Number of Prime
Number of people
killed since recent
protests began in
Number of people
summoned by the
NCPO since the coup
(as of Jun 19)
Days of protest
since the 2006 coup
Number of Thai
Asst. Prof. Pirongrong Ramasoota teaches and researches at the Department of Journalism, the Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, and was behind the Hate Speech 101 for Thais video (youtu.be/8AKcSTY0TEc). In a recent article she wrote for Bangkok Post following the decision to provide the World Cup free-to-air, she raised concerns about how the rule of law can easily be compromised, saying the junta must ensure all independent organizations are free from political intervention.
Hate speech has been going on for many years; it seems Thai people are indifferent to it.
We’re not sensitive. We don’t have this concept of violating of people’s rights. We have a lot of jokes about ethnicity and race and have never seen them as discrimination. The term “political correctness” doesn’t exist in our country. Thailand is a very centralized state. There were Sino-Thai, or Mon ethnic groups, in the past, whose identity were strong, but with a successful assimilation program, we all have this ingrained concept of Thai-ness. The diversity was all marginalized; whatever sits outside this is regarded as deviant.
What role does hate speech play in our political polarization?
A huge role. As the public never sees the danger of it, it forms prejudices over time, the same way a word like kaek for Indians is derogatory without many people even realizing it. We should also worry about our children growing up in this polarized, color-coded environment. It infuses their thinking. It’s difficult to see them growing into members of a society in which they can co-exist with others with different opinions.
"I don’t believe in de-colorization. People should be free to hold and express opinions"
Should there be more concrete regulation of hate speech?
Severe hate speech that induces clear and present danger or leads to hate crimes must be dealt with. It’s by no means acceptable, for example, when Ko Tee asked for donations to fund weapons to fight the PRDC. We need to say a clear-cut no to violence. But if you look at the history of other countries, the regulation will be more effective if they are in place before the hatred is formed. Once the divide already exists, questions will inevitably be raised over who is behind the regulations. The role of the media is important in a time of conflict. We need to provide equal space for different sides, but now many just choose sides.
When will the conflict come to an end?
It’s not going to end in the next few days, it’s not that simple. It’s shortsighted to think you can just summon people and change their opinion, like they would get over it and all become model citizens. I don’t believe in de-colorization. People should be free to hold and express opinions. But it’s also important that they are able to rationalize their opinion and accept others’ rights to think differently. The only thing we should discourage is magical thinking. Yes, it might break the deadlock for now, but what’s next still needs an answer. Maybe I’m being cynical and too pessimistic, but I’m afraid another Pandora’s Box might have just been opened.
Now continuing his education in India, Netiwit “Frank” Chotiphatphaisal, 17, is arguably Thailand’s most famous student activist. Never shy to criticize, whether it’s student haircut regulations or the concept of Thainess, he recently sent a cheeky open love letter to Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha to express his thoughts on the coup.
Does the current social and political upheaval have anything to do with the Thai education system?
It’s a complicated matter. Many see an argument between two different ideas as a bad thing. But the real bad thing is disrespecting others’ opinions and the use of violence to solve problems. The soldiers’ take on the issue reflects this; we’re made to think that it’s normal to condemn a person. But that’s not the right way to solve a problem. The ruling class wants us to be docile, but we must not get complacent regarding their use of power.
Do you see peace and harmony returning after this so-called “set-zero”?
The "set-zero" is unthoughtful, a disaster. It’s nothing new. It may please people for a while, to wipe something out. But in the long run, it’s foul play. Employing old academics as consultants may sound nice, but it’s not. The mindset that grassroots people were brainwashed [by Pheu Thai] is still there. Now the NCPO holds many events to return happiness to Thais. Be careful, if they want to keep the public docile by prohibiting information and reasoned argument, this bogus happiness won’t last very long.
"He has now been in jail for almost a month"
Do we need to promote democracy in schools to have a bright future?
They come in pairs. Democracy needs to exist on both sides. To put an end to the vicious politics and to have a stable political environment, people need to be free to demonstrate their opinion and participate in politics. Democracy in school is a start. But it has to be real democracy. In my school, the teachers can dismiss the student council if they don’t like it—this is not democracy. We need to promote real democracy that can be investigated at all levels. The foundations are very important. But it’s difficult now, without freedom of expression; a friend of mine went out and showed one sign disagreeing with the soldiers. He has now been in jail for almost a month. It looks impossible.
Would you consider a career in politics one day?
I thought about that recently. I didn’t really want to get involved. If your standpoint is not clear and strong enough, it will crumble. But with great friends to collectively remind us, our own party that won’t be distorted by political influence, it might help us stick to our ideology.
Based mainly in Hamburg, Saksith Saiyasombut has worked as a foreign TV correspondent for Channel NewsAsia but is best known for his political blog ”Siam Voices” on AsianCorrespondent.com. He’s credited with providing a wider international viewpoint on local issues.
In December, you were on Al Jazeera for a live discussion with Kasit Piromya and two others representing the two political sides. The argument seemed to end rather heatedly.
It ended with me trying to explain to an international audience what’s going on in Thailand, while the other three were yelling at each other for 45 minutes! That shows the Thai political polarization in a nutshell: the discourse is at such extremes now. However, there is a distinct lack of realization that times have changed politically and socially in Thailand. The failure to see and adapt to that is what has got us into this crisis!
What’s your view on the “You’re not Thai, you do not understand” policy for foreign media in Thailand?
It’s a very tiresome killer phrase to end the debate. Knowing Thailand and especially understanding its political crisis isn’t a location-based, birth-given entitlement.
"Critical, investigative or simply informative journalism is still more the exception than the norm."
Should the professionalism of Thai media be questioned?
There’s absolutely no doubt that Thai media is in serious need of improvement, and it was especially evident during recent political crises. Critical, investigative or simply informative journalism is still more the exception than the norm. But it needs an open culture to cultivate it and a clampdown certainly doesn’t help at all!
What needs to be changed for Thailand to move forward?
A whole lot needs to be changed, but above all the power to elect and dismiss politicians and their policies should be in the hands of the people to hold them accountable—and not in the hands of a few, elected or not.
Warisara Sornpet is the Campaigns Director for Change.org Thailand, the country’s biggest online petition platform. Even with the social uncertainty over the past few months, Change. org has repeatedly supported ordinary people to make a difference to society. They were behind the biggest environmental campaign in Asia where over 100,000 signatures put a stop to the Mae Wong Dam project and a recent campaign by university students to stop the launch of the U-NET test.
Are you a believer in people power?
Campaigns on Change.org have proved again and again that ordinary people have the power to change what they care about. People-powered change is not new in Thailand, but with access to social media and an open petition platform like Change.org, people have a much faster and more effective way of expressing and mobilizing themselves. This is unprecedented and is incredibly powerful. People can start an online petition in about 30 seconds, and it can go viral and turn into a huge knock on the door of the decision makers.
Is it powerful enough to alleviate the current social conflict?
Thailand is in a very interesting situation right now. The ongoing instability and access to technology mean people have become much more socially aware and are equipped to make change happen. People’s power has been unlocked. The opportunity lies in channeling this energy into creating positive change and bridging social divides in the country. Everyone has a role to play.
"No one should be made to feel powerless"
How can the public sector participate more in making the changes they want to see?
We have accrued over a million users in less than two years—and it’s still growing. This shows that people are increasingly aware of their power to create the change they want to see in the country. People are keen to be involved in decisions that
affect them, and with a platform like Change.org, they can be connected directly to decision makers. No one should be made to feel powerless. Cinemas not accessible by wheelchair users? Change that. People not standing on the right on BTS escalators? Change that, too. Don’t think a Gorilla belongs in a mall? Don’t want a coal plant to ruin beautiful Krabi? Enough with social discrimination? Imagine how powerful it feels when making changes becomes a part of everyday life.
What’s the ambition for Change.org Thailand?
What makes Change.org exciting is that it’s a completely open platform. Anyone, anywhere, can start a petition about anything. What unites them is that they all want to change something. There are petitions on smaller issues, petitions that will save lives, and petitions that reflect opposing views and yet live quite happily together. Many users are passionate about fighting corruption, improving education, and saving the environment. By contrast, there is also a petition by a man asking his girlfriend to marry him. It’s that diverse.