Is Not a Drill

German police have launched an investigation into Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who is currently performing a solo world tour, This Is Not a Drill. A Berlin police spokesman accused him of wearing a costume “capable of approving, glorifying or justifying the violent and arbitrary rule of the Nazi regime in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims and thereby disrupts public peace”.

After the show’s interval, Waters returns to the stage wearing a black trenchcoat with a red armband depicting two crossed hammers. The same logo also appears on banners hanging from the roof, in the style of a Nazi rally, as Waters performs the songs In the Flesh and Run Like Hell. (It was first used in Pink Floyd’s film The Wall.)

Waters performed at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin on 17th and 18th May, and has also played at other German cities (Hamburg on 7th May, Cologne on 9th May, Munich on 21st May, and Frankfurt today). Displaying Nazi-inspired insignia is illegal in Germany, though Waters insists that he was parodying Nazism rather than endorsing it.

Madonna’s use of Nazi imagery at a concert also led to a legal challenge. In 2012, fascist French politician Marine Le Pen sued her for defamation after she superimposed a swastika onto a photograph of Le Pen’s face during her MDNA Tour. In an uncharacteristic act of self-censorship, Madonna replaced the swastika with a question mark at her next French concert in Nice.

25 May 2023

ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก)

Somchai Katanyutanan Thai Rath

Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister after winning the 2011 Thai general election, and was removed from office by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The events of her premiership were fodder for veteran political cartoonist Chai Rachawat (the pen name of Somchai Katanyutanan), whose work appears in the country’s most popular newspaper, Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ). (Chai also illustrated The Story of Tongdaeng/เรื่อง ทองแดง, King Rama IX’s biography of his pet dog.) Chai’s cartoons from 2011 to 2014 are collected in ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก) (‘Thailand is badly bruised’), published in 2014.

Yingluck sued Chai for defamation in 2013, after he called her a “อีโง่” in a Facebook post. (The term roughly translates as ‘stupid bitch’.) A book from the same period by cartoonists Buncha/Kamin describes Yingluck using equally offensive language, though it was the viral nature of Chai’s Facebook comment that prompted the lawsuit. Chai occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum to his fellow Thai Rath cartoonist, Sia, who has also published books of his cartoons.


Arun Watcharasawad

อรุณตวัดการเมือง (‘political Arun’), a collection of political cartoons by Arun Watcharasawad, was published in 2012. Arun is a cartoonist for the liberal Matichon (มติชน) newspaper and Matichon Weekly (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์) magazine, and the book features his work from 2010 to 2012. It also includes การ์ตูน-การเมือง-ไทย (‘cartoons-politics-Thailand’), a fascinating chapter on the history of Thai political cartoons by Parnbua Boonparn.

Matichon Weekly

Typically, Matichon Weekly devotes almost a full page to each of Arun’s cartoons, and it’s easy to see why: these are impressive works of satirical art. Like most political cartoonists, Arun employs recurring visual metaphors—shark-infested waters seem to be one of his favourites—though his work also references classical mythology and artists such as Hokusai.

24 May 2023

รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่


Buncha and Kamin are political cartoonists for the right-wing Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน) newspaper. Their book รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่ (‘cartoon collection for everyone’), released in 2013, is an anthology of cartoons satirising former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Manager is published by Sondhi Limthongkul, who has friends and enemies in high places: he narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2009, and he received a royal pardon in 2019 after being sentenced to a twenty-year jail term for bank fraud.

Sondhi co-founded the People’s Alliance for Democracy movement against Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin. So it comes as no surprise that Buncha and Kamin’s cartoons are scathing in their criticism. In their commentary for the book, they don’t mince words, describing Yingluck as stupid and her administration as evil. Their cartoons also stray beyond satire into downright insult, such as a macabre fantasy sketch showing Thaksin being murdered.

Buncha/Kamin Buncha/Kamin

The cartoons mocking Yingluck’s supporters are even more problematic: they are portrayed as a herd of buffalo. Kwai (‘buffalo’) was a term of abuse adopted by the PAD, who dismissed the red-shirts as an uneducated mob undeserving of the right to vote. (Research in After the Coup confirms the prevalence of this patronising attitude.) Tepwut Buatoom’s picture book Buffaloes Dream of Being Human (ควายอยากเป็นคน) subverts the ‘buffalo’ stereotype, and the term has been reappropriated in a t-shirt design.

“Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll...”


Writer E. Jean Carroll is seeking further damages from Donald Trump following his appearance on CNN’s Republican Presidential Town Hall earlier this month. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting and defaming her. The jury concluded that Trump had assaulted Carroll in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York around thirty years ago, and that he had libelled her by denying the allegation in posts on his Truth Social website.

The day after the verdict, Trump was interviewed by Kaitlan Collins on CNN and again denied assaulting Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.” To applause from the Republican-leaning studio audience, he said: “I swear on my children, which I never do: I have no idea who this woman—this is a fake story, made-up story.” He also described Carroll as “a whack job.”

Carroll is now seeking an additional $5 million in punitive damages for libel. Her lawsuit, filed on 22nd May, claims: “Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite.” Earlier this year, Trump was indicted on criminal charges related to his alleged concealment of hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

20 May 2023

No Reason

No Reason

Tattoo Colour’s single No Reason (เผด็จเกิร์ล), released in 2017, was one of the first records to satirise the junta after the 2014 coup. In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship inspired a wave of anti-government protest songs that continues to this day, though No Reason predates them all. The single was taken from Tattoo Colour’s album สัตว์จริง (‘real animal’), and the CD cover shows the group giving a three-finger salute as an anti-coup protest.

The music video for the song, directed by Nittakarn Kaewpyasawad and Tanis Pintong, includes various coded references to the military and the monarchy. A book titled “44 RULES” refers to article 44 of the interim constitution, which gave Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha absolute power. One of the book’s rules is “ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE”, a reference to the military’s euphemistic term for its arbitrary detention policy. A wall calendar shows the date as 20th May, which was the day in 2014 when Prayut unconstitutionally declared martial law. Five men appear in the video, and martial law prohibits political gatherings of five or more people. Most provocatively, a flashcard reading “วันเกิดหมาเธอ” (‘her dog’s birthday’) refers to a notorious leaked video.

No Reason No Reason
No Reason No Reason

In the years since No Reason and สัตว์จริง, there have been more than two dozen songs and albums commenting on Thai politics, including three released this month: Bigboat’s This Is Thailand (ที่นี่ประเทศไทย), Elevenfinger’s Free My Friends (ปล่อยเพื่อนกู), and Rap Against Dictatorship’s I’m the One Who Gets to Decide (คนที่ตัดสินใจคือฉันเอง). Rap Against Dictatorship’s prolific output also includes the singles My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’). There have also been albums from The Commoner, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng (in 2020 and 2022), Speech Odd, Elevenfinger, and t_047; and singles from The Commoner, Elevenfinger, Badmixy, View from the Bus Tour, Milli and Youngohm, Getsunover and Three Man Down, and Paeng Surachet.

19 May 2023

“We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly denigrate the glorious image of the People’s Army...”

Xi Jinping

A Chinese comedy talent agency has been fined the equivalent of more than $2 million, due to a single-sentence punchline by one of its comedians. Li Haoshi, known by the stagename House, joked that when his dogs chased a squirrel, the sight reminded him of eight words: “作风优良能打胜仗” (‘working in good style can win the battle’). This is a military slogan used by President Xi Jinping, and has appeared on propaganda posters in China.

An audio recording of House’s 13th May performance in Beijing was released online, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism fined his management company, Xiaoguo Culture, ¥14.7 million. In a statement, the ministry said: “We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly denigrate the glorious image of the People’s Army on the stage of the capital”. A comedian was also fined in Malaysia last month, though her penalty was less than 0.1% of House’s.


18 May 2023

Johnson at Ten:
The Inside Story

Johnson at Ten

From his 2019 election landslide (‘Get Brexit Done’) to his downfall last summer, Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell recount Boris Johnson’s term as UK prime minister in Johnson at Ten: The Inside Story. They cover Johnson’s “callous amorality” during the coronavirus pandemic (“Let the bodies pile high in their thousands”), and his ethical and even legal shortcomings, reminding the reader that he “had his actions judged unlawful by the Supreme Court and knowingly put forward proposals to break international law. He was the first Prime Minister to have been found by the police to have broken the law.”

There are some extraordinary details in Seldon and Newell’s book. They quote Johnson proclaiming to staff, “I am the Führer. I’m the king who takes the decisions”. Whereas former PM John Major famously called rebel Tories “bastards”, to Johnson they were “c**ts, utter c**ts.” (Apparently he “would use the C word a lot”, in an attempt to bond with senior staff, though the authors censor the profanities. Ironically, a cabinet minister called Johnson a “cosmic cunt” last year.) After the EU tried to ban exports of coronavirus vaccines, he told French President Emmanuel Macron: “I will hold you personally responsible for the deaths of the British people”.

Sebastian Payne has already written a detailed account of the fall of Boris Johnson, and he concluded that there were “three Ps that brought down the prime minister”: the Owen Paterson, Chris Pincher, and ‘partygate’ scandals. Seldon and Newell suggest an alternative (and non-alliterative) trio, citing three flaws in Johnson’s personality that made his downfall inevitable: “an inability to value truth and to set or pronounce on moral boundaries; to recognize merit, appoint the best people and trust them to do their jobs; and to stick by any decision or person without changing his mind.”

Payne’s account of Johnson’s final days in office includes a brief quote from a phone call between the PM and Michael Gove, who asks if Johnson is going to resign. Johnson replies: “Mikey, mate, I’m afraid you are.” (Tim Shipman used the same quote in The Sunday Times on 10th July 2021.) In contrast, Seldon and Newell quote a long extract from the call, without the “Mikey, mate” line. They also quote a conversation during which Nadhim Zahawi tells Johnson: “The herd is moving”, which could have inspired Johnson’s resignation speech (“when the herd moves, it moves”).

Seldon is the author or co-author of books on every UK prime minister of the past thirty years, including Cameron at Ten. He and Newell spoke to more than 150 senior sources for Johnson at Ten, including on-the-record interviews with Sajid Javid (Johnson’s former chancellor), Graham Brady (Chairman of the 1922 Committee), and Pippa Crerar (the journalist who broke the ‘partygate’ story, now political editor of The Guardian). Tim Shipman’s All Out War and Fall Out are in-depth accounts of Johnson’s role in Brexit, and his successor Liz Truss is profiled in Harry Cole and James Healey’s Out of the Blue.

15 May 2023

“I am ready to be the prime minister for all...”

Pita Limjaroenrat

The results of yesterday’s election show that the progressive Move Forward and populist Pheu Thai have vastly outperformed all the pro-military parties in Thailand’s government. Of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, Move Forward won 152 and Pheu Thai have 141, a remarkable achievement for Move Forward and an unequivocal rejection of the military establishment.

Move Forward was formed after the Constitutional Court dissolved the Future Forward party in 2020. Its manifesto includes an end to military conscription and a plan to reduce the scope of the lèse-majesté law. Pheu Thai, which has several previous incarnations affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra (Thai Rak Thai and the People Power Party), won a majority in 2011 and also won the highest number of seats in the 2019 election.

Move Forward announced this morning that they had formed a coalition with Pheu Thai and a handful of smaller parties, giving them a total of 310 seats. At a press conference today, party leader Pita Limjaroenrat confidently declared: “I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me or you disagree with me.” He still faces a legal obstacle, however: he is currently under investigation for ownership of media shares—a stake in the defunct iTV—a charge that previously led to the disqualification of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as leader of Future Forward. If Pita became prime minister, and was later found guilty by the Constitutional Court, he and his cabinet would be forced to step down, as happened to Samak Sundaravej in 2008.

Pita’s candidacy as prime minister also remains uncertain due to the influence of the junta-appointed Senate. Despite Move Forward’s mandate from the electorate, 376 votes—a majority of both MPs and senators—are required to become PM, according to article 272 of the constitution. Since the 2019 election, there have been three parliamentary votes to remove article 272, and the amendment proposal failed on all three occasions, though sixty-three senators voted for it at least once. Move Forward is banking on their support, but so far only a handful have pledged to vote for him.

On the other hand, if enough of the 250 senators joined with the 190 non-coalition MPs, voting as a pro-military bloc for a single alternative candidate, they could prevent Pita from leading a new government. This is a distinct possibility—turkeys don’t vote for Christmas—and in that case, there’s a chance that the coalition could collapse if the other parties were persuaded to abandon Move Forward and form a government that was more palatable to the establishment. (There are persistent rumours that Pheu Thai is preparing for this eventuality, though it would risk losing the support of its red-shirt base if it entered into a pact with the military.)

If recent political history is any guide, Move Forward also faces the prospect of judicial intervention, as the Constitutional Court has ruled against anti-military parties in each of the last five elections. The 2006 election was invalidated and TRT, the winning party, was dissolved. The PPP was dissolved after winning the 2007 election, and its leader was disqualified. Yingluck Shinawatra, who won the 2011 election, was disqualified. The 2014 election was invalidated. Thai Raksa Chart was dissolved in the runup to the 2019 election, followed by the disqualification of Thanathorn and the dissolution of Future Forward.

Pita has called on the senators to respect the election result and endorse him as prime minister, though his optimism may be misplaced. Move Forward’s proposal to amend the lèse-majesté law crosses a red line for the military, which the senators represent, and some non-coalition MPs have already refused to vote for Pita for the same reason. The new coalition has a majority in the House of Representatives, so it could defeat a military-backed minority government in a vote of no confidence, though this outcome would lead to further political instability.

11 May 2023

“Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods…”

Fox News

The former head of a US government advisory board is suing Fox News for defamation. Nina Jankowicz was executive director of the Disinformation Governance Board, which was created last year to provide guidance on disinformation to the Department of Homeland Security. Following extensive criticism—the board was described as Orwellian by both liberals and conservatives—Jankowicz resigned and the board ceased operations after less than a month. A libel lawsuit filed yesterday claims that “Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods to pad its profits at the expense of Jankowicz’s safety, reputation, and well-being.”

The lawsuit alleges that Fox hosts made more than 300 potentially defamatory references to Jankowicz over a period of eight months last year, citing three central false allegations broadcast by the network: that Jankowicz and her board intended to restrict free speech, that she sought to edit Twitter users’ tweets, and that she was fired from her position as executive director. Fox hosts are also accused of using “ugly language that could have no other purpose than to denigrate Jankowicz’s character and professional reputation” (though this is not covered by defamation law).

US defamation law has a high burden of proof, requiring evidence that any false statements were made intentionally. (The legal term is ‘with actual malice’.) Of the three allegations Jankowicz highlights, only the third approaches this threshold. To substantiate the claim of ‘actual malice’—that Fox “deliberately and knowingly lied that Jankowicz had been terminated from her post”—the lawsuit cites two contradictory comments by Primetime host Jesse Watters. On 18th May 2022, he stated that “Nina Jankowicz resigned” though two days later, he said: “She got booted this week.”

This lawsuit comes a few weeks after Fox settled a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems and sacked its most popular host, Tucker Carlson. (Carlson was abruptly fired on 24th April. In response to a previous defamation charge, Fox had claimed that that his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”.) The network is also currently being sued for defamation by another voting technology company, Smartmatic.


Oddworld Control

Thai punk band Speech Odd’s debut album Oddworld was released earlier this year. The lyrics include comments made by King Rama X on royal walkabouts: the track Speech King quotes his answer to a reporter’s question (“Thailand is the land of compromise”), and Thank You quotes his words to a prominent royalist (“กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ”/‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Fucx Coup [sic] begins with a sample of Prayut Chan-o-cha announcing the 2014 coup.

The band’s music is available on a wide variety of physical formats. Oddworld was released on cassette, CD, and vinyl. Their single Control was issued on a 3.5" floppy disk, and its cover is an illustration of anti-coup protester Nuamthong Praiwan crashing his taxi into a tank. Their Promo 2022 EP is on cassette and 5" vinyl.

“The land of compromise” previously appeared as a caption in the video for Elevenfinger’s ไอเหี้ย... ฆาตกร (‘damned... murderer’). “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” inspired the title of a song by Paeng Surachet. Rap Against Dictatorship restaged Nuamthong’s taxi crash in the video for their single 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’). Prayut was also sampled by Pisitakun Kuantalaeng on his album Absolute Coup.

10 May 2023

The Final Act of the Trump Show

Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show

In Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, Jonathan Karl covers Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the insurrection by Trump supporters who believed his lies about the 2020 US presidential election. This is the eighteenth Trump book reviewed on Dateline Bangkok (or the nineteenth, if you count the audiobook The Trump Tapes). The others are: Confidence Man, Fire and Fury, Too Much and Never Enough, Fear, Rage, Peril, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, TrumpNation, and The Cost.

Trump’s last year in office was reported more extensively in I Alone Can Fix It and Peril. But Karl’s book—which is partly a memoir of his experience as an ABC News correspondent—does contain some new details. He writes about his “strangest ever meeting” with Trump, an off-the-record Oval Office discussion in March 2020 during which Trump kept Vice President Mike Pence waiting while he traded political gossip.

Karl interviewed the former president at Mar-a-Largo and asked him to confirm an extraordinary quote first attributed to him by The New York Times in 2021. Did he really tell Pence, in a phone call on the day of the insurrection: “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy”? “I wouldn’t dispute it,” is Trump’s remarkable reply.

09 May 2023

I’m the One Who Gets to Decide

Rap Against Dictatorship

Rap Against Dictatorship’s single 250 Bootlickers (250 สอพลอ)—criticising the 250 subservient senators appointed by the junta—was released two days before Thailand’s 2019 election, and now their new single I’m the One Who Gets to Decide (คนที่ตัดสินใจคือฉันเอง) has dropped six days before the next election. The song encourages people to vote and make their voice count, reminding us that the choice we make at the ballot box is entirely our own. (They’re preaching to the choir here, because many young people are already politically engaged.)

In the music video for the single, directed by Skanbombomb, the band play candidates for the fictional Rhyme Reform Party appearing on a political talk show. Their previous singles include My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’).

Rap Against Dictatorship inspired numerous other artists to release anti-government protest songs, most recently Elevenfinger’s Free My Friends (ปล่อยเพื่อนกู) and Bigboat’s This Is Thailand (ที่นี่ประเทศไทย). Previous releases include the albums สามัญชน (‘commoner’), Absolute Coup, Kongkraphan, No God No King Only Humans, and ไม่มีคนบนฟ้า (‘no one in the sky’); and the singles รุ้ง (‘rainbow’), ไอเหี้ย... ฆาตกร (‘damned... murderer’), Thalugaz (ทะลุเเก๊ซ), Next Love, Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ), อนาคตคือ (‘the future is...’), อีกไม่นาน นานแค่ไหน (‘how long is ‘soon’?’), กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’), เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’), คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’), and Pirates (โจรสลัด).

Free My Friends

Free My Friends

Of the many Thai musicians releasing songs commenting on politics, the military, and the monarchy, the rapper Elevenfinger is definitely the most uncompromising. On his track Thalugaz (ทะลุเเก๊ซ), he leads a crowd in the same chant that resulted in charges against Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan. The titles of his singles เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) and ไอเหี้ย... ฆาตกร (‘damned... murder’) are far from subtle.

His new single Free My Friends (ปล่อยเพื่อนกู), released yesterday, is so excoriating that quoting from it would violate the lèse-majesté law. (The lyrics include insults in both Thai and English.) The video for the song, directed by Fook Yosthi, features murals—including a royal portrait by FD7—superimposed onto Chiang Mai’s city wall using CGI, and multilayered clips of riot police clashing with student protesters. The title refers to protesters jailed for lèse-majesté.

Free My Friends is the latest of numerous protest songs released since the 2014 coup, most notably a string of singles by Rap Against Dictatorship: My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’). There have also been albums from The Commoner, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng (in 2020 and 2022), and t_047; and singles from Bigboat, The Commoner, Badmixy, View from the Bus Tour, Milli and Youngohm, Getsunover and Three Man Down, and Paeng Surachet.

07 May 2023

This Is Thailand

This Is Thailand

Thai rappers Bigboat released the video to their new single This Is Thailand (ที่นี่ประเทศไทย) today. The video, directed by journalist Cod Satrusayang, begins with a TV set showing clips from the announcements of the 2014, 2006, and 1991 coups. The band perform in military uniforms, and the first line of the song addresses the coup leaders directly: “คุณรู้มั้ยว่าทำประเทศบอบช้ำไปตั้งเท่าไหร่” (‘don’t you know how much you’ve hurt the country?’). Other archive material includes footage of riot police clashing with student protesters on 16th October 2020.

This Is Thailand is partly a state-of-the-nation song, with lyrics such as “ที่นี่คือประเทศไทยมีอำนาศไว้ใช้กดขี่แต่ผู้คน” (‘this is Thailand, where power is used to oppress people’). It’s also a call-to-arms: “ใครเห็นด้วยจงยืนขึ้น ต่อสู้เพื่อเสรีท่าวันนี้เพื่อลูกหลาน” (‘whoever agrees, stand up today and fight for freedom for your children’). Ultimately, the message is: smash the system, as the video ends with a sledgehammer smashing the TV screen. Just as Rap Against Dictatorship’s 250 Bootlickers (250 สอพลอ) was released two days before the 2019 election, This Is Thailand has dropped a week before the 14th May election, when coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha is again on the ballot. (Rap Against Dictatorship will release another single later this week, as will Elevenfinger.)

This is the latest of numerous protest songs released since the 2014 coup, most notably a string of singles by Rap Against Dictatorship: My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’). There have also been albums from The Commoner, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng (in 2020 and 2022), Elevenfinger, and t_047; and singles from The Commoner, Elevenfinger, Badmixy, View from the Bus Tour, Milli and Youngohm, Getsunover and Three Man Down, and Paeng Surachet.